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29 October 2007 - Where is the biodiversity conservation policy?       

Where is the biodiversity conservation policy?

Sydney, 29 October 2007                                               

Humane Society International Campaign Director, Michael Kennedy, today called upon all political parties to make a policy commitment, renewing the highly successful and critically important, Regional Natural Heritage Program (RNHP).

Mr Kennedy said, “So far in this election debate, we have heard very few words, and seen even less commitment, in relation to the conservation and protection of biological diversity in Asia and the Pacific, a region in real conservation crisis.”

The Regional Natural Heritage Program, primarily awards non-government conservation organisations grants for important programs conserving threatened habitats and species in the Asia/Pacific ‘biodiversity hotspot’ regions (which virtually means every country in the region). With escalating rates of habitat destruction and the predicted wide-ranging effects of climate change on biodiversity, the need for these grants in becoming even more urgent. A reassessment of global hotspots in 2004 by Conservation International revealed a worsening situation, with regions in the Pacific that were once teeming with endemic species and large expanses of intact habitat now devastated by widespread illegal logging and the expansion of oil palm plantations. Yet alarmingly, the Coalition Government failed to renew the program in the 2007 budget. The ALP had promised a similar regional program at its 2007 National Conference.

Mr Kennedy said, “The $10 million RNHP has been able to supply critical funds to a good number of neighbouring states in the region, including Australia’s priority aid nations. Those nations include Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, East Timor, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Samoa, French Polynesia, and other island nations and important biodiversity sites in Micronesia and Polynesia. The RNHP also managed to leverage a further $10 million, effectively doubling the value of the program.”

The work of the RNHP contributes significantly to regional stability, and hence Australia’s own environmental, economic and political security - a matter of great importance to all Australians. Australian expertise and know-how has also been exported through the implementation of the program.

Last week the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released the Fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) assessment report, highlighting the severe pressures being placed on the world’s biodiversity, coasts, fish stocks, climate and human well being as a result of environmental degradation being driven by population growth, economic activities and unsustainable consumption patterns.

With the GEO-4 report calling for ‘effective policy responses at all levels of governance’, Australia’s RNHP program is an important piece of practical assistance for a region under severe stress.

Mr Kennedy concluded, “We urge all parties to commit to renewing this essential program, making the RNHP a permanent part of Australia’s crucial international aid program.  We would also urge a considerable expansion of the program, allowing it to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation activities in biodiversity hotspot countries, allocating $40 million over the first three-year period.”

Notes to Editors

  • Further information including a list of projects funded by RNHP available at: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/programs/rnhp/index.html      
  • HSI's Director Michael Kennedy was a member of the RNHP Advisory Committee established by the Minister for the Environment to assess grant applications and provide recommendations to the Minister.
  • HSI has written to each of the political parties asking for their policies on a number of Biodiversity and Climate Change related initiatives. Further details available at www.hsi.org.au

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