Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF UK)


  WWF UK is pleased to have an opportunity to submit this evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee. WWF UK is part of a network with 52 offices working in over 90 countries around the world and was directly involved in the 1992 UN conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro. We have been working with partners in developing policy and activities for the WSSD for the past two years.

  There is no doubt that the last ten years have seen an increase in environmental degradation[10], a growth in absolute poverty and greater inequity in and between countries, in spite of the many fine words promulgated in Rio.

  Thus the picture as we work towards the Johannesburg Summit is largely unchanged from ten years ago. The same problems exist and sustainable development is still the goal—to improve the quality of human life for this and future generations while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems. Globalisation is now the overarching context in which development is occurring—one that was not addressed in Rio. The need to ensure that globalisation works for and does not undermine sustainable development is the new challenge.

How the UK is formulating its own contribution to the World Summit, the nature of this contribution and the range of stakeholders involved

  1.1  We believe that the Prime Minister was the first Head of State to commit to attend the World Summit, thus providing an important lead to others. DEFRA and DFES have provided funding for schools initiatives through WWF and RSPB in order to engage young people. The main instrument through which the Government has engaged with other members of civil society is through UNED-UK which has been running a multi-stakeholder process in order to identify UK priority areas and actions for the Government to take forward. There is of course a danger in relying on any one outreach method which may not capture all the interested parties which is why we also welcome DEFRA's support for the UK Development and Environment Group—a working group of BOND which brings together development and environment NGOs. Through this process, the UK Government has also invited NGOs to participate in the UK delegation for the WSSD preparatory committees.

  1.2  The Prime Minister has also spearheaded five sectoral initiatives—covering water, forestry, tourism, energy and financial services. While progress has been varied on these so far, we do welcome the concept of partnerships for sustainable development, which are indeed highlighted in the UN process as one of the anticipated outcomes. Any such tri-partite partnerships should, however, have clear and monitorable targets and should not be seen as a excuse for government inaction or regulation.

  1.3  There has been a sad lack of interest in the Summit by the general public, not helped by the lack of media debate. Where there is awareness that the Summit is taking place, it is still seen by many as a "green" or environmental summit. This points to a clear need for the Government to bring sustainable development home to the electorate and, using the media and other routes, generate some interest and excitement. The lead up to the Summit presents an ideal opportunity to reinvigorate public commitment to sustainable living and to generate a better understanding of the ways in which consumption patterns can be changed to improve citizens' quality of life.

  1.4  The Government ran a debate on its sustainable development website preceding the UN/ECE preparatory meeting in September 2001, but there were few responses. Perhaps this reflects the limitations of such a medium to reach the majority of people, particularly without accompanying promotional materials. DEFRA have themselves acknowledged that involvement of society at large has been poor to date.

  1.5  We welcome the establishment of the Cabinet Committee to coordinate work on WSSD, but we feel there is still a lack of engagement by some key departments, such as the Treasury and DTI. With DEFRA leading on the Summit there is a risk that sustainable development is seen as an issue about the environment and is not mainstreamed across government, nor at the heart of government policy.

  1.6  The Government has articulated some core issues that it would like to take to WSSD and these, for the most part, fit well with the priority areas that are emerging from the UN process. But its issues currently lack plans and targets for actual commitments in Johannesburg, whether in terms of implementation of Agenda 21 and agreements since Rio or new commitments. The Government agenda should include actions it will be taking at home as well as those it will be helping to deliver internationally.

  1.7  At the very minimum, by the time WSSD takes place, the UK Government should have ratified the agreements made since the Rio Summit, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Principle 10 of the Rio Principles—access to environmental information, decision making processes and access to justice—has been encapsulated by the Aarhus convention at the European regional level. The UK Government still has to ratify this and we would urge quick ratification. It would seem a principle to which the UK Government should commit and encourage others to do likewise. The ideas are being taken up at a regional level by other governments to set in place similar regional conventions.

  1.8  There are a number of key issues on which WWF expects the Government to make specific commitments either before or at WSSD. These include the following:

  Energy.  This is fundamental to economic and social development and yet there are 2 billion people without access to basic energy services in the developing world. Access to basic, clean energy services is essential for development and poverty alleviation and provides major benefits in the areas of health, literacy and equity. The domestic target of 10 per cent of energy provided by renewables by 2010 is a useful first step and we support the PIU's recent report which called for this to be extended to 20 per cent by 2020. We would urge the UK Government to make a similar commitment to promoting renewables as part of the development agenda. Therefore we are calling for the Government to commit to targeting 20 per cent of its energy sector lending and support in the form of guarantees via the ECGD to renewable energy development and energy efficiency programmes. We are also looking for a commitment to promote this target in all International Financial Institutions which the Government supports.

