Your Excellencies, ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Firstly, let me thank His Excellency, Dato Ali Apong and the Government of Brunei Darussalam for taking a strong leadership role in hosting this event, the second Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. Your government has done an outstanding job in bringing together the region in the beautiful city of Bandar Seri Begawan.
Before I go further I wanted to acknowledge the role of my predecessor, Greg Hunt, who hosted the first Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Sydney in 2014. I know the former environment minister well, and know of his strong personal commitment and passion for forests. We are partly all here today due to Greg Hunt’s vision and drive to forge an ongoing dialogue and partnership for action between countries, the private sector and civil society.
This is my first international engagement as the newly appointed Australian Minister for the Environment and Energy. And I am proud to be here on behalf of the Australian Government to address this audience on such an important issue.
I am 15 days into my new job and am still learning. However, I already know that conserving the great rainforests of the Asia-Pacific will be critical to achieving sustainable economic development and to meeting the climate goals we have just set for ourselves under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Deforestation and the resulting carbon emissions account for an estimated 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, one of the largest sources of global emissions after electricity generation.
At the global level, we know that tropical forests store 25 per cent of the world’s carbon and harbour 96 per cent of the world’s tree species.
Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, we know we have some of the most significant tracts of rainforest in the world.
However the trends in forest loss for the Asia-Pacific are of concern.
Just looking at the forests of Southeast Asia, between 1990 and 2010 these forests contracted in size by 3.32 million hectares, an area greater than that of Vietnam.
It is also estimated 200 million people in the Asia-Pacific region depend on forests for income, as well as for subsistence needs including medicine, food, fuel and construction materials.
Statistics like these are compelling. They lead to two unmistakable conclusions: that the forests of our region are vitally important to the economic, social and environmental viability of individual countries; and that the actions taken in the region are critical to the realising the global climate change ambitions we have agreed under the Paris Agreement.
Consequently, all delegates participating in the Summit have a clear opportunity and responsibility – which is to meaningfully engage, listen and learn from one another on the best ways to cooperate to conserve the region’s forests.
For my own contribution to the Summit, I wanted to put forward three issues that may prove critical to realising our aspirations to slow, halt and reverse deforestation in the Asia-Pacific.
First, we must use the global momentum of the Paris Agreement to drive forward meaningful country-owned action on forests in the Asia-Pacific.
Second, we cannot forget the important role of markets, strong institutions and governance to drive and sustain these changes.
And lastly, we must recognise, welcome and encourage the critical role of the private sector in scaling-up these efforts to improve outcomes in our forests.
I will reflect on each of these issues now.
Fundamental to the Paris Agreement is the acceptance by all countries of the need for an effective and progressive response to the threat of climate change. This is based on the best available scientific knowledge. There is no doubt on the implications of the science, or the scale of the challenge.
The Paris Agreement provides us with a global framework to drive a unified and effective response. The critical role of forests is acknowledged in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, which urges countries to take action to conserve and enhance forests, including through reducing deforestation and forest degradation.
The Paris Agreement also calls for individualised action and leadership by countries. Under the Paris Agreement, countries have put forward their own commitments through intended Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs).
Almost all of the countries represented at the Summit have made significant commitments on forests in their Nationally Determined Contributions. These commitments include increasing forest cover, reducing deforestation and improving sustainable forest management policies.
For example, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has set out its ambitious National Forestry Strategy target to increase forest cover to 70 per cent of land area by 2020. Similarly, Myanmar has set out targets to have 30 per cent of its total land area designated as Reserved Forest or Protected Public Forest, and 10 per cent of total land area designated as Protected Area Systems by 2030.
Given the considerable economic and social pressures on these countries, I think these are remarkable commitments. While the weight of expectation is upon us, the next critical step under the Paris Agreement is to turn these commitments into action, and this action into investable plans and bankable projects.
Markets, institutions and governance
As a Liberal, it probably comes as no surprise that I am a firm believer in markets and competition as the most effective and efficient means to deliver policy outcomes in society. To me, markets are the solution to many of the issues we face and have come together to discuss at the Summit.
And yet, it is fair to say that the market and our institutions could do better when it comes to valuing forests appropriately.
For example, a 2012 joint report by the United Nations Environment Program and Interpol suggests that up to 30 per cent of all wood traded globally is logged illegally. And illegal peat land fires, along with their environmental and health consequences, make significant contributions to climate change.
Markets have not properly valued the economic, environmental and social values of rainforests. If the forests were valued, including the carbon and non-carbon values, markets could respond appropriately.
The critical question is how much should governments intervene and in what form?
We know for a market to work you need information, strong institutions and effective governance.
And when you apply this to climate change, a fundamental precursor to the operation of any market is the institutional capacity to measure and account for greenhouse gas emissions.
As they say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
So returning to the question on the role of government, I offer the following practical examples of action drawn from my own country's experience.
