Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 52)

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002

MR CHARLES NOUHAN, MR MATT PHILLIPS AND DR PAUL JEFFERISS

  40. The cost/benefit, I am referring to?
  (Dr Jefferiss) Yes; we have not conducted those on a global basis.

Chairman

  41. It would be very helpful to have that.
  (Dr Jefferiss) Yes, sure.

  42. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Nouhan) May I make a comment on one of the earlier questions. It was asked how Governments are preparing, how the UK Government is preparing, how the international community is preparing. It did not begin early enough. Our organisation, UNED-UK, began advocating preparations for this event in 1998. Now I said they had not begun early enough; in fact, it appears, though I have not done an exhaustive evaluation of it, that the UK Government is probably one of the, if not the, most advanced in preparing both domestically and its activities internationally, but even the UK Government got off to a slow start. Why is that; it appears, at least from the people that we speak to regularly in Government, it is very much a resource thing. For our organisation, for UNED, certainly the resources to start this process, despite the fact that we began exploring it, in 1998, and we began it in earnest in September 2000, nevertheless, it is a difficult thing to conduct, resources are there but they are not nearly as much as we need to do it adequately.

  43. We get the impression that the UK Government is underresourced, in preparing for the Summit, by comparison, for example, with ten years ago, the Rio Summit; there is not the input there?
  (Mr Nouhan) I do not know the figures, but were you suggesting you have that data?

  44. No, we do not have that data, we just have an impression?
  (Mr Nouhan) I do not know the figures, compared with last time. I can certainly find that out.

  45. It will be useful, if you can let us know?
  (Mr Nouhan) Yes; you want to know how much money was put into it pre-1992, and resources this time around. The resources are there, but everybody acknowledges that so much needs to be done, and it is not necessarily for a lack of trying. The teams that we work with, in DEFRA they have their Environment Protection International, which is the lead on this; since October, they have had a domestic WSSD team, with whom we work very closely. They are working very hard, but do they have the resources to do it, I think not to do it as well as they would like.

  Chairman: Yes, I appreciate that.

Sue Doughty

  46. Continuing with the tie between International Development and Environment, I think possibly I would be interested in hearing from Friends of the Earth on this one, Mr Phillips, we are talking about International Development coming on the heels of Environment, but how far do you think the Development NGOs are incorporating Environment in their agenda?
  (Mr Phillips) I would just emphasise, actually, the poverty issue being a high profile at the Summit, we are very comfortable with that, especially given the sort of international nature of the network that we are, when we are involved in this sort of process. The Summit is about sustainable development, so it is only partly about the environment, it is about the meeting-point between the three different tiers, environment, social and economic, and that theme, therefore, needs to be reminded and refreshed throughout the work. We actually work very closely with quite a set of Development NGOs, who can see the synergies between sustainable development and the things they are trying to put forward, as do we; so we are working with a lot of groups, such as Christian Aid, for example, on promoting the idea of corporate accountability being a central theme within the Summit. There is so much common ground there from the NGOs, and when we are actually there, it has to be said, NGOs are seen as NGOs, are seen as one lump, we are given one voice, and that voice is formally considered no more significant than the business voice, or the voice of farmers, or youth, or unions, or the other major groups, as they seem to be called. But the reality is, in terms of the actual activities that were there, quite a few NGOs were there, and quite active, and talking to a lot of Governments, and there is a fearsome, as one delegate described to me, a fearsome amount of business lobbying going on there. None of that, of course, is up front, that all seems to be very behind the scenes.

Mr Barker

  47. One final question, on that. It is the Johannesburg Summit, and we are all talking about poverty being high up the agenda; to what extent is the fact that it is in Johannesburg, and clearly the agenda is being driven by African leaders, but it is a global Summit, about global sustainable development, to what extent is it being hijacked, or being used for another means, which is the eradication of poverty, rather than having the environmental issues right at its heart? Is that a concern, that it is actually becoming a Summit about Africa, rather than world environmental issues?
  (Dr Jefferiss) I would say that `hijacked' is much too strong a term.

