Australia Tightens Belt on Environmental Spending

Sydney Pead | December 4, 2014.

Australia’s federal government has slashed funding to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) by AU$4 million ahead of UN climate talks in Lima.

Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, said that other issues took precedence over UNEP funding and the cuts were necessary to contribute to the overall savings of the conservative government.

“I would imagine that most Australians would see putting $12 million into coral reef protection within our region and combating illegal logging of the great rainforests of the Asia-Pacific as a pretty good investment compared with $4 million for bureaucratic support within the UN system,” he told the ABC.

However, UNEP, which relies on combined funding from its member countries for sustainable development are disappointed by the cuts. UNEP’s executive director, Achim Steiner, suggested that the environmental returns for Australia are much bigger than their initial contributions.

“Whether it’s air pollution, whether it’s ozone depleting substances, what’s happening in the world’s oceans, the conservation of biodiversity – for a relatively small amount, Australia benefits from leveraging well over $500 million in contributions that other countries make,” he said to the ABC.

“As an executive director, you have to be disappointed because clearly the contribution of member states is what enables UNEP to fulfil its mandate and be of service to the global community,” said Mr Steiner.

UNEP cuts are an example of the widespread scaling back of environmental funding since the Liberal government was elected in September 2013. Some cuts to environmental policy include a repealed carbon tax, abolition of environmental agencies, and a repeal of environmental regulations dubbed “green tape.”

Australia is also one of only four developed countries yet to put forward their contribution to the Green Climate Fund. An Oxfam fair share guide suggests that Australia should put forward a figure US$400 million based on the initial objective of raising $15 billion before 2020.

The UN climate change negotiations currently being held in Lima, Perú will be attended by Australia’s foreign affairs minister. Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to also send Australia’s trade minister has revealed conflict within the government’s approach to environmental issues.


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