CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 172-i

House of commons

oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Environmental Audit Committee

THE Rio+20 Summit

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP and Andrew Lawrence

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 41

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Tuesday 12 June 2012

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Sheryll Murray

Dr Alan Whitehead

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Andrew Lawrence, Director of Policy Delivery Group, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: I would like to welcome you both to our Select Committee this afternoon and say that I am sure that you are going to be very busy in the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit. The Committee would like to concentrate on the preparations for Rio but, inevitably, the first question has to be, if it is such an important conference, which Ban Ki-Moon has indicated it is, why is the Prime Minister, at this stage, still not intending to go and show leadership on it?

Caroline Spelman: I think you probably asked that question because I am asked that question on many occasions. There is no suggestion, by the Prime Minister not going, that the United Kingdom Government does not take this Rio Summit extremely seriously. I have been actively involved in preparations for this for over a year now, involving more than one visit to Brazil, and the fact we are taking the Deputy Prime Minister means that, in comparison with a lot of countries that are represented by their Environment Minister, we will have very high-level representation.

In practical terms, the Prime Minister is attending the G20 in Mexico just before the Rio+20 Summit, and he feels he can’t afford to be out of the country at this time. Committee members will be well aware it is a difficult time with the challenges in the eurozone and that is a judgment that he has made. I am delighted that the head of delegation will be the Deputy Prime Minister, with whom I have been actively involved in making preparations, including jointly hosting roadshows for people who are interested in and will be attending the Summit. I don’t think there is any lack of commitment on the part of the Government.

Q2 Chair: While we are on who is attending and who is not, would you not have hoped that the International Development Secretary would have been going as well?

Caroline Spelman: Most of my counterparts in Europe from the Environment Council are going on their own to the Rio+20 Summit. They are certainly not going with other Ministers from their Governments. In some cases their Prime Minister might go for a day. We have put together what we think is an appropriate delegation for the Summit. We have representatives of DFID and the FCO as well as Defra there, and we have worked right across Government to get support and clearance of our lines to take for Rio.

Q3 Chair: It would also be interesting to have some idea of how you have been preparing for the Summit in terms of the position within the European Union and how the UK fits into that, and perhaps what differences of opinion there are or what common ground there is or what further hurdles there are that will need to be addressed there.

Caroline Spelman: We should take a little bit of time on this because it is quite important. I am proud of the fact that the UK is in quite a strong position and is seen as a leading country in the world in terms of preparation for the Rio+20 Summit. I think we are seen as a bridging country, as the Danish presidency described us publicly, because we have worked very hard to build a bridge between the developing countries and the developed countries, and that is going to stand us in good stead when we are there. As I mentioned previously, we started our preparations for Rio in April 2011 when we paid the first visit to our Brazilian hosts to help them with the preparations for the Summit in any way that we could. I have built a good working relationship with the Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, because she was one of the key players at the UN Summit on Biodiversity in Nagoya. It is often about the political will and the relationships that are built to carry that determination for a good outcome. I would trace it right back to the beginning of my office, almost.

We have intensified our preparations since the autumn. The Indian Environment Minister hosted a preparatory meeting for Environment Ministers around the world in October last year. That showed a remarkable degree of consensus among Environment Ministers on the themes that ought to be addressed at Rio+20. For example, what came out of that was consensus around the nexus of food, water and energy, which is carried through thematically into the discussion for sustainable development goals. As you know, the idea of sustainable development goals came from the Colombians, together with the Guatemalans. We went out of our way to be helpful to the Colombians, and the UK was the first European country to declare its support for sustainable development goals in principle at the UNEP meeting in Nairobi this year. We have gone on to help the Colombians by hosting a meeting of like-minded nations in the margins of the Stockholm+40 Conference in April this year in order to help build momentum behind what we genuinely believe to be one of the best ideas that anyone has come up with for an ambitious, tangible outcome from Rio+20.

You specifically asked me about the EU. I regularly attend the Environment Council and there is complete agreement among European Environment Ministers, as reflected in the Council’s conclusions that were reached unanimously before Easter-if I recall, 9 March-which set a very clear mandate for us as Ministers. Obviously some key players emerge among the Environment ministers. We met yesterday in Luxembourg, and there is a lot of determination among European Environment Ministers to play a really active role in securing an ambitious outcome. Not all will go to Rio. It is a long way and, as I said, eurozone countries are facing difficult times, but I think there are enough good, strong key players who will help build that political will to get a good outcome.

