Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report



1. In August 2002, the Prime Minister will represent the UK at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa. He will join other world leaders, United Nations agencies, multinational financial institutions, business, local authorities, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and representatives from other major groups. They will all be reflecting on the progress made against a number of global agreements relating to sustainable living, climate change, biodiversity and forestry, forged at the UN Conference on Environment and Development which took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 ("the Rio Earth Summit"). Summit participants will also be looking to our futures and seeking to agree on the areas where further global efforts should be concentrated if citizens of all nations are to pursue sustainable lifestyles consistent with economic development, environmental protection and social progress.

2. The WSSD is providing the impetus for the UK, including Government, NGOs, and wider civil society, to assess its contribution to, and progress on, sustainable development as the UK engages in the various international preparatory meetings for the Summit. Our Committee is tasked with scrutinising the contribution of the Government's policies and programmes to sustainable development and felt that the Summit and associated preparations should also be an important focus of our attention. We hope to be able to send representatives to the Summit as we believe it is important that we, as parliamentarians, and particularly as Members of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, play our part in shaping future progress in the pursuit of sustainable development.

3. The agenda for the Summit will be confirmed in May when the Summit's Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) joins Ministers in Bali for its last meeting before the WSSD. It is therefore a fitting time to examine the UK's contribution to the Summit, the nature of preparations across government and how far the Government has seized the opportunity presented by this global event to raise awareness and progress its sustainable development agenda at home.

4. To put these matters in context, we sought views on the UK's progress to date, across government, in relation to sustainable development and the degree to which this has been actively reviewed and monitored. We discuss this progress in the context of the "story" which the UK has to tell at Johannesburg and in consideration of whether the UK's existing policy framework and structures are adequate to accommodate any further agreements we may sign up to at WSSD. This report does not purport to be a comprehensive review of UK progress on sustainable development since the Rio Earth Summit.

5. To help assess the degree of engagement across Government with respect to the Summit, we requested written memoranda from every Government department, asking each to explain its role in the UK's preparations for WSSD, and its area of responsibility for progressing the Government's sustainable development strategy. We took oral evidence from the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and First Secretary of State, the Rt Hon. John Prescott MP; the Secretary of State for International Development, the Rt Hon. Clare Short MP; and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon. Margaret Beckett MP. We also took oral evidence from Mr Jonathon Porritt CBE, Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and a cross-section of NGOs involved in the UK preparations for WSSD representing environmental, business and local government interests.

6. The Committee is grateful to Mr Derek Osborn CB, Chairman of UNED-UK[2] for assisting us in scoping this inquiry and to UNED-UK for helping to co-ordinate our liaison with NGOs.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit

7. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit marked the first international attempt to draw up action plans and strategies for moving towards a more sustainable pattern of development. Involving more than 120 nations, it was the largest gathering of heads of state and government that the world had ever seen at that time.[3] The Summit secured the term "sustainable development" in the policy-makers' vocabulary.

8. The Summit took place in the wake of events such as the drought in Ethiopia (1984), the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station (1985) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the pristine waters of Alaska (1989). These had started to give sharper focus to the negative impacts of human activity on the planet in the minds of the public and policy- makers. Citizens around the world were becoming increasingly aware of a general decline in air quality, severe traffic congestion, the emerging ozone hole, desertification and predictions of global climate change. Despite the absence of any major Earth-ending disasters, and the advent of increasingly comprehensive environmental legislation in the developed world, a general unease was emerging that the lifestyle of the developed world and the aspirations of the developing world could not be accommodated without detriment to the natural environment and our quality of life—either in the short or the long term.

9. The Summit adopted the Brundtland definition of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".[4] This definition arose from the 1987 Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development), chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, then the Norwegian Prime Minister. The Commission had spent three years exploring the links between environment, social, economic and cultural issues and seeking global solutions to our environmental and developmental needs.

10. The Rio Summit resulted in five key agreements to put the sustainable development concept into action. These are set out in Box 1. It also agreed to establish a Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) under the umbrella of the UN Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC). The CSD has met every year since Rio and will review progress in implementing Agenda 21 at its tenth session in May 2002. It is the CSD which has the main responsibility of preparing for the Johannesburg Summit.