  Forests.  The UK Government was instrumental in encouraging commitments at the G8 Ministerial in 2000 to ensure government procurement of timber from sustainable sources. Nearly two years on, no progress has been made. The Government has not even decided how it will make good on this commitment, even though it could wield its considerable purchasing power in favour of sustainable consumption and thus demonstrate a major leadership role within the EU. The UK Government is, however, to be commended on playing a part in looking at the widespread problems of illegal logging by sponsoring workshops on forest law enforcement and governance in Asia and Africa and looking at ways of promoting certification and chains of custody. The UK Government is also sponsoring a workshop on forest landscape restoration this March in Costa Rica, prior to the UN Forests Forum meeting—which is an important approach to restoring environmental degradation and building natural capital for people, livelihoods and ecosystem integrity. In the UK, the Forestry Commission is undertaking an independently reviewed audit of progress since 1992 on its contribution to the sustainable development agenda in England, Scotland and Wales.

  Chemicals.  Exposure to hazardous chemicals continues worldwide and many of the chemicals manufactured and used in the EU and globally have not been tested adequately. The UK should take the lead in the EU at WSSD pressing for nations to agree to bring further chemicals under global controls and to work together as a matter of urgency to identify which chemicals warrant such control—taking into account the precautionary principle.

  Sustainable homes.  The Government could highlight its unique contribution to the above international commitments by demonstrating a strong domestic agenda at WSSD in the form of a commitment to develop one million sustainable homes in the UK by 2007. Such a commitment would demonstrate the UK's willingness to take action at home to reduce the overseas impact of its consumption patterns, for example in relation to carbon dioxide emissions, minimising the use of toxic chemicals and the sourcing of timber from certified well-managed forests.

  Freshwater.  About one third of the world's population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress and 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. The management of water resources is a critical issue for WSSD. Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) is now widely accepted as the most appropriate approach to address the sustainable management of the world's limited freshwater resources. It starts from the perspective that healthy ecosystems are the basis for ensuring reliable supplies of an optimal mix of goods and services from the freshwater environment. WWF is urging the UK Government to implement the EU Water Framework Directive as a good example of freshwater management and to extend these principles, as indicated in the Bonn Freshwater Meetings in December 2001, in its funding for development in other countries. Support for transboundary river initiatives to develop agreement amongst all users, while maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem in the long term are of particular importance because conflict over water resources is increasing in many parts of the world. WWF is also asking the UK Government to endorse the report of the World Commission on Dams and to adopt its guidelines.

  Marine.  At a WWF conference about preparations for WSSD in March 2001 the Prime Minister committed to launching measures to improve marine conservation here and abroad, including a series of marine stewardship reports. WWF has welcomed the forthcoming marine stewardship report as an important initiative, but the status of the report and any measures it proposes remain unclear. The Government's current position for WSSD on marine matters is good, but there is little evidence yet of a translation of statements and announcements into clear policy proposals which would create the necessary framework for managing the marine environment in a holistic way.

  1.9  The role of the devolved countries of the UK in the WSSD process is far from clear. In order to demonstrate that the UK is bringing government closer to the people and to foster a strong sense of ownership of the agenda at the local and regional level, the inclusion of devolved administrations in priority setting and in UK delegations should be a key aim. Initiatives in the devolved administrations (see paras 3.4-3.11) complement those of Westminster and could, if taken as part of a package, demonstrate a much stronger commitment to sustainable development by the UK as a whole.

  1.10  The First Minister in Scotland, in his first major environmental speech on 18 February, indicated his intention that Scotland should be represented at WSSD at the highest level. WWF would welcome any clarification the Committee can secure from the Government that the heads of devolved administrations will, indeed, be part of the UK's delegation to Johannesburg.

  1.11  In Northern Ireland little has been initiated by Government although it part-funded a conference in September 2001, organised by Sustainable Northern Ireland Programme and WWF, at which a broad section of civic society formulated a NI contribution to the UK national progression, fed back through UNED. The NI Department of Environment has also been very co-operative in supporting the WWF Our World schools challenge. The long overdue consultation on a SD strategy for NI will begin in March 2002. The NI Civic Forum has embraced the SD agenda and devoted a full day's plenary meeting to its consideration in February 2002. It has now initiated research to assess progress in NI since Rio and make recommendations to Government.

How the UK is helping to raise awareness of the Summit in other nations and facilitate contributions to the proceedings

  2.1  The Government has provided funding for the South African government, through DFID, and funding for southern civil society participation in the process, through FCO. This is obviously important and welcome. In terms of other governments, we are aware of contributions from Sweden and Denmark to help facilitate the process in South Africa and for coordination amongst NGOs in north and south.

