Early tests for new Australian Environment Minister on the international stage

Josh Frydenberg MP has taken on the newly expanded role of Energy and Environment Minister following the return of the Turnbull Government in the recent federal election in Australia. Elephants, rhinos, whales … they all need to be on the new Australian Minister’s urgent to-do list.

Frydenberg’s appointment has not been without controversy. Mr Frydenberg’s support for the coal industry in his previous post as Resources Minister has left some questioning the Government’s commitment to action on climate change and protection of the Great Barrier Reef. However, there is logic in combining the Environment and Energy portfolios if Australia is to truly grasp the mantle of the massive shift away from fossil fuels required to safeguard ours and the planet’s environment. The task facing Mr Frydenberg now is to demonstrate he is capable of meeting that challenge.

While climate change and the Reef have understandably dominated media discussions so far, the coming months also see some crucial tests on the international stage for the incoming Minister with regards to wildlife protection.

In September the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meets to decide the fate of a number of iconic wildlife species threatened by trade, such as elephants, rhinos and lions. These species are being decimated by poaching for ivory, rhino horn and poorly regulated trophy hunting.

With an elephant killed every 15 minutes to supply the illegal ivory trade, and populations throughout western and central Africa on the brink of extinction, now is not the time to be contemplating further legal sales of ivory. Rhinos are being hit equally hard with over 1,300 rhinos poached last year, up from just 13 in 2007. Meanwhile, African lion numbers have plummeted to as low as possibly 20,000 animals continent-wide, with as much as 40 percent of the species lost in the last two decades.

Australia has a proud history of taking extra domestic measures to protect elephants, rhinos and most recently lions from the detrimental impacts of trade and trophy hunting.

READ: Canned! No more lion trophies to be imported into Australia

Minster Frydenberg must ensure that the Australian Government delegation to CITES speaks out in protection of these animals, as well as in support of a host of further proposals to protect other animals equally at threat from international trade, like pangolins, African grey parrots and sharks.

Shortly after CITES, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will meet. This will be the first meeting of the Commission since Japan’s whaling fleet returned to the Antarctic killing 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, snubbing its nose at the International Court of Justice’s historic decision which shut down Japan’s previous whaling program.  October’s meeting of the IWC will be a crucial test of how the international community responds to Japan’s inflammatory actions. Australia’s leadership will be key.

Should Japan fail to abandon its ill-conceived plans, then the task falls to Minister Frydenberg and colleagues to return to international courts, as advocated by leading experts in international law, to take Japan’s continued whaling to task.

The coming months are crucial ones for some of the world’s most iconic and most imperilled wildlife. Domestically, Australia is a great friend to these animals. It’s up to Minister Frydenberg to prove Australia’s willingness to fight for them on the world stage.

--MC

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