Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum sumbitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)


  DEFRA has a central role to play in UK preparations for the Summit, both as the champion of sustainable development policy in the UK Government, and as the lead Department on relevant negotiations in environmental fora, including policy lead for WSSD. DEFRA leads the UK delegations for the UN preparatory meetings in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and in the EU co-ordination for WSSD.

  In preparing for the Summit we are working particularly closely with the Prime Minister's office, the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, DFID, FCO and DTI. In addition, we are liasing with other government departments including the devolved administrations, mainly via the inter-departmental group on WSSD which we chair.

  DEFRA is also an active member of MISC 18, the Ministerial Group chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister to develop, co-ordinate and deliver the Government's strategy for WSSD. At official level we host the high level steering group meetings, attended by all the relevant departments, which feed into MISC 18.

2.  What reports will the UK be submitting to the preparatory process for the Johannesburg Summit? What special reviews of progress on the sustainable development agenda has the government made or is it making in connection with preparing for the Summit? Will these be published and submitted to the preparatory process?

  The UK is strongly committed to the Rio and Rio + 5 call for countries to have sustainable development strategies in place by 2002. The UK will be submitting a number of reports to the preparatory process including: a country report (Review and Assessment of progress made by the United Kingdom in the implementation of Agenda 21 at National and Regional Levels) as requested by the UN (copy attached) and the 2002 Annual Report on Sustainable Development (due to be published in early March). We are also considering what other documentation we could usefully provide before the summit.

  All DEFRA reports and Ministerial speeches relating to the Summit will be published and made available on the website for sustainable development

3.  What systems does the government have in place for monitoring UK progress on sustainable development and all the issues mapped out in Agenda 21 since 1992? Does DEFRA have any such systems in place for its own policies?

  Since 1992 the Government has established a number of systems for monitoring and reporting UK progress on sustainable development. Most recently, in May 1999, following a period of public consultation, this Government's Sustainable Development Strategy, better quality of life (copy attached) was published. In preparing the revised Strategy, the Government built on the achievements of the previous Government's 1994 Strategy, and also consulted on a set of headline indicators of sustainable development.

  The Strategy identified a core set of around 150 indicators of sustainable development and a subset of 15 "headline" indicators—a "quality of life barometer"—to provide an overview. The Government made commitments in the Strategy to report annually on progress by the country as a whole towards sustainable development, including a description of progress against the 15 headline indicators, and to adjust policies accordingly when an indicator trend moved in the wrong direction.

  In December 1999 the government published Quality of life counts (Qolc) (copy attached) which builds on the indicators contained in the Strategy and the messages they send, to provide a baseline assessment against which progress towards sustainable development can be measured. Qolc explains why we need indicators; the criteria and frameworks used to develop the indicators; how indicators will be used; and how they may need to develop over time to respond to changing circumstances.

  The Government's first annual review of progress towards sustainable development, Achieving a better quality of life (copy attached) was published on January 25, 2001. At its heart is an analysis of progress against the fifteen headline indicators of sustainable development, including for the first time forward projections or exemplifications to demonstrate the expected future effect of current or planned targets and policies. Chapter 3 of the Report links each indicator with relevant public service agreement targets (PSAs). Progress in delivering these targets is monitored closely and reported on in Departmental annual reports. The indicators are also published through out the year as new data become available, as part of a continual process of monitoring.

  In parallel with the Annual Report, the Government launched a new sustainable development website— The website is designed to provide continuous monitoring and reporting of progress towards sustainable development by society as a whole. It also includes a Discussion Forum to provide a less formal, more creative mechanism for debating and exchanging information on sustainable development issues.

  The second sustainable development annual report, reviewing progress made in 2001, is due for publication in March 2002.

  As proposed in the 1999 Strategy, the Government has also established the Sustainable Development Commission, subsuming the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development and the British Government Panel on Sustainable Development. The Commission's role is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed to further progress.

  Greening Government: To date three annual reports on Greening Government have been published. The original idea for a published report came from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) as one of the recommendations from its first inquiry into the Greening Government Initiative. The Third Annual Report (copy attached) was published in November 2001 and goes even further than the previous two reports by providing an interactive database that allows anyone to access detailed performance data for each department. The database is available on the Government's sustainable development website and includes links to the electronic version of Part 1 of the report.

  DEFRA: DEFRA is currently in the process of establishing it's own departmental strategy on sustainable development.

  The strategy will clarify what sustainable development means in practice for the department's policy development and decision-making, as well as its own operations. In particular, the Departmental Strategy will aim to:

    —  Set down the principles and tools which DEFRA need to adopt to ensure all its policies address economic, social and environmental objectives at the same time;

    —  Identify a few policy areas and cross cutting themes which pose the greatest challenge or can make the greatest contribution to the achievement of sustainable development; and

    —  Look at the scope to contribute to sustainable development through DEFRA's own operations (such as energy, waste, procurement and travel).

