The Environment in Australia’s Foreign Policy

Navigating the New International Disorder: Australia in World Affairs 2011–2015

Author/s (editor/s):

Lorraine Elliott

Publication year:


Publication type:

Book chapter

Find this publication at:
Oxford University Press

Lorraine Elliott, ‘The Environment in Australia’s Foreign Policy’, in Mark Beeson and Shahar Hamerri, eds, Navigating the New International Disorder: Australia in World Affairs 2011–2015, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 176‒91.

This chapter explores three environmental cases that provide exemplars (albeit of different kinds) of the way that Labor and Liberal‒National Coalition governments approached their foreign environmental policy in the period 2011‒15. The first focuses on the final stages of negotiation and adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Despite attracting little public attention in Australia, it nevertheless constitutes a useful example of how Australian governments have approached a new legally binding environmental agreement. The second case is the whaling challenge in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), instigated in May 2010. The Gillard Labor government presented the Memorial (the written submission) to the ICJ in May 2011. The Court’s judgement was delivered in March 2014, by which time the Coalition was in power. The final and without doubt the most publicly prominent and divisive issue investigated in this chapter is climate change. In the period under review this culminated in the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015. In all three cases, Australia’s foreign environmental policy has been subject to varying degrees of domestic scrutiny, lobbying and the marshalling of public opinion by various interest groups. In at least two of the cases ‒ whaling and climate change ‒ Australia’s foreign policy brought it into potential conflict with regional neighbours and, in the case of climate change, placed it under significant international scrutiny.

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