  2.2  There has been a serious lack of links made between the Finance for Development process and the WSSD—although to some extent this is now being rectified at a very late date. It is clear that Agenda 21 cannot be implemented and that the Millenium Development Goals will not be reached without a real commitment to additional finance and resources. So far, the Financing For Development process has signally failed to encapsulate the concept of sustainable development throughout its deliberations and its six focal areas. In order to give real hope for outcomes at WSSD, ministers attending Finance for Development meeting in March should endorse the principles of sustainable development to achieve poverty eradication, equitable economic growth and environmental integrity.

  2.3  Four EU member states have reached or exceeded the pledge for 0.7 per cent of GNI for overseas development aid. The UK Government should not lag behind but should make a commitment to achieve this target by the end of this parliament in order to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals of which the costs are estimated to require a doubling of ODA. It is to be commended that the Government recognises that effective aid should build on recipient country development priorities, but also concentrate on lifting people out of poverty and maintaining the environmental resources upon which the current generation and future generations depend for a healthy and good quality of life.

  2.4  In this respect, we welcome DFID's partnership with the European Commission, UNDP and the World Bank in producing a consultation paper on "Linking Poverty Reduction and Environmental Management" as a contribution to WSSD and look forward to positive policies for simultaneously addressing poverty and environmental degradation.

  2.5  In terms of the EU, the Commission Communication on the External Dimension of Sustainable Development, which is also intended to provide an EU agenda for WSSD, has finally been presented. It is disappointing in terms of a credible and sound strategy to promote sustainable development and contains nothing new to end the overexploitation of natural resources. There are very few measurable targets and it is mostly a summary of existing EU programmes and policies. Regarding ODA, it sets a target for the EU at 0.33 per cent overall, well below the UN commitment of 0.7 per cent.

The extent to which the UK Government has adequately monitored UK progress on sustainable development and the issues mapped out in Agenda 21 since 1992 as part of its preparations for the Summit

  3.1  The UK Government produced a strategy for sustainable development following the Rio Summit and this was updated in 1999—A Better Quality of Life for All, accompanied later that year by a set of indicators to monitor progress. The report in January 2001 showed little change on the ground—some of the were trends good, others neutral and others were becoming worse. We are not convinced that the choice of indicators truly reflect sustainable development progress when they include resource efficiency indicators that do not acknowledge increases in consumption, thus offsetting any apparent gains made. The sustainable development strategy for the UK is also weak on the international dimension, failing to include indicators to reduce our environmental and social impacts on other parts of the world and thus the sustainable development options of others. In contrast, the Welsh Assembly has adopted Wales' ecological footprint as one of its eleven headline indicators (see paragraph 3.3). Interestingly, the footprint indicator in Wales has generated more interest than all the others put together. Further, one might question the UK Government's definition of sustainable development which includes the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth. Economic development has to take place within the carrying capacity of the planet, and with regard for the options of future generations, and cannot continue to grow beyond this threshold which we have already exceeded.

  3.2  The UK Government has been active within OECD-DAC in identifying and promoting key principles and mechanisms for developing and implementing a national strategy for sustainable development. The Committee might like to assess to what extent these principles were followed in the adoption of the UK's own strategy. These are: integration of economic, social and environmental objectives, and balance across sectors, territories and generations; broad participation and effective partnerships; country ownership and commitment; developing capacity and an enabling environment; and focus on outcomes and means of implementation.

  3.3  The Committee might like to consider the roles of the Round Table on Sustainable Development and now the Sustainable Development Commission and to evaluate the influence their advice and reports have had on UK Government policy. The UK Sustainable Development Commission has been set up both to advise and to audit government progress on sustainable development. Thus it is also important to audit the activities of the SDC and their impact on government policy on behalf of UK stakeholders. The limited remit of the SDC, in terms of only covering the domestic agenda, severely restrains its ability to tackle some of the areas where the UK has the biggest impact on sustainable development—that is on developing countries, in terms of trade and consumption patterns, in particular.

Progress in the devolved administrations

  3.4  In Wales, the requirement to publish a Sustainable Development Scheme was incorporated in the Government of Wales Act 1999, which established the National Assembly for Wales. The legal status of this Scheme, and the requirement to consult and review, makes this initiative unique. The Assembly is adopting the global footprint approach as a headline indicator for its sustainable development measurement. The Assembly will be releasing its "Year 1" Report on its Sustainable Development Scheme and its indicators at a joint conference on Wales' contribution to WSSD with WWF Cymru and Oxfam on April 17. WWF Cymru will be jointly publishing a report on the footprint of Wales with the Welsh Assembly in time for this conference.

