Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


UK PREPARATIONS FOR THE WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

UK Government and other structures

133. As well as producing a national assessment of progress since Rio, the UN expects those nations participating in the Summit to set up their own preparatory committees and national consultations relating to the Summit. (The arrangements for engaging civil society are set out in paras 122-127).

134. DEFRA is the policy lead Department for WSSD. It also considers itself to be the "champion" of sustainable development policy in the UK Government.[168] DEFRA leads the UK delegations for the UN preparatory meetings in UN CSD and in the EU co-ordination for WSSD. A senior official Steering Group was set up in May 2001, chaired by Dinah Nichols, Director General of DEFRA's Environmental Protection Group. This is now the official preparatory committee for the Cabinet Committee for WSSD (known as MISC 18). The Steering Group meets monthly and is attended by all the relevant departments which feed into MISC 18.[169] There is also an inter-departmental group which includes the devolved administrations which was set up in September 2000.

135. The UK delegation to the preparatory meetings has included representatives from DEFRA, DfID, FCO and DTI as well as NGO and local government representatives (there have been no business applicants). Other departments are free to send representatives as appropriate. A number of NGOs commented on the absence of the DTLR at PrepCom II.[170] Local government, through the Local Government Association (LGA) and LGIB has been heavily involved in the Summit preparations from an early stage. However, Mike Ashley, Director of the LGIB, said that it was keen for the DTLR itself to become more engaged in preparations[171] because the Department has an important role in the work of local government—through the modernising agenda, Best Value, Community Strategies, Local Strategic Partnerships and the impact of the Local Government White Paper.[172] Mrs Beckett told us that she was happy with the level of engagement from DTLR.[173]

136. We note that DTLR intends to publish its departmental sustainable development strategy in the run up to the Summit.[174] However, we are disappointed that DTLR did not take up the opportunity to send a representative to attend PrepCom II bearing in mind its responsibilities relating to regional policy.

MISC 18

137. The UK established the Cabinet Committee MISC 18 in November 2001 to "develop, co-ordinate and deliver the Government's strategy" for WSSD. MISC 18 meets monthly and consists of Secretaries of State and Ministers from seven departments (FCO, HM Treasury, DEFRA, DfID, DTI, DWP, DTLR). The relevant Ministers from the devolved legislatures are also invited to attend. MISC 18 includes those departments with the largest policy involvement in the core issues of the Summit.[175]

138. With DEFRA leading on the Summit there is a risk that sustainable development is seen as an issue just about the environment. It is therefore important that all departments give some consideration to the contribution which they can make to the UK's preparations to WSSD through the Inter-Departmental Working Group which ultimately feeds into MISC 18. For efficiency it is clearly expedient that MISC 18 itself only comprises the core departments central to the delivery of the UK's Rio commitments and therefore key to the preparations for the Summit. Of the existing membership of MISC 18, we would consider these to be: DEFRA, DfID, FCO, Treasury, DTI and DTLR. Bearing in mind the emerging importance of education for sustainable development on the Summit agenda (discussed in paras 61-3, 106-9), we were initially puzzled to find that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) was represented on MISC 18 whilst DfES was not.

139. However, we accept Mr Prescott's explanation for DfES' omission from membership which he set out in a supplementary memorandum to the Committee.[176] He explained that the Government's aims on education for the Summit were largely outward-focused and the responsibility for policies and programmes regarding the improvement of education overseas rested with the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, who is already represented on MISC 18. DfES itself is also content not to be represented on the Committee as "its policies will not top the agenda or dominate the UK's objectives for the Summit".[177]

140. Mr Prescott assured the Committee that DfES were actively involved in preparations for the Summit.[178] However, we note that both UNED-UK and LGIB would welcome greater involvement in the Summit by the department.[179]

The devolved administrations

141. In addition to their representation on MISC 18, and involvement in WWF's "Our World Project" (see para 118.) the Devolved Administrations are carrying out their own preparations to contribute to the UK's collective effort for WSSD. These are set out below. DEFRA confirmed that they had made it clear that the devolved administrations were welcome to send members on the delegations related to the Summit. However, they had yet to take up that offer. Mrs Beckett told us that the UK delegation for the Summit itself had yet to be decided.[180]

Scotland

  142. The Scottish Executive sees the Summit as an important influence on its future sustainable development agenda, even though a number of the main issues likely to be discussed at Johannesburg are reserved matters. The Executive also recognises the awareness raising potential and Scottish Ministers have been keen to attend MISC 18. The First Minister, Jack McConnell MSP, has put it on record that he feels that Scotland should be represented at WSSD "at the highest level".[181]

143. To assess progress in Scotland on the agreements made at Rio, the Executive undertook a consultation using the Scottish Civic Forum, supervised by a Steering Group. This Group was chaired by the Executive but comprised a wide range of stakeholders. There were three consultation events and an electronic consultation. The Executive plans to submit a paper summarising the outcomes of these for inclusion in the UK submission to the Summit.[182]

Wales

  144. The main centrepiece for the National Welsh Assembly's Summit preparations will be a conference in April held in conjunction with Oxfam Cymru and WWF Cymru. This will be designed primarily around a series of workshops on themes expected to be important at WSSD. It is hoped that the Assembly will be able to identify what Wales has learnt from others and what distinctive experience Wales can take to the Summit. The transactions of the conference will form part of the Welsh "portfolio" for WSSD. This will also include the Assembly's Sustainable Development Scheme and Action Plan, 2001-2002 statutory annual report, as well as the outcomes of the other key conferences aimed at business and young people. The National Assembly has requested that the First Minister is included in the UK delegation to the Summit.[183]

Northern Ireland

  145. The Northern Ireland Executive has plans to consult on proposals for a Northern Ireland Sustainable Development Strategy and associated indicators in the near future. It plans to link this consultation with the preparations for WSSD. It part funded a conference in September 2001 at which a broad spectrum of civic society formulated a Northern Ireland contribution to the UK national progress report. The new Minister of the Environment, Mr Dermot Nesbitt, hopes to attend future meetings of MISC 18 subject to the demands of Executive and Assembly business. Unfortunately, his predecessor, Mr Sam Foster was unable to attend.

146. The Northern Ireland Executive has had a relatively slow start in getting to grips with the sustainable development agenda. However, the Executive has acknowledged that sustainable development will be a key element of delivering its vision for the future of society in Northern Ireland as set out in its "Programme for Government".[184] By integrating sustainable development into its work and priorities the Executive may perhaps be better placed to tackle the back log of work which is attracting the threat of EU sanctions for missed deadlines on Directives.

147. We would welcome high level participation in the Johannesburg Summit from all the Devolved Assemblies.


168   Ev 88, para 1. Back

169   Ibid. Back

170   QQ. 27 and 65. Back

171   Q. 65. Back

172   Ev 17. Back

173   Q. 340. Back

174   Ev 139, para 6. Back

175   Ev 53-54. Back

176   Ibid. Back

177   Ev 118, para 5. Back

178   Q. 132 and Q 136. Back

179   Ev 17. Back

180   Q. 326. Back

181   Speech to "Dynamic Earth" conference, 18 February 2002 Back

182   Scottish Executive paras 3-5. Back

183   National Assembly for Wales memo. Back

184   Department of Environment (Northern Ireland Executive) Press Release, Nesbitt prioritises Northern Ireland Sustainable Development, 12 March 2002. Back


 
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