In addition to that, there are preparations with stakeholders such as NGOs and business. We hope to take and share some of the best ideas that have been home grown here, promoting things like GDP-plus, natural capital and corporate accounting for sustainability. We have been developing these ideas, together with their proponents in business and civil society, so that we take and share our best ideas with others at the Summit.

Q4 Chair: We will come on to the Colombian proposals on sustainable development goals in a little bit more detail, but I want to go back to the European position for a minute, if I may. One of the concerns that we have is the European discussions that are going on in respect of other agenda items, for example on the draft energy efficiency directive. How does our position on that, which appears not to be in favour of targets, fit in with the whole Rio agenda in terms of what the UK is doing, which is, "Do as I say and do as I do"? What is the importance of having a coherent proposal going forward that is reflected in policy initiatives that we will be taking on later down the line?

Caroline Spelman: I am looking puzzled only because that is not a directive that has been raised with me in the context of the Environment Council or by any other European Environment Minister. If you perceive a conflict there, it is not one that has been raised at any Environment Council meeting I have attended. It is not one that we are aware of. It may be a DECC lead, but it was not perceived by Environment Ministers in their final Council meeting before going to Rio as at odds in any respect with the conclusions that we reached in March and a lot of those Environment Ministers are twin hatted; a sort of DECC-Defra twin hat, even though I am a Defra-agriculture twin hat. That has not been raised.

Andrew Lawrence: I will add something about the preparations. My team has been going to working group meetings, which report the ministerial process the Secretary of State has described, and we have been going to those for a similar amount of time. We have spent probably well over a year preparing the EU’s initial position and then subsequently and also, of course, taking part in EU co-ordination and EU meetings in and around the preparatory committee meetings in New York. I have not perceived it as being a particular challenge or problem from those discussions and, as I say, we have been relentlessly involved in co-ordinating the EU position and contributing as the UK.

Caroline Spelman: The UK will push very strongly, as I mentioned earlier, for energy as one of the potential themes for a sustainable development goal. Commissioner Hedegaard, as well as Commissioner Potočnik, will go to Rio+20. I was giving assurances to Connie Hedegaard yesterday that the UK would speak up in support of energy being an important theme for the SDGs. I personally take the view that, because there has been such a lot of work put into the "sustainable energy for all" proposal, it is almost like a ready-made subject for a sustainable development goal. I know that is a view that the Commissioner shares.

Q5 Chair: Before I hand over to Martin Caton, could you tell me about the way in which Defra has co-ordinated the cross-departmental input into the policy-making for Rio?

Caroline Spelman: Yes, absolutely. Basically, as you would know, a Government position prior to any Summit of this nature has to be cleared completely around Whitehall. It has to be written around all Government Departments. That has already been done, and we have approval for the position. There are some Departments around Government that have a stronger interest in the outcome of Rio, for example the Foreign Office, UKTI, DFID, DECC, HMT and the Cabinet Office, as well as obviously the Deputy Prime Minister who will be coming with me. I have had close contacts with Cabinet colleagues in the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit and that is mirrored at official level.

Q6 Chair: Could you give us some idea of where it has been more challenging to reach agreement on that cross-cutting agenda?

Caroline Spelman: It has not really been challenging. The UK has a very strong opportunity because we have very good relations around the world as a result of our success in UN negotiations, for example the success that my colleague Chris Huhne had prior to Christmas in making some progress at the Durban Summit. I was there and got agreement with the other Ministers on biodiversity. We have a very good reputation internationally for being a good facilitator. Indeed, that is the term that the Japanese Prime Minister used when we were all in Nagoya. As the UK Minister, I was made a facilitator to help broker agreement between countries. It is recognised within Government that the UK should take advantage of its key position. We are seen as a leading nation.