The Rio Agreements

Agenda 21: "the sustainable action plan for the 21st century": an agreed work programme for the international community into the 21st century, setting out the priorities for the conservation and management of resources for development. The long, negotiated document contains forty chapters, over 100 programme areas and 3,000 recommendations. It covers human issues such as: poverty, consumption patterns, demography, human health and settlement, and more conventional environmental issues such as protecting the atmosphere, forests and fragile ecosystems, seas, freshwaters and biodiversity. The management of wastes, biotechnology and land resources are included, as are the roles of groups such as women, NGOs, indigenous peoples, farmers, business and scientists. A final group of chapters concerns the instruments and institutions needed for change.
The Rio Declaration: A Statement of 27 principles guiding environmental and developmental activities.
The Framework Convention on Climate Change: A formal treaty establishing a framework for action to reduce the risks of global warming by limiting the emission of "greenhouse gases".
Convention on Biological diversity: A formal treaty considering how to protect the diversity of species and habitats in the world.
Statement on Forest Principles: Pledges parties to a more sustainable use of the world's forestry resources

Progress since Rio

The global scene

11. Despite the fine words crafted at the Rio 'Earth Summit', we continue to struggle with the global problems discussed there whilst new problems continually emerge. One in five people in the world live on less than $1 per day,[5] 1.1 billion people have no access to drinking water, 2.4 billion people lack sanitation and 2 billion people do not have access to energy. The United Nations Environment Programme's Millennium Report on the Environment notes that:

  • global emissions of carbon dioxide reached a new high of nearly 23,900 million tonnes in 1996—nearly four times the 1950 total.[6]
  • Deforestation continues at high rates in developing countries, mainly driven by the demand for wood products and the need for land for agriculture.
  • Some 65 million hectares of forest were lost between 1990 and 1995, out of a total of 3,500 million hectares. An increase of 9 million hectares in the developed world only slightly offset this loss.[7]
  • The state of the world's fisheries has reached crisis point with 60 per cent of the world's fisheries at or near the point where yields decline.

In addition, the world's human population, currently about 6.1 billion, is growing by nearly

90 million people each year, or around 240,000 each day. This rate of increase had never been seen before the 1980s.[8] Nearly all of this growth is taking place in developing countries and may have negative environmental and social impacts. The developed world has yet to change its unsustainable patterns of consumption and production at a time when the developing world is moving ever towards higher consumption levels and more resource-intensive practices.

12. More positively, the overall poverty rate in developing countries, based on an income poverty line of one dollar a day, has been declining, particularly in East and South East Asia.[9] International trade flourished in the 1990s, with global exports growing at an average rate of 6.4 per cent,[10] and the 1990s also saw more positive global trends in health and education. Since Rio, there have also been major reductions in the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances and deforestation has been halted and reversed in parts of Europe and North America.[11] Since 1992 more than 6,200 local governments in over 100 countries have established Local Agenda 21 planning processes.[12]

Earth Summit +5

13. In June 1997, a special session of the UN General Assembly met to review and appraise progress on Agenda 21 since the Rio Summit (Earth Summit +5). The Assembly acknowledged that a number of positive results had been achieved, but was "deeply concerned" that the overall trends with respect to sustainable development had got worse since 1992.[13] It was agreed that the comprehensive implementation of Agenda 21 was more urgent than ever. The Assembly reaffirmed the Rio call for national sustainable development strategies to be in place by 2002. However, the Assembly did not make any further advances on the Rio agenda due to emerging North-South differences regarding the financing of sustainable development.


14. The European Commission's overall assessment of progress since Rio indicates that although some progress has been achieved, the expectations raised by the Summit have not been realised.[14] Progress towards the goals established at Rio in Europe has been slower than anticipated.[15] For example, EU Member States are only now about to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, ten years after Rio got the ball rolling.[16]

15. The Commission also accepts that, in some respects, conditions are now worse than they were ten years ago.[17] The European Environment Agency (EEA) reported in 1999 that the state of the European Union's environment remained a serious concern although there had been real progress in some areas such as improving river quality and tackling acidification. The EEA cited the unsustainable development of some economic sectors as the major barrier to improvement.[18] The EU has now agreed a strategy for sustainable development and progress on implementing this strategy will be reviewed at every spring European Council.[19]

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)

16. At Rio, nations made a genuine effort to try to identify the key global problems. The integrated approach of sustainable development was billed as the way to tackle these. Ten years on, we certainly have a more comprehensive knowledge of the nature of these problems but they now need to be considered in the context of globalisation—an issue not addressed at Rio. In recent years, nations have become increasingly interdependent in terms of trade, investment flows, and access to natural resources. This greater interdependence needs to work towards sustainable development rather than undermine it. Having taken a measure of the challenge at Rio, cohesive, global action is now clearly required.

