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Tanya Plibersek makes first summit speech after ‘demotion’ to environment

Tanya Plibersek speaks at her first international summit after being ‘demoted’ to environment minister over rivalry between leadership and Anthony Albanian

  • Tanya Plibersek speaks on ocean conservation at UN conference in Lisbon
  • It will be her first time speaking on the world stage as the environment minister
  • She was shadow minister of education for six years, but was ‘demoted’ after the elections
  • Analysts believe Prime Minister Anthony Albanian was her leadership rival

Australia’s new environment minister has expressed her ambitions to show global leadership on ocean conservation, but Tanya Plibersek will get her first chance to speak this week.

Heads of state and environment ministers from around the world meet in the Portuguese capital Lisbon to work out how to save the ocean from the ravages of climate change, pollution, overfishing and development.

The event will be Ms Plibersek’s first time on the global stage in her new portfolio and follows a four-year Australian $80 million commitment to the international scholarship organization, the Global Environment Faculty.

Tanya Plibersek (pictured) will speak on the world stage for the first time as Australia's new Environment Minister

Tanya Plibersek (pictured) will speak on the world stage for the first time as Australia’s new Environment Minister

Pepe Clarke is coordinating ocean conservation efforts for WWF International and will be one of thousands of delegates.

He says the summit, which will also bring together conservation groups, scientists, donors and the private sector, is the perfect platform for Ms. Plibersek to get on the board early in front of a global audience.

The focus of the conference is forward action on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 – the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources.

Before heading to Lisbon, Ms Plibersek said observers could expect Australia to play a proactive role in ramping up protection for the world’s largest carbon sink, which faces unprecedented threats from human activity.

“The new Australian government understands the urgency of the challenge facing our oceans and planet, and we are determined to be a full partner in the global fight to tackle it,” she said.

“Australian ocean science is the best in the world – we now have a government willing to use what we know to protect and restore ocean health.”

Mr Clarke said the minister should use the conference to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to the global effort to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s land and 30 percent of the oceans by 2030.

But there was an opportunity to go much further.

Mr Clarke said about 45 per cent of Australia’s marine area is within marine protected areas, but only 17 per cent is fully protected from oil, gas and fishing activities.

“Australia can really lead the way here and say that in our waters we will have more than 30 percent in marine protected areas, but also protect 30 percent of our oceans from extractive activities.”

Environment ministers from around the world meet in the Portuguese capital Lisbon for a UN conference focused on ocean conservation

Environment ministers from around the world meet in the Portuguese capital Lisbon for a UN conference focused on ocean conservation

Anthony Albanese (left) had given Miss Plibersek (right) the new environment portfolio after a 'leadership rivalry'

Anthony Albanese (left) had given Miss Plibersek (right) the new environment portfolio after a ‘leadership rivalry’

Mr Clarke said Australia could also pledge to invest more in nature-based climate solutions in the Pacific and offer to share expertise on coral reef conservation.

There was also an opportunity for Ms Plibersek to highlight support for a global agreement to protect marine life on the high seas – the majority of the world’s oceans that fall outside the jurisdiction of individual countries.

UN member states have been discussing how to protect the high seas from overfishing, mining, pollution and other threats for nearly 20 years and seemed close to closing a deal in 2020.

Then COVID struck and the conversations were put on ice.

Mr Clarke hopes the conference will reinvigorate that effort, along with other big ticket items Australia is supporting, including a global treaty on plastic pollution and a new marine protected area in Antarctica.

The UN ocean conference starts Monday in Lisbon and lasts until July 1.

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