Our relations with countries like India, China, Brazil and South Africa are very important when it comes to securing the political will necessary to get a good outcome at these Summits. We have been a beneficiary of a long history of being good at that kind of international diplomacy, which we have taken forward with tangible results on previous occasions. Personally, I have worked very hard to build up trust. For example, in the margins of the Durban Summit, I spent quite a bit of time with my South African counterparts, who were very keen to see sustainable agriculture as one of the themes that emerged as an SDG. We have done a lot of preparatory work with key players. That is recognised across Whitehall and it has the support of Departments, like the Foreign Office, DFID and DECC, that know that this is the way to help achieve a good outcome.

Andrew Lawrence: We rely on them. We need the help of DFID, BIS and others to create a UK position on some of the themes that are in play at Rio, which is a broad canvas. So I would say that co-operation is very strong.

Q7 Chair: Finally on this, I do know Earth Charter UK have been very dependent on a DFID grant. I think there was some problem about getting co-ordination between DFID and Defra. Even if you can’t give me an answer now, could you perhaps give me an assurance that the issues that were outstanding on the work they wanted to do in the run-up to Rio have now been resolved?

Caroline Spelman: I am completely unaware that this happened.

Chair: I would be happy if you could get back to me.

Caroline Spelman: If it has I will look into it. If DFID is the sponsoring Department or the source of funding then obviously primarily that is a DFID responsibility, but we will look into it.

Chair: I think it is one of those cross-cutting issues.

Q8 Martin Caton: You have already referred to the preparations for next week. Last month, Ban Ki-Moon said that preparatory negotiations for the Summit were "painfully slow" and, of course, the UN had an extra five-day negotiating session. How confident are you that, when you get to the Summit, sufficient preparatory work will have been done to ensure significant, tangible outcomes?

Caroline Spelman: It is no good denying that negotiations in New York have been difficult and, although progress has recently been made on the text, it has been slow. There are now 70 paragraphs agreed and that leaves 259 remaining in a number of key areas. Yes, there is a lot of work to do, but I think it is recognised now that it needs to go to the political stage. What I was trying to stress earlier is it hinges on the political will. Essentially, the zero draft is a lengthy, wordy and worthy document, but we need something a bit more tangible out of this Summit that puts the world on a course to sustainable development. That is why I think that something like the sustainable development goals, which drive action-learning from the model of the millennium development goals, which have driven action-is one of the best ways we are going to obtain that. We now move to the political process. As my Brazilian counterpart always says, "It will depend on the political will, Caroline". I suppose I am here to demonstrate to you that there is no lack of will on the part of the UK Government.

Q9 Martin Caton: I take your point about the SDGs, but is there any chance of honing the zero-draft document down? As you stated last month, it needs to be much punchier to have some sort of resonance with ordinary folk.

Caroline Spelman: I am on the record as saying that I would prefer to see a shorter, sharper political declaration, putting more importance on inclusive green growth and underpinning the role of natural resources in the economy. When we get to the Summit I think we will have to see whether there is the appetite for that kind of shorter communication, one that ordinary people on the street might more easily understand. When we come back from these things, we have to be able to answer the question, "What did you actually achieve?" What you want is a clear, short communiqué about our objectives, what we agreed to do and what difference that will make. That is what we are going to spend hours and hours trying to secure.

Q10 Martin Caton: Is the UK Government doing anything separately from its role within the European Union to try to get that sort of text?

Caroline Spelman: We are doing a couple of things separately. As I indicated earlier, we have specifically been asked by the World Bank to take part in a fringe event, as UK Government, where we are going to showcase what we have done on natural capital. We have set up a Natural Capital Committee in this country that reports directly to the Chancellor through the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee. We are one of the first Governments to do that. We have been asked by the World Bank if we would take that and share why we decided to do that, how it will work and the benefits it will bring. That is an example of something that we are doing separately.

Another thing that we will be doing is talking about GDP-plus and the work that the Prime Minister undertook on a better understanding of a wider measure of wellbeing and the importance not just of economic capital but of social capital. There are a number of additional things we will do in the margins of the negotiations on the overall outcome, but obviously we are part of the EU delegation. These are things that we are doing on request and then, as I mentioned also, we are going to give support to one of the British businesses going out there, Aviva, that wants to take and share its proposals for accounting for corporate sustainability as part of the corporate sustainability event on the fringe of the conference.

There will be a number of things that we do out there. We are part of the EU delegation, but we have been asked to do a number of things as the UK Government, supporting UK business and UK NGOs.

