UN Summit Made Progress on Sustainability, Gillard Says

Commitments on setting sustainable development goals, addressing overfishing and recognition of how climate change affects oceans are among the achievements of the Rio+20 summit, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

“Collective action is hard and global collective action is even harder but things have been progressed here,” Gillard told reporters at the conference in Rio de Janeiro, according to an e-mailed transcript. “We now want to see, following this meeting, a stronger oceans governance regime under the UN convention on the law of the sea.”

The summit has been assailed by world leaders and environmentalists for not setting strong enough goals, as heads of developing nations including China and Bolivia criticized efforts to cap fossil fuel use as a ploy by richer nations to maintain their dominance. Still, the UN obtained voluntary pledges worth $513 billion from governments and corporations for projects to reduce fossil fuel use, stimulate renewable energy, conserve water and alleviate poverty.

The European Union supports an “inclusive green economy” that balances opportunities for businesses and job creation while preserving the environment, Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, said in a statement today.

A sustainable development finance strategy, which the conference has agreed to establish, must combine existing development aid with private investments, and involve global financial institutions, Potocnik said.

Development, Conservation

Australia, seeking to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change, will introduce a price on carbon emissions, set to start on July 1 at A$23 a metric ton. It will transition in 2015 to an emissions trading system that lets the market determine the cost.

In Australia, the clash between development and environmental conservation has been most evident in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest collection of corals and the only living thing on earth visible from space. The UN warned earlier this month that the reef, home to more than 1,500 species of fish, is under threat from coastal developments, ports and natural gas projects, and may be endangered within a year without better protection.

‘Small Impact’

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke earlier this month said the government plans to create the world’s most comprehensive network of marine parks. The number of reserves will more than double to 60 and the network will cover more than a third of the nation’s waters, he said on June 14.

“We’re talking about a very very small impact on commercial fishing,” Gillard said today. “We are talking about marine reserves that we manage as conservation zones because of how precious our ocean environments are to us as an island continent.”

The Rio summit, which concluded yesterday, agreed to review the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as a guide to developing a set of sustainable development aims by 2015, Gillard said. It also reached agreements to strengthen the role of the UN environment program, and a pact to replace the commission on sustainable development with a “high-level political forum,” she said.

“I do not believe that this meeting will make change tomorrow,” Gillard said. “But I do believe that the things that have been agreed here will over time make a difference to our world’s environment.”

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