Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Thank you very much indeed for coming along this afternoon; and for your written submissions. I am very sorry to have kept you waiting; we had quite a bit to deal with, because you have been doing a lot of travelling and we are about to do a lot of travelling, so we had to arrange all that. Thank you also, Mr Nouhan, for organising the session and helping with that, we are very grateful to you for that. Is there anything you would like to say, by way of a brief opening statement, before we begin cross-questioning?

  (Mr Nouhan) Thank you, Chair; and thank you for inviting us to attend today. Just a point of qualification. I certainly have a little something I would like to say, especially having just come back from the most recent PrepCom in New York for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, then perhaps my colleagues also will have a moment to make a few introductory points. On February 8, just this past Friday, the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development concluded its second session, and it is beginning to create a framework for the new initiatives that we hope will be brought forward in Johannesburg, building on a process that began at the country and regional levels. And the important point there is that there has been a process which has been a bottom-up approach. The major groups and the Governments issued a summary, identifying what the key areas in Johannesburg that will be addressed will be, and I thought it would be useful just to mention those to this group today, because, of course, the UK Government has initiatives that are tied into what will happen in Johannesburg, and various stakeholder groups in the UK, my colleagues here at the table included, have initiatives that are addressing those themes. Poverty eradication, sustainable patterns of consumption and production, the sustainable development of natural resources, and making globalisation work, to promote sustainable development, have emerged as the focus for the summit outcomes. And for each of these broad topics there are actually a dozen or more recommendations for immediate action. I am happy to submit the full report at a later date to the Committee, so that you can review it and see the detail of it.[1]

  2. That will be very useful; thank you very much indeed. Dr Jefferiss, is there anything you would like to add, by way of introduction?
  (Dr Jefferiss) Just very briefly to thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is clearly extremely important, and to explain the reasons for the RSPB's interest in the Summit on Sustainable Development. In addition to being the largest conservation charity in Europe we are also a member of a worldwide partnership, called Bird-Life International, which focuses on the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in over 100 countries worldwide; the RSPB is directly involved in many of those, and indirectly in almost all of them. For that reason, we engage in a very wide range of sectoral sustainability issues that go beyond biodiversity, narrowly defined, including activities in agriculture, fisheries, marine pollution, trade, energy, transport, and so on. And, with respect to the World Summit itself, we are engaged in five specific, major activities, directed towards Johannesburg.

  3. Thank you very much indeed. Mr Phillips, is there anything you would like to add?
  (Mr Phillips) Similar to Paul, I think really I will just say who I am and so you get some impression of where we are coming from. I am a Senior Campaigner at Friends of the Earth in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where I manage the team we call Living World, which looks at biodiversity issues and looks at the role of business and industry; but I am also co-ordinator of the Friends of the Earth International programme on Business and Industry. And Friends of the Earth International, for those of you who do not know, is the largest network of environmental groups around the world, not all of them are called Friends of the Earth, actually, but most of them are, and it is a network in 68 countries around the world, most of which are in the global south. So the perspectives we draw, when we address issues such as the Earth Summit, really are drawn from an experience of groups which have grass-roots membership and activists from around the world, and particularly from the global south. So, in other words, the perspectives we are taking, in particular, into the Summit process are based very much around that wide experience, which gives us a bit more than this sort of north/south dialogue there is sometimes in these fora, we are already a north/south network, so we can draw that perspective in.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Thomas

  4. I wonder if we can start with the PrepCom Summit, which you usefully gave a quick outline of to us, about what has been discussed there; could you say, all three of you, in a sense, whether you are happy with the way that agenda is developing, or whether you feel there are some priorities that are being left off the agenda or moved down the agenda? We would like to have an impression of what concerns you may have, as well as the positive side of what has already been achieved?
  (Mr Nouhan) I do not know if, Paul, you are familiar with it, have you seen the outcome yet, because it has only just been made available.
  (Dr Jefferiss) I have not seen the outcome of that PrepCom, no. I can comment more generally on the process. We are concerned that the Summit not result only in a celebration of the success of certain instruments and processes that have been established since the Rio Summit, particularly the Convention on Biodiversity, the Climate Convention, the Agreement on Forests, and even Agenda 21, in that, although all of those processes, in one way or another, are up and running and some progress has been made, it is quite clear that in all of those arenas there have been significantly negative trends as well. Forest areas are still being decimated, biodiversity is being lost at a very rapid rate, climate emissions continue to increase, and many aspects of sustainability generally are on the decline. And I think, in addition to celebrating successes and moving forward on particular issues, there needs to be a recognition that we have failed, in some respects, to implement some of the good policies that have been recommended, and steps should be taken, I think, to set in process some sort of mechanism both for monitoring progress, and for raising awareness and the profile of the fact that we are not always moving in the direction that we need to move in, with the ultimate goal, no later than the next Summit, of actually implementing policy that begins to reverse these trends. Possibly something like a set of global headline indicators, comparable to the UK ones, would be a mechanism for both monitoring and raising awareness about the issues. So that is my concern, that the agenda is not recognising that the existing processes, outside Agenda 21, are not as successful as they should be.