Q11 Zac Goldsmith: I want to come back to the sustainable development goals. It seems to be the case, in terms of measureable and reportable outcomes in Rio, a lot of people are putting a lot of emphasis on whatever that document eventually looks like. Is there anything in the note from Colombia and Guatemala that you think ought not be there? Is there anything that you think ought to be there that is currently missing? Broadly speaking, what is your reaction to that document?

Caroline Spelman: The Colombians are the principal player, with the support of the Guatemalans. I think they are well thought through on this. They have spent a lot of time thinking about how SDGs would work, what sort of process would be needed in order to develop them and how that might sit with other processes, most especially with the millennium development goals. No one wants to see the millennium development goals detracted from in any way. SDGs are seen as entirely complementary, including by their architect, but it will take time to elaborate them. They would see, as its author, more of a two-stage process where, in Rio, we would hope to reach agreements in principle for sustainable development goals that are universal; they are for everyone. I am hopeful, and I think the Colombians are hopeful too, that we might get to an indicative list of themes. They have not been prescriptive over what those themes should be. As the architects of the idea, they are quite open to the debate, which I think will be extremely interesting, as to what the sustainable development goals will be.

The UK will be strongly advocating SDGs on food, water and energy because our own Foresight report shows us that by 2030 we are going to need 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water. That scientific underpinning of the evidence base leads me to be a very strong proponent of the food, water and energy nexus, but I know that other Environment Ministers will be calling for themes like sustainable agriculture. I mentioned the South African Minister’s concern for that. I know that the Swedish Minister is very keen to see a debate on sustainable cities. I think part of the big interest of the Summit will be where the consensus emerges around the themes for these SDGs. There is nothing in principle I object to in the proposal-that is the exercise that we should embark on-but it will take a little time, inevitably.

Q12 Zac Goldsmith: In a sense, whatever finally emerges, the SDGs will be the record of where the consensus is. That will be the written record, I suppose, of the success of Rio.

Caroline Spelman: Yes.

Q13 Zac Goldsmith: If that is the case, how will the various countries involved prevent it from mushrooming in the same way that the previous draft papers have? At the moment, what has been produced by Guatemala and Colombia is relatively neat and tidy. How do you prevent it expanding out of all recognition?

Caroline Spelman: First of all, take the lesson from the MDGs. Part of the ingredients of their success is that they were few in number, they were simple, they were clear and they were challenging, but deliverable. The Colombians are quite right to point to that model. What you don’t want an over-proliferation of themes and you need something that is quite precise. That was the great thing about the MDGs: very precise goals. I don’t think we will arrive at the expression of that this month. It takes work and the Colombians have always said that we need the evidence base to underpin the choice of goals, so it is given a very clear expression by the time we reach agreement on the actual goal itself. There has got to be a proper debate around the themes and they will reflect the level of consensus. Do you want to come in?

Andrew Lawrence: Some of the principles that are currently in the co-chair’s text, the document that is being negotiated from tomorrow in Rio, echo what you have been suggesting. Countries are supportive of these general themes, namely that SDGs should be action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational and global in nature. The risk that you refer to, of them becoming potentially out of hand, is recognised in these principles. As the Secretary of State has said, there is more negotiating to be done, but I think they are generally accepted as a set of principles that will support a strong, positive outcome on SD goals.

Q14 Zac Goldsmith: What status do you think it should have at the end? Do you see this has having very much the same status as the millennium development goals?

Caroline Spelman: If we get agreement in Rio on the principle of having universal sustainable development goals, that would be a good outcome for Rio. I hope, in addition to that, we will get an indicative list of themes where the consensus emerges.

It is obvious that the complementarity is there. The millennium development goal process post-2015 is underway and, because the question has to be answered, what follows on? The timings of these two things sit well together, but the emphasis is on complementarity. There is no desire on anyone’s part to see the development of sustainable development goals detract from the post-2015 millennium development goal process, but there has to be a good chance these two things will work well together.

Q15 Zac Goldsmith: I know that Dr Whitehead wants to ask something on the same issue, but how far do you think the goals will go? One of the themes is sustainable oceans. Are there going to be figures, targets or numbers associated with that or is it all going to be aspiration and direction?