  The strategy will also establish a way of monitoring and reporting on progress. It is due for publication after Easter 2002.

  Forestry Commission: In January 1998, the Forestry Commission (FC) published "The UK Forestry Standard" which outlined the Government's approach to sustainable forest management. To complement this, the FC is developing a set of indicators of sustainable forestry which will monitor the contribution of forestry to sustainable development and expand upon the forestry indicators set out in Quality of Life Counts". In the lead up to the Summit, the UK will publish a Government Statement on Sustainable Forestry, which will form an integral part of the UK's National Forest Programme.

4a.  What are the international mechanisms for deciding the agenda for the Summit?

  There was a consensus in the UN that the Summit should be prepared "from the bottom up". This reflected the widespread view that one of the weaknesses of the 1997 UN General Assembly Special Session of Rio plus 5 was the fact that it was prepared from the top down. In the second half of 2001 there were regional preparatory meetings in each of the UN regional areas. The UK delegation, led by Michael Meacher, participated actively in the UNECE meeting held in September. In addition the UN organised five regional roundtables of "eminent people" to engage civil society. Sir Crispin Tickell chaired the roundtable for the UNECE region in Colorado in June. The results of all these regional discussions were reflected in the Secretary General's report, "Implementing Agenda 21", published in December 2001. The report contains ten themes for action, which are closely in line with UK and EU priorities.

  The second preparatory meeting (Prepcom II) in New York in January gathered views on implementation of Agenda 21, barriers to action and measures to overcome failings. The Secretary General's report informed the debate. These various inputs, from major stakeholder groups, UN Member States, and other relevant institutions and agencies, have been synthesised by the Chair (Indonesia), into three documents—a summary of the discussions, a paper suggesting a range of measures/actions required to implement Agenda 21, and a short document setting out specific issues where solutions would require partnership working.

  It became clear at Prepcom II that a three-pronged outcome was envisaged for WSSD:

    —  a short overarching political text suitable for signature by Heads of Government/State;

    —  a more detailed text focusing on action by governments—in essence a "Johannesburg Programme of Action";

    —  a third tier comprising a wide range of partnership initiatives involving groups of willing governments with business, NGOs and other stakeholders focused on implementation and with sufficient substance and credibility to be a WSSD outcome.

  The paper by the Chair of Prepcom II will form the starting point for negotiations at Prepcom III in New York 25 March—5 April, and will address the plan of action. This will then be followed by a Ministerial Preparatory meeting in Indonesia from 27 May—7 June, which will prepare the political declaration for further consideration by Heads of Government at Johannesburg. "Partnership" outputs will be discussed in parallel to the intergovernmental negotiations.

4b.  How is the UK contributing to an EU input into the Summit?

  The EU maximises its position in sustainable development negotiations in UN fora by agreeing common positions that are then advanced in the UN negotiations by the Presidency. Member States share the responsibility of developing EU positions—the UK has taken the lead in the EU in developing a position on poverty and environment and on action to assist Africa, as well as taking the lead on environmentally sound technology. UK officials, led by DEFRA, have been participating actively in the monthly EU Working Party meetings, which are now mainly focussed on preparations for WSSD, and played a strong role in EU co-ordination during Prepcom II. The EU Environment Council is taking the lead on EU preparations so far, but the objectives for the Summit will be discussed in the context of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy at the Barcelona Council in March. There may also be further discussion in the General Affairs Council and the Seville Council.

  DEFRA has also commissioned two influential pieces of work by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) to assist in the development of UK and EU policy. In 2001 we funded an assessment of options for the reform of international environmental governance which was widely circulated in the EU and internationally, and which was reflected in the subsequent discussions on institutions in UNEP. We also funded a UNEP expert meeting on international environmental governance in May 2001. In December we commissioned the RIIA to do further analysis of partnership models between government, business and civil society, which might form part of the proposed "global deal" at Johannesburg. Again this kind of analysis has been widely welcomed by the EU and other countries, who we have been consulting on an informal basis. At the time of writing this work is still in progress.

  In addition to its work in the EU the UK is also actively promoting the Summit through other international fora and through its extensive bilateral contacts. The Prime Minister was the first Head of Government to announce his intention to attend the Summit, which has made the UK a key player in formal and informal processes. The institution of the new Cabinet Committee dedicated to preparing for the summit has enabled the UK to ensure that the Summit is raised in a variety of international fora, and that the links with other processes, especially the UN Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico in March are effectively managed.