  5. Would that be a shared concern?
  (Mr Phillips) I think so, probably, and, I think, from the way that we have looked at it, we have been pretty disappointed by the Chairman's Summary, which is the document which is now on the table, if you like, from PrepCom2. The process by which that was developed has faults in it, but it also has some merits, in the idea of the grass-roots input, the idea of addressing some of the ways into it, through a sort of multi-stakeholder process, proved to be some useful ideas. However, the PrepCom itself was divided into two halves. The first half was dominated by this multi-stakeholder dialogue, where the Governments of the world were forced to listen to lots of other people saying what they thought the priorities should be, what they felt the agenda should be, and it is certainly my impression that, when it actually came to the Governments looking at those points that were made, they were roundly ignored, and the input therefore came down to some of the sort of `business as usual' international negotiation. What we are really concerned about is that the outcome is looking terribly like a sort of Doha squared, the sort of green tinges around the WTO agenda, and we really want to see something which takes a step back and makes sure that the sustainable development voice is up front, in terms of the way the world is going. And what we are not really feeling confident about is that the outcome which is outlined, essentially, by the Chairman's Summary is really going to get to grips with that kind of challenge, to the fact that kind of `business as usual' approach has not worked so far and we have not secured sustainable development so far. So, essentially, that is the kind of round-up of where we were coming from. What we are also very worried to see is, there seems to be a lot of talk about these Type 2 outcomes from the Summit, and these seem to be the kinds of projects or initiatives which come out which are separate from the mainstream negotiation, and we are a bit concerned that some of those are going to be high profile things, which will actually distract from the fact that Governments will not really have sat down and done the job they should have done, which is to deliver something which sets out the direction for the planet for the next ten years on the issue of sustainable development. And we are a bit concerned that there is going to be a bit too much playing to the audience, in terms of these specific Type 2 outcomes, not that we know particularly what they are going to be yet, but there just seems to be a lot of talk about that.
  (Mr Nouhan) I am a little bit more optimistic than that, about how the process ended up; although, I have to say, in fairness to Matt, after the first week, which, as he said, was monopolised by, to a large extent, half of the first week was the multi-stakeholder dialogues, and that is various Agenda 21 stakeholder groups make statements to the Plenary Session, there are responses from Governments, there are statements from Governments on the various issues. That is a process that is very much a result of many years of negotiating, you might say, on the part of civil society, to have a voice at these meetings. Because, as you are probably all aware, Agenda 21, which was the primary agreement to come out of the Rio Summit in 1992, made it very clear that there would be a new type of thinking about this, it would be a multi-stakeholder process, civil society would inform government, rather than a government just making decisions without consultation with civil society. If we look at the real processes, in general, I think it is safe to say that there has been tremendous progress with stakeholder consultation, compared with where it was ten years ago. Yes, I share concerns of the others that certain conventions have not been implemented, that there has been tremendous loss still in biodiversity, environmental degradation, but, if nothing else, the biggest success in ten years since Rio was, I think, we are all now clearly aware of what the problems are, in a way that we just were not ten years ago. We know what needs to be done; the big challenge now is that something has to be done about it.


  6. Do you think ten years is a long time to realise what the problems are?
  (Mr Nouhan) Considering how slowly the UN works, considering how difficult it is for Governments, and 189 Governments now, to try to come to some consensus about what to do, one might say that ten years is not such a long time. But there have been a lot of problems in ten years; globalisation is a word we did not have ten years ago, and globalisation, as it so happens, is one of the key themes at the Summit. I had the good fortune of meeting on two occasions with Under Secretary-General Nitin Desai, who is the person at the UN who is leading on the Summit, and he made reference to these initiatives that Matt referred to, and what he hopes, his vision of the Summit, if I can paraphrase a bit, is that in Johannesburg there will be identified a handful of initiatives that are achievable, that Governments can feel confident in committing to and that something can actually be done about. He expressed concern that there would not be any earth-shattering agreements, because there would not likely be any new funds to put behind anything like that, and so it was not practical to go after something that would not have any financing behind it and, as a result, just ten years from now, would be seen as yet another failure. They are working very, very hard to get something concrete in Johannesburg; the challenge, of course, is that Governments have 189 different agendas, and we saw that on the Monday after the first week, the Secretary-General's report, which outlined about ten general areas that had arisen out of the regional PrepComs, that took place globally, were abandoned on Monday morning. Certain blocs, particularly the G77 and China, made the statement first thing on Monday, "As far as we are concerned, these categories shouldn't be here; we're prepared to talk about what's under them, but we don't want any categories." So it was agreed that the categories would be thrown out. And it was a sad moment, we were all wondering what was going to happen by week's end, but by the end of the week it came back together again; and the document that we are referring to, what is entitled the `Chairman's Paper', is, in fact, the text that they will negotiate at the end of March. It has a lot of gaps but, on the other hand, it does have promise.