  48. I was being deliberately provocative.
  (Dr Jefferiss) I think there is likely to be an emphasis on poverty alleviation, but, as I have suggested, I do not think that is necessarily incompatible with an environmental or economic agenda at the same time, if you frame the issues correctly. I do think I would be concerned though that an exclusive focus on a development agenda, in an African context, could distract attention from the fact that some of the more specifically environmental issues, on a global scale such as climate change and biodiversity loss, are not progressing very well, and we should not lose sight of that. Because, the fact that biodiversity and climate change are showing negative trends will, in turn, have very significant negative impacts on poverty alleviation. Both of those things are likely to cause increased poverty, and I think we need to keep those kinds of connections in mind.
  (Mr Nouhan) Could I comment. I have to say, it is Africa because there is no other place in the world where the three pillars and the key issues, environmental and development, in our time, converge in a better place than Africa; if anything, having it there legitimises the process, rather than we should perceive it as being hijacked.

Joan Walley

  49. Just finally, can I quickly ask, we are coming to the end of the time, you talked about Governments and you talked about civil society, what do you think Parliaments in the world could do to get this up the agenda?
  (Mr Phillips) We are not seeing the pressure being put on Ministers. The mismatch we have seen, when we have been there, at New York, has been about, a lot of information-gathering about what people think, and the fact that Governments really are not moving very far from their policy positions, when it actually comes to their negotiation. So it is almost as if, there is a sort of a feeling of going through the motions, and the only reason they can get away with that is because, not all the Governments there are democratic, but a lot of them, and very influential ones, are, they are not getting the spikes, sort of saying, "Well, what are you going to deliver; are you going to address these controversial issues that might be rubbing up against normal policy parameters, as part of the negotiation?".

  50. So what could this Committee do about that?
  (Mr Nouhan) One word: leadership. I do not mean to be critical, as much as to say what Parliaments can do is they can stand up and make it public, do something about it. I walked out of the UK Mission in New York, a week ago, and as I was getting onto the elevator I almost knocked over a Member of Parliament, a name whom I will not mention. I introduced myself, and he said, "Hello, nice to meet you; what are you doing here?" I explained what I was doing there; he did not have a clue that the PrepCom was going on.
  (Mr Phillips) He was probably there for the World Economic Forum, was he?
  (Mr Nouhan) Perhaps; perhaps.

  Chairman: He thought he was at Davos, really.

Mr Barker

  51. Finally, it is nearly ten years now since Rio; what has the Government actually achieved, if anything, what is on the record that is working, or are they just simply now rushing around, trying to cobble things together, to whip up some initiatives, in order to look good at the Summit?
  (Dr Jefferiss) In terms of the UK's domestic policy?

  52. Yes, exactly.
  (Dr Jefferiss) I would say that, in terms of establishing processes and structures that relate to Agenda 21 and sustainability, they have made excellent progress, and there are many examples, including the Environmental Audit Committee, of steps in the right direction, but there are many others, the UK Strategy on Sustainable Development, the headline indicators, the Biodiversity Action Plans, both at the UK and local levels; so I think there are many examples of process and structures of that kind. In some cases, I think, they have actually influenced policy development, so now, for example, the Treasury subjects spending plans to sustainability assessment; in some cases, they have led to sustainable policy, so you have got examples, such as the Renewable Energy Obligation on suppliers, and a willingness to entertain modulation of production subsidies in agriculture. I think though that there are still fundamental problems, and specifically a lack of political will to put sustainable development right into the heart of particularly economic policy-making, and so you have a set of structures that are there to deliver sustainability, but implementation in particular economic sectors has been either incomplete or contradictory or non-existent. So, in energy policy, for example, there are plenty of examples of contradictory policy, where one good initiative is cancelled out by a negative initiative; similarly in waste policy; similarly in agricultural policy. The recent Planning Green Paper, for example, does not seem to invoke the concept of sustainable development at all. Another example would be the DTI, they have a Sustainable Development Strategy, which is to be welcomed, but in a recent press release, announcing the review of the objectives and roles of the DTI, sustainable development was not given a mention. So I think there are real problems in implementation, as well as real successes.

  Mr Barker: So, in some way, perhaps, we should take the whole thing in the round and give it marks out of ten.

  Chairman: I think we will have to draw the session to a close, I am afraid. That was a very succinct, if I may say so, and very clear answer, so if you do not mind we will have to, because we have overrun by a quarter of an hour already. But thank you very much indeed. As you see, we have struggled to contain this huge subject in the time available. But I am very grateful to all three of you, I think it has been an extremely illuminating session. Thank you all very much indeed.





 
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