  Michael Meacher represented the UK at the UN Environment Programme meeting in Cartagena on 13-15 February, which agreed a UNEP plan of action for the Summit, and at the Commonwealth Environment Ministers in Cartagena on 12 February; Margaret Beckett was invited to contribute to a panel discussion on WSSD at the Delhi Summit on Sustainable Development in India on 10 February, and she plans to visit South Africa on 11-14 March. She will also speak at a World Bank seminar in Washington and attend the G8 Environment Ministers meeting in Canada on 12-14 April, and the Ministerial Preparatory meeting in Indonesia in June.

  As part of its wider support for the Summit, DEFRA has seconded an official to each of the UN secretariat in New York preparing for the Summit, and the Department of Environment and Tourism in South Africa.

4c.  The UK has already set out five key sectoral initiatives in preparation for the Summit. How were these priorities decided?

  The Prime Minister announced the initiatives in his speech, Environment: The Next Steps to WWF on 6 March 2001. They cover: water, energy, finance, tourism, and forestry. Water and energy were chosen because they are sectors which are fundamental to sustainable development, and where the UK has expertise and business leadership. The water initiative is a developing multi-stakeholder partnership that is offering UK knowledge and expertise as a resource to selected municipalities in African countries. Even at that early stage it was clear that these were areas where the Summit could give a fillip to action on the ground. Finance was chosen because of the pre-eminence of London as a financial centre, which could have a significant influence worldwide. Similarly tourism, both out and in bound, is a significant sector in the UK, not to mention the fastest growing industry in the world with a large impact on economies and the environment. Lastly, the UK has been at the leading edge of promoting sustainable forest management internationally and implementing it domestically. We have been one of the first countries to adopt a forestry standard and certification.

4d.  Will these be the key areas that the UK delegation seeks to progress at the summit?

  The five initiatives were chosen primarily for their relevance to the UK. For the Summit as a whole UK Ministers have agreed the priorities set out below, to help focus our preparations on issues where we can best make progress on existing agreements and targets, including the UN Millennium Development Goals.

  Our approach to WSSD will build on other processes, including the Doha Development Agenda and Financing for Development, to focus the efforts of governments, international institutions, business and civil society on delivering the sustainable development necessary to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The WSSD should mark a significant move towards greater prosperity and security for all, but offer more help for those who need it most.

  The UK is seeking to ensure that water and sanitation will be high on the agenda for WSSD. Michael Meacher led the UK delegation to the Bonn International Freshwater Conference where the UK, together with Sweden, secured the inclusion of several targets in the conference outcomes.

  Our strategic objective is to make globalisation work for sustainable development, especially for the poorest. We need to secure a new approach for the way in which we all act to tackle poverty and environmental degradation to deliver an improved quality of life for all.

  The UK priorities against this background are action on:

    —  poverty eradication;

    —  resource productivity, including the development and application of scientific and technical knowledge;

    —  sustainable development initiatives for Africa;

    —  water—freshwater and oceans;

    —  access to modern energy;

    —  capacity building and education.

  Financing for sustainable development, and international sustainable development governance will also be key cross-cutting issues.

4e.  What mechanisms has DEFRA used, or is using, to co-ordinate input into the UK position from other Departments?

  DEFRA has worked closely on international sustainable development policy with the FCO, DFID, DTI, Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister's Office. A senior official Steering Group was set up in May 2001, chaired by Dinah Nichols, Director General Environmental Protection Group. This steering group is now the official preparatory committee for MISC 18 and meets monthly. Ministers meet in MISC 18 also on a monthly basis. An inter-departmental group, including the devolved administrations, was set up in September 2000. The UK delegation to the preparatory meetings has included representatives from DEFRA, DFID, FCO and DTI, with other Departments free to send representatives as appropriate. The UK Government delegation to the recent Prepcom also included NGO and local government representatives (there were no business applicants but they are also welcome to send a representative)

5.  Is it DEFRA's role to raise awareness of the Summit across Government and the public more widely? Has DEFRA actively publicised the preparations for the World Summit and its own involvement?

  DEFRA has a key central role to play in raising awareness of the Summit. A dedicated team has been set up specifically to co-ordinate domestic preparations. The Communications Strategy (copy attached), which has been agreed by MISC 18, outlines how we propose to do this, working with partners across government and civil society. We are in the process of setting up a wider stakeholder group to consider the Strategy and identify ways in which we can work together more effectively to take forward some of these ideas. The group will also provide an opportunity for organisations and individuals to feed in any views they might have on UK preparations.

  Our "audience" is a diverse one and ranges from the knowledgeable and interested to those with little knowledge and/or interest and we recognise that we need to approach those groups in different ways. We believe that by working with as wide a group as possible we will have more success in raising awareness of the Summit and highlighting its relevance at both the local and international level.