  3.5  In Scotland progress on developing a comprehensive Sustainable Development Strategy has been frustratingly slow. It should be noted however that the First Minister made an unprecedented commitment to "step up the action" on sustainable development in February 2002. This was warmly welcomed by WWF and is seen widely as the beginning of concerted action in Scotland to make a real difference to preparations for the Summit. See appendix 1.

  3.6  For some time the Scottish Executive have worked with a strategy to address Waste, Energy and Travel—but this has been rejected by stakeholders as unconvincing and lacking credibility (see appendix 2, Reality Check Report, WWF October 2001). There are still no indicators—and very few targets for measuring progress have been adopted. It is almost impossible to gain a rounded view of progress in Scotland due to this lack of a strategy with measurable indicators. On the WET strategy, levels of climate emissions have not been significantly reduced with waste production hardly reduced and recycling rates at a very low 6 per cent.

  3.7  In the first Partnership for Scotland agreed by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition in 1999, a clear commitment was made: "We will integrate the principles of environmentally and socially sustainable development into all government policies . . . We will work to promote environmentally and socially sustainable economic development." The Scottish Parliament has in place a "sustainable development" mechanism—a policy memorandum to assess effects on sustainable development attached to each piece of legislation. Research carried out for the organisation Scottish Environment LINK reveals that such an assessment had been included in 18 bills introduced by the Executive before 26 January 2001. But in 12 cases, including bills on education, finance and feudal tenure, the assessment was a simple statement that the bill would have "no effects" on sustainable development. A few assessments suggested that the legislative change would have a positive impact, but even they were "shallow", according to author Hazel Clark. "There appeared to be a lack of consistency in the vision of sustainability underpinning the statements and in the main there was generally a failure to consider the comprehensive implications of bills," she concluded. The solution, she recommended, was to strengthen the assessments by introducing minimum criteria, scrutiny and expert assistance.

  3.8  During 2001 a series of "Future Scotland" seminars and an e-consultation by a coalition of partners including the Executive and the Scottish Civic Forum reached a new audience but revealed that it is hard for people to connect with sustainable development. The consultation process raised the themes of recycling; the potential of renewables; changing lifestyles; community development; transport; education/public awareness; energy efficient buildings; resource use/efficiency. The results of the consultation will be used to inform the Scottish contribution to the UK report.

  3.9  A seminar hosted by the Scottish Executive with key stakeholders was held in December 2001 to assess progress on sustainable development and preparations for the World Summit. A note of this meeting is attached in appendix 3. This noted the that lack of a comprehensive strategy was holding back action. Its main conclusions were:

    —  a welcome for the Executive's new initiative announced in October, to strengthen the Ministerial Group on Sustainable Development, that a set of indicators be adopted, to make a clear statement on what sustainable development meant for the Executive and the setting up of a Sustainable Development Forum—all to be in place by January 2002. First Minister attendance at the Summit was strongly recommended.

    —  Seminar participants regarded the preparation process to be as important as the content of Scotland's input to the WSSD. Exchange and dialogue is vital at the Summit. It was felt important to build on existing achievements, reaching a common agenda through constructive dialogue. The FutureScotland consultation was regarded as useful in this respect but much more could be done. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has begun work on a sustainable development strategy for the voluntary sector, working with organisations to encourage them to make links with other sectors. Other organisations and businesses could be doing the same with leadership and support from government.

  3.10  There was support for a major conference to be held in Scotland in May/June 2002 inviting key representatives of different sectors (eg waste, energy, travel, food and tourism) to present the current situation in their sector, identify how the sustainability challenge is to be met and the partnerships that will be needed to effect change.

  3.11  In Northern Ireland, progress on producing a sustainable development strategy has also been frustratingly slow but progress is being made on green procurement policies by the government agencies. The NI LA21 Advisory Group made its final report to the NI Environment Minister in September 2000, which summarised the breadth of sustainable development/LA21 initiatives that have been generated in NI among all sectors of society. Most progress has been achieved by local authorities and the community sector. The Civic Forum report referred to above will build upon and update this report. Every Council has made a stated commitment to LA21 and sustainable development, but implementation is more fragmented, although some Councils have made significant advances, including sustainable development indicators and annual monitoring. The Executive in NI has not yet perceived sustainable development as an issue of importance; its promotion falls to an under-funded and under-staffed section of DoE which is already crippled by a backlog of infrastructural shortcomings leading to the threat of EU sanctions for missed deadlines on Directives. In effect the sustainable development agenda is being driven by local government and NGOs.

22 February 2002

10   The Living Planet Report 2000, WWF. Back

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