More than a decade ago, the Australian Government invested heavily in developing a state-of-the art land sector and forest monitoring system that made use of satellite data.
Over time and off the back of these investments, we have the necessary institutional capacity to support policies that incentivise large-scale emissions reductions in the forest and land sector.
For example, under our market-based Emissions Reductions Fund we are protecting native forests by reducing land clearing. The Fund allows businesses and farmers to undertake activities that reduce emissions and receive carbon credits for the reductions. The activity must meet the requirements of an approved method. The method sets out the rules for determining and verifying the number of carbon credits that can be issued.
To date the Government has contracts with farmers for 52 avoided deforestation projects to deliver emissions reductions of 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.
This is achieved within a clear regulatory and governance framework. The Fund is administered by the independent Clean Energy Regulator.
That said, one issue we still face in Australia is – “how do we place a monetary value on the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by our lands and forests?” While my Department and many others are working on new ways to value biodiversity, and use this to mobilise private sector investment, I see this as a shared problem for our region.
One other thing governments can do is to share knowledge and lessons-learnt. And this is what the Australian Government has done (and will continue to do) in sharing our forest monitoring expertise with countries in our region.
We have done this bilaterally with Indonesia – and I am pleased to announce today that Australia has committed to work with Indonesia on the second phase of its National Carbon Accounting System, with a special focus on emissions from peatlands.
And we have also been working in partnership with Norway and the US, through the Global Forest Observations Initiative, to extend this outreach to more countries in our region. This initiative promotes a globally integrated approach to measuring forest emissions using satellite-based data. This work is already making a tangible difference in supporting countries in our region to measure the emissions from their forest resources.
These are great practical initiatives that Australia is proud of, and this Summit provides an opportunity for delegates to learn more about them and how they could help countries meet their own commitments under the Paris Agreement.
For those who want a hands-on experience, my Department will be running a demonstration of the release of the Global Forest Observations Initiative’s online tool called REDD-Compass at the Summit tomorrow afternoon. REDD-Compass has just been updated to take account of the Paris Agreement.
Crucial Role of the Private Sector
We know that making real progress on climate change and conserving our forests requires the participation of the private sector. Indeed, a core tenet of the Paris Agreement is the need for both governments and the private sector to invest in activities that lower greenhouse gas emissions and develop climate resilience.
In the past the business case for forest protection has been challenging to make. As a result it has been difficult to attract private sector investment in the scale that is required.
But this is changing. Institutional investors are beginning to turn their attention to sustainable development because they see a shift is taking place. And they see the potential commercial return. We are on the cusp of significant opportunities, but as a region we need to be better prepared by creating the right conditions for well-functioning markets to develop and better facilitate large scale private sector investment in activities that conserve forests.
My predecessor, Greg Hunt, recognised this and established the Private Sector Roundtable as part of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership. And I would like to thank the chair of the Roundtable, Ms Aida Greenbury of Asia-Pulp and Paper and the Deputy-Chair Mr Martijn Wilder of Baker McKenzie, for spearheading this initiative over the last six months.
I was pleased to be briefed on these promising pilot projects and the policy briefs put forward by the Private Sector Roundtable. For example, there are private sector projects that are working on peatland protection in Indonesia, another that is generating voluntary carbon units in Papua New Guinea, as well as an interesting project on how the legality of timber sourcing can be improved through DNA sampling of timber species in supply chains.
There are also private sector projects that identify how to increase resilience of farmers in Sumatra and Borneo, and how to provide viable alternative livelihoods for communities that are currently relying on deforestation.
And I know that the likes of Credit Suisse and Baker and McKenzie have been working hard on identifying how finance can reach the communities that rely on forests for their livelihoods in order to ensure sustainable outcomes.
These projects are diverse in nature. Some are about creating credible tradeable units under a REDD+ mechanism, some are about improving information gaps to better inform timber supply chains for consumers, and others are simply about demonstrating what best practice looks like when it comes to sustainable forest management.
But they all have one thing in common: they are improving our understanding of how businesses can be competitive while still advancing the economic and social conditions of the forest communities in which they operate.
To conclude on a lighter note, as a keen amateur photographer I was deeply impressed with the photo exhibition of rainforests that are part of this event. I understand that these photos came about through a competition that drew over 200 entries. This was an open and inclusive way to bring attention to the different values we place on rainforests and a great prelude to the Summit.
And for the Summit itself I urge you to take full advantage of the wealth of knowledge, experience and creativity of all of the participants. I look forward with great interest to hearing more about the actions being implemented in the region to protect and conserve our forests.
But I encourage you also to extend this collaboration beyond the sessions themselves, and to engage as broadly as possible in the hallways and the side-events. This Summit is about partnership, and partnership is about a full exchange of ideas from policy makers, scientists, community representatives and the private sector.
I will be most keen to hear your ideas on how to take practical actions forward, and I wish you all the best for a successful Summit.