Mr Thomas

  7. It does sound like we have at least learned how to talk to each other in ten years, but we have not learned how to take the action together, and that is one of the weaknesses. Does it suggest that the agenda will be one of low ambition, whereas we always see it as having high ambition and something that could galvanise action, by countries and by NGOs and stakeholders, whereas this will be a mere tick-box, of little steps that Governments are prepared to take; is it that their pressure is not on the Governments to act and to set a higher, more challenging agenda?
  (Mr Nouhan) Pressure by whom?

  8. From the public, from stakeholders, from NGOs?
  (Mr Nouhan) We hear this from the people we work with in DEFRA, who lead in the UK on this matter, that public opinion is important, but public opinion is not very forthcoming, and that is one of the things that we, at UNED, in our efforts as an umbrella body for the NGOs who are involved in this process in the UK, bring in, making them more aware of it, then that will trickle down to their constituents and the public opinion will swell. I think it is accurate to say it has been challenged to do that. Trying to tick boxes in Johannesburg, I do not know; it ended on a somewhat up-beat note on Friday, in that the Chairman held up his Paper and said, "The first of these issues is poverty eradication. Don't do anything else before you solve this problem; once you solve this, everything else will fall into place." And he sent the delegates away with the challenge, "Focus on poverty eradication, and if you solve that problem the other things will come together." So to say that it is poverty eradication, I do not think it is tick-boxes, that is the biggest challenge that we face, and they are prepared to tackle that, at least on Friday they were.
  (Dr Jefferiss) I think we are in a situation where there is a danger of falling between two stools. I think, since Rio, it is clear that there is much greater multi-stakeholder participation, both internationally and certainly within the UK, than there was ten years ago, and I think that is all to the good. That creates problems in itself, in that, with a multiplicity of voices, there is a multiplicity of messages, and so there is sometimes a lack of clarity, although I think there has actually been a good deal of consensus, and a surprising degree of clarity, from multi-stakeholder processes. I think the problem though remains that the voice that multi-stakeholders speak with is not necessarily heard and is not necessarily given sufficient weight by Governments, both in the UK and internationally, with the result that we run the risk, that Matt is referring to, of "business as usual". So I think there is the possibility of an agenda at Johannesburg which is both unambitious and unclear. Having said that, as we get nearer to the Summit, it does seem that the issue of poverty alleviation, and poverty alleviation particularly in Africa, which is the locus of the Summit, does seem to be emerging as a kind of unifying theme. And, to the extent that poverty alleviation is the key that unlocks other aspects of sustainable development, which it often is, I think there is some reason for hope.

  9. May I ask, therefore, what your impression is of the UK's agenda for Johannesburg, the initiatives that are suggested there within the UK Government's agenda, about water, energy, tourism, finance and forestry, presumably working, therefore, on an overriding aim of poverty alleviation? But, in terms of what you have just said about the voices of the stakeholders not being heard, or the possibility of confusion being there, how will the UK come to its agenda, have you been consulted on that, was it a case of the UK Government saying, "These are our priorities, tell us now what you'd like to see us do under them," or was there a proper process by which the priorities were arrived at in dialogue with groups such as yourselves and the public at large? Finally, it has been mentioned about UNED's work and reaching out to the public, but since the agenda is already being set and since the Government has already reached its priorities, is not that just a bit of skating over the cracks of public consultation?
  ( Mr Nouhan) I can certainly speak to that, from having been a part of the public consultation now for about 18 months, and, Matt, I am sure you want to say something, but if you would just let me comment. I have a matrix in front of me, which compares what UK stakeholders identified back in November 2000 as what would be the key areas that are important to the UK, both domestically and internationally. I then have a list of the UK Government's initiatives. Now there are two lists of which we are aware, the initiatives on water, finance, that is the PM's initiatives, but in terms of their goals at the Summit, it is a little bit different, it is fresh water, it is resource efficiency, it is sustainable energy, it is sustainable development initiatives in Africa, and it is ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and the Stockholm Agreement, in terms that their objectives are global.

