Protecting the Environment: A Trans-Tasman Synergy: Howard Bamsey Discusses Australian and New Zealand Approaches to Environmental Issues and Suggests That Working Together Doubles Their Influence

Article excerpt

The environment has been in the mainstream of international policymaking for a comparatively short period. The early international treaties on explicitly environmental issues date from the past 30 years or so, and the bulk of the body of international environmental law and policy activity is from the past fifteen years. Environmental issues have played a prominent part in foreign policy thinking for an even shorter time. During that period, it has been normal for Australia to cooperate closely with New Zealand. At international meetings Australian and New Zealand delegations have typically worked together, compared notes frequently, supported each other on central issues and talked to each other over dinner about how the next day's negotiations might be handled. This is just what most people would expect: that the habit of trans-Tasman co-operation would be as evident in environment matters as in other areas of multilateral activities. But there are also some more hardheaded reasons for this, a sharper reading of national interests in common that we will return to later.

This close co-operation has been a feature of negotiating processes on a wide range of environmental issues--over the years common ground has been found on issues as diverse as climate change, chemicals management, hazardous waste management, conservation of fish stocks, protection of the ozone layer and trade in endangered species. Co-operation has been a special feature, as one might expect, of work on issues relevant to the region. Australia and New Zealand have worked closely together in the Antarctic Treaty context for decades, and more recently have continued to do so in the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Protection of the environment in the Pacific has also been a particular theme of Australia-New Zealand co-operation, with whales being a long-term subject for such co-operation and a regional agreement on albatrosses and petrels a more recent example.

The two countries have worked closely with the Pacific Islands countries on these and other issues relevant to the region. Australia's and New Zealand's roles in the Pacific are complementary much of the time. Australia has been happy to learn from New Zealand's sometimes closer engagement and better `feel' for parts of the Pacific.

In the early 1990s, as the European Union grew in size and influence, Australia and New Zealand along with other developed countries outside the European Union started to feel the need for some grouping to serve as a counterweight in international negotiations. Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway formed JUSSCANZ (an acronym based on their initial letters) as an informal caucus. JUSSCANZ has since that time been a constant presence at most environmental meetings. Various other countries have participated--Iceland, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, Mexico among them. JUSSCANZ has seldom been a negotiating bloc; it has generally remained a caucus used for exchange of information and informal debate.

Obvious attractions

It was natural for Australia and New Zealand to become members of JUSSCANZ; for countries separated geographically from other developed countries and with distinctive environmental and economic characteristics, such a grouping holds obvious attractions. When in the climate change context it became clear that those negotiations would demand a tighter alliance among countries with similar views, Australia and New Zealand became foundation members of a new group that did in some respects operate as a negotiating bloc, the Umbrella Group. The Umbrella Group has always been a rather loose alliance (sometimes described as more umbrella than group) with members vigorously debating issues but being careful not to pressure one another to compromise for the sake of reaching common positions.

Another attempt to develop wider alliances outside the usual negotiating groups in the environment context was the Valdivia Group, established in 1995. …