  The Sustainable Development Website is also a key tool in ensuring that information is made available to individuals and organisations. We held a discussion forum on the site last summer to give people an opportunity to say what they felt was important for the Summit. The response was disappointing but we are considering doing something similar, closer to the event, which we hope will generate more interest. We are currently re-designing the WSSD section of the site to make it more informative and user-friendly (details in the Communications Strategy).

  The key project that we are currently funding (with DFES and the Devolved Administrations) is the WWF "Our World" Project. The aim of the project is to actively engage young people in preparations for the Summit. Schools in England, N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been invited to submit sustainable development projects and the four winners will get a "makeover" for their school and the opportunity to go to the Summit. There are also associated web-site activities.

  In addition to these key projects we have been working with a variety of partners in a variety of ways to raise awareness of the Summit. These include:

    —  Other Government Departments//Devolved Administrations/Government Offices: the WSSD inter-departmental group provides a forum within which DEFRA (and other departments) can inform colleagues about progress on preparations and consult on proposals like the communications strategy. All departments have agreed to identify relevant opportunities to promote WSSD at either Ministerial or official level (speeches, conferences, articles etc), to link any relevant websites to the Sustainable Development site, to advise us on groups/individuals to invite to join the wider stakeholder group and where appropriate to link WSSD to any existing/planned campaigns (using the agreed logo where possible). DEFRA's Director of Communications has written to colleagues in other Departments to highlight the importance and relevance of the Summit. We are also working closely with DFID on taking forward some of the proposals in the strategy.

    —  Local Authorities: we are working closely with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Local Government International Bureau (LGIB). We have visited Leicester CC and visits to other authorities are planned. We have also attended relevant meetings/conferences and we spoke at the LGA/LGIB's recent seminar on preparations for WSSD.

    —  MPs: the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wrote to all MPs in January informing them about the Summit (letter attached).

    —  NGOs: we are working closely with the Development and Environment Group (DEG) of NGOs to raise awareness of the Summit. In addition we have had individual meetings with organisations like the Woodland Trust, WWF, Tearfund and Water Aid to identify ways in which we can work together more effectively.

    —  UNED-UK: we are funding UNED-UK to raise awareness across a wider range of civil society (including women) and are working closely with them to ensure that the views of civil society are fed into the preparatory process. In addition, Ministers have spoken at UNED-UK events and officials have attended relevant meetings.

    —  Other organisations: other meetings/presentations include the TUC, Business (outside the five sectoral initiatives), Science Museum, the Royal Society, the National Forest, the Sustainable Development Commission (who are also members of the inter-departmental group), the Inner Cities Religious Council and others. The aim of all these meetings has been to share information and to look for ways in which we might work together.

  We recognise that there is more to do before the Summit and we will continue to work with other government departments, organisations and individuals to raise awareness of the Summit.

6.  Please outline the role of the Sustainable Development Unit in the preparations for the World Summit

   DEFRA has lead responsibility within Whitehall for promoting sustainable development, including monitoring progress and reporting on the sustainable development strategy, developing the departmental strategy for sustainable development, supporting the work of the Green Ministers Committee and improving access to environmental information and justice, and encouraging public participation.

  The major role of SDU in regards to preparation for the Summit is its lead in monitoring and reporting progress, namely the preparation in September 2001 of the Review and Assessment of progress made by the United Kingdom in the implementation of Agenda 21 at National and Regional Levels (copy attached) which will assist the UK in National Preparations for the Summit, and the Government Annual Report on Sustainable Development 2001 which as well as updating on national progress towards sustainable development also has extensive features on the forthcoming Summit. The updated version of the Country Profile will also be submitted to the UN in March 2002, this will be used as part of the global preparatory process for the Summit.

  In addition to paper reporting, the upkeep of the Government's Sustainable Development website is also the responsibility of SDU. Considerable work has been carried out in conjunction with Environment Protection International Division (DEFRA) on providing the most up-to date information on the Summit. As part of the drive to involve civil society in the preparations, the website has also played host to a number of discussion forums on the Summit and domestic preparatory process.

  The Unit also plays an important function in its advisory capacity both across Government and civil society.

7.  Please set out which sustainable development indicators DEFRA has lead responsibility for and other indicators the department considers that its policies significantly influence.

  DEFRA has a wide range of responsibilities, this means protection of the urban, rural, marine and global environment as well as food, farming and fisheries issues and rural affairs.

  With regard to the "headline indicators" which make up the "quality of life barometer", DEFRA has lead responsibility on: H10—Air Quality; H12 River Water Quality; H13 Wildlife; H15 Waste, on H9 Climate Change (in relation to which it has a joint PSA with DTI).

  In addition there are a number of "core indicators" which are the responsibility of, or influenced significantly by, DEFRA. In particular many of those relating to managing the environment and resources in sections M, N, P, Q, R and S in `Quality of life counts' (1999, DETR).

February 2002

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