Australia’s new environment minister has proclaimed her ambitions to show global leadership on ocean conservation but Tanya Plibersek this week gets her first chance to walk the talk.
Heads of state and environment ministers from around the world are meeting in the Portuguese capital Lisbon to work out how to save the ocean from the ravages of climate change, pollution, overfishing and development.
The event will be Ms Plibersek’s first turn on the world stage in her new portfolio and will follow an $80 million four-year Australian commitment to the international grants organisation, the Global Environment Faculty.
Pepe Clarke co-ordinates ocean conservation efforts for WWF International and will be among thousands of delegates.
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He says the summit, which also loops in conservation groups, scientists, donors and the private sector, is the perfect platform for Ms Plibersek to get early runs on the board before a global audience.
The point of the conference is progress action on the UN’s sustainable development goal 14 – to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources.
Before heading to Lisbon, Ms Plibersek said observers could expect to see Australia take a proactive role to ramp up protections for the planet’s largest carbon sink, which is facing unprecedented threats from human activity.
“The new Australian government understands the urgency of the challenge facing our oceans and our planet, and we are committed to being a full partner in the global fight to combat it,” she said.
“Australian ocean science is world’s best – we now have a government prepared to use what we know to protect and restore ocean health.”
Mr Clarke said the minister should use the conference to restate Australia’s commitment to the global push to protect 30 per cent of the earth’s land and 30 per cent of its oceans by 2030.
But there was an opportunity to go much further.
Mr Clarke said about 45 per cent of Australia’s marine territory sits within marine protected areas but just 17 per cent or so is fully protected from oil, gas and fishing activities.
“Australia can be really out in front here and say in our waters we’ll ensure we have more than 30 per cent in marine protected areas but also work towards protecting 30 per cent of our oceans from extractive activities.”
Mr Clarke said Australia could also pledge to step up investment in nature-based climate solutions in the Pacific and offer to share expertise on coral reef conservation.
There was also an opportunity for Ms Plibersek to stress support for a global agreement to protect marine life on the high seas – the majority of the world’s oceans that lie beyond the jurisdiction of individual countries.
UN member states have been discussing how to protect the high seas from overfishing, mining, polluting and other threats for almost 20 years and seemed close to striking a deal in 2020.
Then COVID struck and talks were put on ice.
Mr Clarke is hopeful the conference will reinvigorate that effort, alongside other big ticket items Australia supports including a global treaty on plastic pollution and a new marine-protected Antarctic area.
The UN Ocean Conference gets underway in Lisbon on Monday and runs until July 1.