  10. When you say `their' objectives?
  (Mr Nouhan) The UK Government.

  11. And these are slightly different from the ones that the PM set out?
  (Mr Nouhan) I do not know all the ins and outs of that, but the PM's initiatives is a separate sort of thing that is happening from their overarching goals at WST. But, in the terms of the consultation, the UK Government representatives were with us, in November 2000, when we brought together 65 key decision-makers. Paul, I think you were there with us, I remember, in November, in Kent?
  (Dr Jefferiss) Yes, I was there.
  (Mr Nouhan) So they have been listening the entire time. Then, of course, there have been regional Preparatory Committee meetings, the UNICE, the United Nations Economic Council for Europe, regional meeting, in September, came up with six areas that, in fact, very closely, almost identically, mirrored the areas that the UK stakeholders had identified almost ten months earlier. And then, if one compares that with the Secretary-General's assessment of the five regional Preparatory meetings globally, they too match very closely with what the UK consultation has been. I can just say from the fact that we have been providing this input on a regular basis, in terms of reports, to the Government, and I like to think that they have been listening to us. But if I could just look at the matrix, it begins to come together pretty clearly, there are some gaps, but one should not be surprised at gaps; stakeholders will have a slightly different idea of what the agenda should be than Government.
  (Mr Phillips) As I am sure you are all pretty much aware, at the moment, the UK Government sits at its desk and does not open its mouth, so the entire output from the European Union comes out of the Spanish delegation. And so the mismatch I cannot quite get is the mismatch between the priorities of the UK Government, which actually I did not know about, and what the EU priorities are, which seem to be six priorities, which, you know, there is some interaction between them, but the UK route seems to be via the EU.

Mr Barker

  12. I am sorry, could you be a little bit more specific, which priorities show the greatest—
  (Mr Phillips) The six EU ones. I have got the EU key issues, which is from the statement which the Spanish put out, which are poverty eradication and sustainable livelihoods, making globalisation work for sustainable development, sustainable patterns of production and consumption, protecting the natural resource base of economic and social development, strengthening governance on sustainable development at all levels, including public participation, and means of implementation. And so that is the kind of six bullet points which the EU is putting forward, and they are not picking out those key themes particularly, which are very much kind of the resource focus, or some of them are, from the UK perspective, which is fair enough, there is nothing wrong with that.

  13. Is there any one particularly that glares at you, because these are all quite generally phrased?
  (Mr Phillips) From the EU position?

  14. Yes?
  (Mr Phillips) I think the EU position actually comes back to Simon Thomas' point, of low ambition, that is how it really strikes us. The Summit, from our point of view, and as some people have reported it to us, from the official side, has got a kind of job of catching up and reporting and reviewing what happened at Rio and the wheels that were set in motion there. But then there is also the need to tackle the emerging issues, or the issues which were not sufficiently dealt with at Rio; and that is where an issue like globalisation, as Charles clearly points out, it was not even a word then, and now it is a massive issue on the global stage. And so to be able to have something which is ambitious around that kind of agenda is the sort of thing that we would be looking for, as the kinds of things which show a high ambition, from the Summit, and we are not really seeing in the kinds of details that are coming out, that kind of high ambition. It would be very good and very dramatic if the UK were up there, saying, "Well, we've got to have a Framework Convention on Water," or really tackling these issues at a high level, seeking the same multilateral routes or dramatic routes which gave us things like the climate change process and the biodiversity process; there does not seem to be the kind of momentum at a high ambitious level to resolve the big packages of issues which were missing. You could see water as being at, we would certainly argue that the responsibilities and duties of the corporate sector need to be at, an equivalent kind of level. There are big things which are missing, and they are not coming through.

