Time to act

Robert Hill outlines what Australia’s people and Government are doing
to fulfil the aims of World Environment Day 2000

The theme for this year’s international celebrations of World Environment Day is ‘Time to Act’. For Australia this message is already somewhat dated.

Every day millions of Australians are already taking action and contributing in some way to a better domestic and global environment. Recycling, for example, has been a huge success story – Australia has achieved world class recycling and recovery rates for newspapers and magazines, with the newsprint recycling rate currently standing at 68 per cent, well above other nations.

Our communities are also acting to repair damage done to their local environment – restoring river banks, cleaning up beaches, repairing degraded land and restoring the habitat of endangered native wildlife. The Australian Government has recognized that this environmental form of ‘people power’ represents the best way to manage and conserve our unique natural environment for future generations. These communities had shown the commitment and enthusiasm to be involved – they wanted to be part of the solution to the problems. What they lacked was the financial support to take this commitment from the planning stage to the hands-on action stage.

Environmental repair
In 1996, our Government decided to sell part of its ownership of the national telecommunications carrier and use some of the proceeds to invest in environmental repair projects. From the sale we were able to invest A$1.5 billion in the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia. Already this Trust has provided A$700 million for more than 6,000 environmental projects across Australia. The key ingredient to the success of the Trust’s work has been community involvement. We estimate that more than 300,000 people have been involved in working for a better environment through Natural Heritage Trust projects. This has been an investment in the commitment of our people – an investment which has delivered major environmental benefits.

For other nations which are now hearing the message that it is indeed ‘Time to Act’, there could be no better advice than to urge them to show faith in the ability of their people to drive and deliver efforts for a better environment. Governments, however, must also show leadership and provide the legislative and administrative framework for these efforts.

In Australia, we are about to implement a landmark Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This has been hailed by respected international environment groups as the biggest win for the Australian environment in 25 years. We have also produced a world-first National Oceans Policy to ensure that the mistakes we have made in the management of our land-based resources are not repeated with our marine environment. In addition to this, we have committed A$1 billion to lead domestic efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to help combat the threat of global warming.

Leading the way
We have sought to lead international efforts to protect and conserve endangered species such as the Patagonian toothfish, the albatross and southern bluefin tuna, and we look forward to the day when whales and other cetaceans are free to roam the oceans of the planet.

Australia’s environmental expertise will be on show when Sydney stages the Olympic Games in September. The stadium site itself has been transformed from being a contaminated industrial wasteland to become Olympic Park.

Australia also provides support to the nations of our region for their efforts to move toward sustainable management of their natural resources. One regrettable feature of the global push for better environmental practices is that we often overlook the achievements we have already made. There will, of course, always be more that we could be doing. But if we do not take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of our communities we run the risk of alienating the grassroots support-base that we need to drive future improvements.

Australia is proud to host the first World Environment Day of the new millennium. It is both a ‘Time to Act’ and a time to celebrate and honour the commitment of the true environmental heroes of our time – the ordinary members of our community who have been prepared to get their hands dirty to work for a better environment

Senator Robert Hill is Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

PHOTOGRAPH: J. C. Callow/Panos Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Time to act | A climate of change | Melding heart and head | Looking through green glasses | Multi-local business | World Environment Day 2000 |
At a glance | Competition | The greening of Goliath | Unfair trade | No sleeping after Seattle | Disproportionate effects | Liberal rations | New millennium, new regulation | Secretary-General’s Report | Pachamama: Our Earth, Our Future


Complementary articles in other issues:
Kofi A. Annan: World Environment Day 1998  (Oceans) 1998
Hyon-Wook Kang: For life on Earth  (The Way Forward) 1997
Susan Hazen: Environmental Democracy  (Chemicals) 1997
Tore J. Brevik: All in the mind  (Culture) 1996
Olav Myrholt: Greening the Olympics  (Culture) 1996