A true sustainable development summit?

17. The Rio Summit is now largely remembered as an environmental summit, hence its label as the 'Earth Summit'. This is mainly because a number of the high profile agreements which emerged were largely environment-focused, for instance climate change, biodiversity and forests. The social and economic issues which were also deliberated and negotiated into Agenda 21 have received a lower profile. However, developing countries are now insisting that these issues be given a high profile on the agenda. This message has been taken on board by the developed nations who recognise that the political momentum required to further the Rio principles as well as the Millennium Development Goals (see Box 2) cannot be generated without engagement from the developing world.[20]

18. With this in mind, the UN has billed the Johannesburg Summit as a 'sustainable development' summit and is using the strap-line 'People, Planet, Prosperity' to reflect this. The Rt Hon. Clare Short MP, Secretary of State for International Development, was very clear in her evidence to us that she considers Johannesburg to be the first true sustainable development summit. She told us that there was a "real opportunity" at WSSD to move away from the "very northern-dominated green agenda" which she felt was almost anti-development.[21] Both the DPM and Mrs Beckett stressed to us the need for the Summit to concentrate on areas where it could make a real and practical difference and address sustainable development in its fullest sense".[22] The DPM made it clear that the UK was seeking to ensure that practical objectives such as the eradication of poverty and access to clean water dominated the Summit.

BOX 2 Millennium Development Goals
Goals and Targets Indicators
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is
less than one dollar a day
1. Proportion of population below $1 per day
2. Poverty gap ratio
3. Share of poorest quintile in national consumption
Target 2: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from
4. Prevalence of underweight children (under-five years of age)
5. Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, children
everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling
6. Net enrolment ratio in primary education
7. Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5
8. Literacy rate of 15-24 year olds
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and to all levels of education no later than 2015 9. Ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
10. Ratio of literate females to males of 15-24 year olds
11. Share of women in wage employment in the nonagricultural sector
12. Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Target 5: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate 13. Under-five mortality rate
14. Infant mortality rate
15. Proportion of 1 year olds immunised against measles
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Target 6: Reduce by 75%, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio 16. Maternal mortality ratio
17. Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Target 7: Have halted by 2015, and begun to reverse, the spread of HIV/AIDS 18. HIV prevalence among 15-24 year old pregnant women
19. Contraceptive prevalence rate
20. Number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS
Target 8: Have halted by 2015, and begun to reverse, the incidence of malaria and
other major diseases
21. Prevalence and death rates associated with malaria
22. Proportion of population in malaria risk areas using effective malaria prevention and treatment measures
23. Prevalence and death rates associated with tuberculosis
24. Proportion of TB cases detected and cured under DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short Course)
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Target 9: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources 25. Proportion of land area covered by forest
26. Land area protected to maintain biological diversity
27. GDP per unit of energy use (as proxy for energy efficiency)
28. Carbon dioxide emissions (per capita)
Target 10: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water 29. Proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source
Target 11: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers 30. Proportion of people with access to improved sanitation
31. Proportion of people with access to secure tenure

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Target 12: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
Target 13: Address the Special Needs of the Least Developed Countries Includes: tariff and quota free access for LDC exports; enhanced programme of debt relief for HIPC and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous ODA for countries committed to poverty reduction
Target 14: Address the Special Needs of landlocked countries and small island developing states (through Barbados Programme and 22nd General Assembly provisions)
Target 15: Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries
through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term
Official Development Assistance
32. Net ODA as percentage of DAC donors' GNI [targets of 0.7% in total and 0.15% for LDCs]
33. Proportion of ODA to basic social services
34. Proportion of ODA that is untied
35. Proportion of ODA for environment in small island
developing states
36. Proportion of ODA for transport sector in land-locked countries Market Access
37. Proportion of exports (by value and excluding arms) admitted free of duties and quotas
38. Average tariffs and quotas on agricultural products and textiles and clothing
39. Domestic & export agricultural subsidies in OECD countries
40. Proportion of ODA provided to help build trade capacity
Debt Sustainability
41. Proportion of official bilateral HIPC debt cancelled
42. Debt service as a % of exports of goods and services
43. Proportion of ODA provided as debt relief
44. Number of countries reaching HIPC decision and
completion points
Target 16: In co-operation with developing
countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth
45. Unemployment rate of 15-24 year olds
Target 17: Cooperating with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries 46. Proportion of population with access to affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis
Target 18: In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new
technologies, especially information and
47. Telephone lines per 1000 people
48. Personal computers per 1000 people

