The opening plenary of the 2016 Global Landscapes Forum in Marrakesh will bring together leaders from policy, research, civil society and grassroots activism to share their visions for realizing climate solutions – utilizing the landscape approach and identifying key next steps to achieving tangible, implementable action. Speakers will share their hopes for the event and raise questions to be discussed within the more than 25 interactive and breakout sessions at the Forum.
Well, it’s a great pleasure to join you here as Australia’s Environment and Energy Minister, together with my foreign minister, representing our country here at COP22.
It has to be said, there is a positive mood here at Marrakesh, given what has transpired in the last 12 months. To think that, in that period, more than 190 countries have adopted targets to reduce their emissions at Paris, that the agreement was subsequently signed and now has been ratified by more than 100 different nations. And Australia is very proud to be part of one of those nations that has now ratified the agreement.
And together with the work that was done through the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of HFCs – hydrofluorocarbons, which Australia was the co-chair of the working group – the agreement recently in the international aviation sector to reduce emissions, and the other work that we are doing through the Green Climate Fund, of which Australia is a co-chair with South Africa, and the Climate Finance Roadmap which we worked side-by-side with the UK to lead. It’s been a sign of the significant momentum that is gathering around the world to actually reduce our emissions in a significant way to meet our targets.
It’s also a particular pleasure to be here at the Global Landscapes Forum. And this is an important forum – the world’s leading event for innovative ideas on sustainable land use. The land sector accounts for nearly 20 per cent of global emissions. Australia is a world leader in measuring and managing land sector emissions, due in no small part to our geography. We are the world’s largest island, and at the same time the world’s smallest continent.
Today I want to make three points about Australia’s recent experiences. The first is about the importance of establishing the capacity to measure and manage our carbon in the landscapes. The second is about how Australia is sharing our expertise and working with partners in our region, including through the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. And the third is about the need to extend our knowledge to measuring and managing blue carbon in better ways.
First, measuring and managing carbon in our land. Australia’s land mass is immense. We have a land area of eight million square kilometers. Over half of this is agricultural land, with around 14 per cent being forest. Being able to measure carbon in the Australian landscape is absolutely critical to tracking our progress towards our emissions reduction targets.
We also know that what you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Australia was an early adopter of sophisticated satellite observation and carbon modeling methods to estimate emissions from the land sector. The investments we have made in our inventory system are now paying dividends. Not only has our system consistently been found to meet the UNFCCC’s high standards, but also provides the foundation for our domestic mitigation efforts.
This includes our Emissions Reduction Fund, which delivers the lowest cost abatement from across the economy. It’s driving significant emissions reductions and has had a big effect on traditional owners of the land, farmers, and other landholders. The fund has secured more than 143 million tonnes of abatement over three auctions in the past two years. And the fourth auction is occurring as we speak.
Over 115 million tonnes, or 80 per cent of all the emissions reductions under this fund, are from the land sector. This includes projects that will allow natural forests to regrow, store carbon in the soil, and reduce methane emissions from the intensive livestock industry.
Our policy is also driving important co-benefits. A prime example is savannah fire management across the north of Australia. These projects reduce late season wild bushfires and deliver significant abatement. More than eight million tonnes are currently estimated to have been saved.
But of equal importance is that these projects improve the protection of the cultural and environmental values, allowing our indigenous people and traditional landowners to remain on country, and to actively manage important cultural sites.
The second area I wanted to talk about was capacity building and partnerships. Australia is sharing its expertise and working with partners to build the capacity to manage and to measure carbon in their landscape.
More than 100 countries have recognized the role of the land sector in their national contributions at the Paris Agreement. Australia is working with partner countries in our region to support the development of these systems, so that they can accurately and transparently report greenhouse gas emissions.
This includes our longstanding and productive work with Indonesia to support its development of forest management, reporting, and verification. And also working with the United States, Norway, and the FAO, and global space agencies, to ensure that all countries can benefit from this expertise through the Global Forest Observations Initiative.
In terms of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit, we convened this a few years ago. And it supports the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and reduces emissions from deforestation. In Australia’s region, a conservative estimate of emissions from forest and land use change is approximately one billion tonnes of CO2 per year, from South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands. This is nearly twice Australia’s annual total emissions from all sectors.
Given the scale of this challenge, I was pleased to join ministers from across the Asia-Pacific in Brunei earlier this year, at the partnership’s second Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. Discussions at the summit underlined three key challenges in my mind.
The first was that governments in the region are committed to conserve their great forests, yet progress and practical results have been slow. The second, the private sector needs to be at the table if we are going to tackle the cause of deforestation and attract more sustainable investments and industries. And three, we need to develop cost-effective, credible methods for measuring and managing forest carbon.
Given these challenges, I’m pleased to confirm today that Australia will commit $16 million to an Indo-Pacific Land Action package. This package will support a range of measures to promote emissions reductions in the land sector, including supporting innovative public-private sector partnerships. This investment builds on the objectives of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit and the Global Landscapes Forum in conserving the regions’ forests and carbon stock.
Finally, the third topic I wanted to mention was the International Partnership for Blue Carbon. After launching the International Blue Carbon Partnership, Australia has welcomed several new members, including the UAE and The Nature Conservancy, who have expressed their support for the partnership at this COP.
This is an important example, and an innovative way, of countries, research organizations, and NGOs working together to achieve positive climate outcomes in our landscapes. There is a growing recognition of the critical importance of different landscapes – not just forests, but also coastal blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes, and sea grasses. These systems sequester up to four times the amount of carbon that is sequestered by terrestrial forests. And their loss is a significant contributor to global deforestation emissions.
Our vision is for more countries to incorporate blue carbon into their nationally determined contributions. And, again, this will require getting the basics in place – the methods for measurement, reporting and verification – and subsequently linking prospective projects with climate finance. In Australia, we are beginning to build blue carbon into our national inventory and we’ll look to share what we learn with the partnership to help build capacity and measuring and managing these systems.
In conclusion, I’m proud of Australia’s expertise in the land sector, and of our track record in building this capacity in our region, and our efforts to find new ways to support climate action in our landscapes.
As our Prime Minister in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, has said: Australia is at the forefront of energy and climate science innovation. Australia will continue to forge new ground, as well as find ways to help others, including some of our nearest Pacific neighbors who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We will continue to bring our innovative thinking and technical expertise to bear on the key challenges of meeting both our own targets and our collective ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
I thank you for joining us at this important event, and I wish you all well in our deliberations as to how we protect, preserve and promote our beautiful landscapes. Thank you very much.