Joan Walley

  15. I wanted to follow up what has just been said by each of you, really, because, going back to Rio and what was achieved then, and taking on board the ten-year span that there has been since, I wonder how much this momentum, that you talk about being needed, and, if you like, the ambition that you say is needed, is actually bound up with leadership? And I am just wondering what needs to happen between now and Johannesburg, if we are going to get people taking that momentum forward, because it is only going to be taken forward, it seems to me, if we have got leadership, if we have got global leadership. And, in terms of the kind of piecemeal and the fragmentation and the 189 Governments that there are, and, if you like, the UK subsumed under the EU, or different agendas, I would really just be interested to see whether or not you feel there is a role for leadership, and where you see that leadership coming from, do you see it coming from the Governments, from individual Governments, from civil society? Presumably, what we need is somebody with seven-league boots who can just walk across the world stage and actually try to, somehow or other, take the leadership issue forward, but, obviously, in conjunction with civil society. Who do you see stepping into those boots, either an individual or a Government, or groups, organisations, and how is that going to be linked to the environmental awareness and the public awareness, without which, presumably, we are not going to get that leadership taking place, so that there is more opportunity that we have got?
  (Dr Jefferiss) I think you are absolutely right, that there is a lack of both clarity and leadership and that the two things are connected, and that there is actually a surprising degree of agreement amongst different elements of civil society and amongst Governments on what the issues are; there has been less clarity on how we are going to address them, and less willingness to come forward with specific proposals for instruments and targets and objectives for achieving them. So something like a Framework Convention on Water, or something, would be an example of something that is not really being proposed.

  16. Sorry, can I just interrupt you. So if we were going to get a sort of tool kit, that would be what we needed, you would say, a Framework Directive on Water?
  (Dr Jefferiss) I think that would be a perfectly good example, yes. I suggested earlier that somebody could suggest specific, global headline indicators of sustainable development as a means of raising awareness and monitoring progress. I think there is clearly a role for politicians to take a leadership role; clearly, the UK Prime Minister could play that role, if he chose. I think there is a reluctance, though, on the part of politicians to be associated with failure, and, to the extent that Johannesburg will have to address the fact that we have not succeeded very well, over the last ten years, in moving towards sustainable development, there will be that association, and it will be a skilful politician who can create the impression, or create real momentum, towards success in the future.

  17. How would you do that, and what is being done to persuade whoever that person, or group of people, might be to take on that role now, because unless the preparations are in place they are not going to take that leadership role come Johannesburg, are they?
  (Dr Jefferiss) Certainly, environmental NGOs in this country have been encouraging the Prime Minister both to give speeches in which he gives priority to the environment, to suggest that he will go to Johannesburg, and to take that kind of leadership role; and, to some extent, I think that challenge was taken up, it would be nice to see it carried through more completely. I think, another sector from which leadership could emerge is the business community though, and we have seen precious little leadership there.

  18. Who could do that, in the business community; to whom would you write a letter, or e-mail, today, to say, "Will you step into these shoes?"?
  (Dr Jefferiss) The chief executive of a multinational company, or an oil or gas company.

  19. Which ones; who?
  (Dr Jefferiss) John Brown, from BP, would be an obvious example.
  (Mr Nouhan) If I may just comment. There is a new initiative, you will be interviewing them later today, Business Action for Sustainable Development, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart has stepped into the leading role there, and that body was created exclusively to define what the business role at the Johannesburg Summit will be. I do not know all the details there, and that is a good question for you to ask them. But if I could just make a comment that there are two processes going on here, and it is important not to merge them too much, because there is this Johannesburg process, which is an international event, will be at head of state level, and then there are the day-to-day processes that Governments engage in, within themselves and with each other. Just to give you an example of what I mean by that. When we were in New York, during the first week I met one of the delegates from the UK Government that we were working closely with, and I said, "Why is it that the Prime Minister, in March, at the Chatham House Conference, said, `Climate change is the big issue facing the UK,' but it is not in your priorities for the Summit?" And the answer was, "It is deliberately not that way, because, if it were there, it would antagonise the Americans, Bush would never show up at the Summit." However, this is what I was told, every time the Prime Minister is with a head of state you can be sure he is saying, "Climate change, climate change, climate change;" so it is just anecdotal, it is what I have been told is what is happening at that level. The problem with the WSSD level is that it gets, what you are suggesting was proposed over a year ago, that the Secretary-General should identify, I forget the word that was used, one or two people who would be ambassadors for the Summit, high profile people who could go around the world and rally support; that never happened. There is one person who does it on behalf of the Prime Minister, it is Jan Pronk, from The Netherlands, who is very articulate, very capable, but it is not a former Prime Minister, it is not a former President, it is not Maurice Strong; that did not happen, they tried it but it did not happen.

1   Chairman's Paper, `Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development', `Chairman's summary of the Multi-stakeholder Dialogue Segment', `Chairman's summary of the discussion on the comprehensive review and assessment of progress achieved in the implementation of Agenda 21 and the other outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, as well as the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21', `Proposals for Partnerships/initiatives to strengthen the implementation of Agenda 21'. These can be found on the summit websit at Back

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