Source: United Nations Development Programme.

19. Climate change remains a key global challenge. The Summit is being used by nations as a milestone for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol but climate change is unlikely to be a core agenda item. There appears to be an international consensus emerging that, as with the other key conventions agreed at Rio—on biodiversity and forests—progress is underway in this area and that the Summit needs to take the opportunity to tread less familiar paths. We were therefore surprised that the DPM consistently focused on climate change in his evidence to us about the Summit and espoused the virtues of the UK's work in this area, both at home and abroad almost to the exclusion of mention of any other UK structures or policy measures relating to sustainable development.[23]

20. The RSPB cautioned that we should not assume that climate change and biodiversity were adequately dealt with through their conventions, or that forests were adequately protected.[24] They would like to see WSSD at least give impetus to a review of the adequacy of the climate and biodiversity conventions. In this context, we welcome the current inquiry by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee into Systematic Biology and Biodiversity and look forward to its Report.[25]

21. We support the Government's decision to push issues such as poverty eradication and access to clean water as leading candidates for WSSD's agenda rather than issues such as climate change and biodiversity where frameworks of action have largely been agreed. However, WSSD does not start with a clean sheet and it is important that these elements of the Rio process are built upon and not forgotten in the WSSD discussions.

2   United Nations Environment and Development-UK Committee. Back

3   Speech by Margot Wallström, European Commissioner for the Environment, A wake-up call for global sustainability, made at the European Policy Centre Dialogue-Sustainability and Globalisation: Towards Johannesburg, Brussels, 26 February 2002. Back

4   Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (The Brundtland Report), 1987. Back

5   UN-WB-IMF-OECD, A better world for all, 2000. Back

6   DfID, Achieving sustainability: Poverty elimination and the environment-strategies for achieving the international development targets, October 2000. Back

7   UNEP, Global Environment Outlook 2000, 1999. Back

8 as of February 2002. Back

9   The overall poverty rate in developing countries, based on an income poverty line of one dollar a day, declined from 29 per cent in 1990 to 23 per cent in 1998. The total number of people living in poverty dropped slightly from 1.3 to 1.2 billion. Source: UN Secretary General's Report on Implementing Agenda 21, 28 January 2002. Back

10   IbidBack

11   UNEP, Global Environment Outlook 2000, 1999, pxxii. Back

12   Accelerating sustainable development: Local action moves the World, Local Government Dialogue Paper for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (CLEI), December 2001. Back

13   UN Resolution S-19/2, 19 September 1997, para 4. Back

14   COM(2001) 53 final, Communication from the Commission to the Council and European Parliament, Ten years after Rio: Preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, 2 June 2001, Executive Summary. Back

15   IbidBack

16   The European Environment Ministers' Council on 4 March 2002 decided the legal base for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, laid the Protocol before the House of Commons on 7 March 2002, HC Deb, 7 March 2002, col.437. Back

17   Speech/02/04 by Margot Wallström, European Commissioner for the Environment at European Policy Centre Dialogue, A wake-up call for global sustainability, Brussels, 26 February 2002. Back

18   European Environment Agency, Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century, 24 June 1999, p 5. Back

19   Agreed at the Göteburg European Council, 15-16 June 2001. Back

20   The Millennium Development Goals are included in a UN General Assembly resolution adopted at its Millennium Summit in September 2000 in New York. Back

21   Q. 146. Back

22   QQ. 66; 277 and 298. Back

23   Q. 75. Back

24   Ev 4. Back

25   The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee (Sub-Committee I) is currently examining whether UK systematic biology is able to support the work needed to implement current and future policies on biodiversity. Back

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