Caroline Spelman: I can’t answer that question in advance of the Summit taking place. At the Summit, there will be a debate around whether the theme of oceans should be one of the limited list of things that we approach before there is any discussion of what form an SDG in relation to the oceans should take. There is a pretty strong appetite for oceans. It is quite interesting that, as far back as last October when Environment Ministers met, certain key countries like Australia, India, South Africa and, understandably, West African states, which are mostly maritime countries, were keen to see oceans having a sustainable development goal attached. I can’t pre-empt what there will be. It is premature.

Q16 Zac Goldsmith: Is that your hope, though?

Caroline Spelman: We would hope to see it, yes.

Q17 Zac Goldsmith: Would you hope that these goals would be as detailed and specific as possible in terms of what can-

Caroline Spelman: Indeed. Why wouldn’t I? My point was that the MDGs were very successful because of that and there is huge potential there. It would sit very well with our own marine policy to see progress in this area. Although there will be many non-maritime nations present, there is a quite significant group of countries that wants to see sustainable development goals covering oceans and that may well emerge as one of the themes.

Q18 Sheryll Murray: Do you think it may be a hindrance, from a negotiation perspective, because perhaps some of our European partners may have different goals from ours with regard to marine and maritime?

Caroline Spelman: I haven’t seen any evidence of that in the Environment Council, no. Whether maritime and non-maritime member states, there is quite a degree of sympathy around this area because everybody knows that the natural resource of the ocean is something upon which life on the planet is going to depend and any Environment Minister is going to see that.

Q19 Sheryll Murray: I am thinking in relation to the fish stocks as a specific, and a discard ban, which is being promoted very strongly by our Minister and some other Ministers. Perhaps some other member states are being a little reticent on that.

Caroline Spelman: No, you might be surprised, but then I am talking about Environment Ministers. When it comes to the negotiators for the EU-

Sheryll Murray: But sustainability takes account of everything.

Caroline Spelman: The Environment Ministers will be principally informing that debate, but when the subject of oceans and fishing has come up in the context of any gathering of European Environment Ministers, everybody sees the logic behind the health of the oceans and sustainable fishing. I haven’t heard dissent at a European level about that.

Q20 Dr Whitehead: I am interested in the process that, as you said, to some extent will define the indicative goals in terms of the emerging consensus that is reached at Rio. The framework within which these goals have been placed is different from what has gone on before, in as much as they are universal and convergent goals and they are goals that are inclusive of everybody, as opposed to being what somebody does for somebody else. They are different in concept, I think, as well as different in individual subject. How do you seek to keep that difference in concept going, such that the goals are not subsumed into something with a different route?

Caroline Spelman: It is interesting. What is distinct from millennium development goals is that, while the millennium development goals were universal, they were principally driving action to benefit the needs of those in developing countries. What is different about sustainable development goals is they are universal. They apply to everyone. There is a very strong appetite for that to be the case. When you talk to Environment Ministers from Japan or China, for example, they embrace the potential that sustainable development goals have because they can see that their universality is part of what would make them effective. As with any big environmental measure, because the environment is no respecter of national boundaries, you need everyone to take action for there to be an overall benefit. What countries like China and Japan are a little wary of is an over-prescriptive interpretation of how that sustainable development goal should be applied in their own countries. I can perfectly see that. As with millennium development goals, you need an overarching goal that is credible, challenging and deliverable, but you have to deliver it in the way that is appropriate for your own country’s situation and its natural resources. Everyone can see that that can work perfectly well, and that is what will secure the maximum support.

Q21 Dr Whitehead: I think that is absolutely right. Under those circumstances, will the UK position particularly be to attempt to secure firmness of the concept, together with a pretty good definition of what those indicative goals will be, as opposed to having a rather more woolly idea that can be passed on to the 2015 goal process and immersed within it? Is that your particular intention? Are you communicating that to the Colombians in particular?

Caroline Spelman: Going back to the Colombians, who are very well thought through on this, their view is that if we succeed in reaching agreement that we should have sustainable development goals in principle and maybe some consensus around a limited number of themes with which to proceed, we then need to develop the evidence base that supports the choice of the goal. You need the hard evidence that a chosen goal is challenging, but deliverable and workable, and addresses what we need to address and that will take a little while. That is a process that certainly the Colombians are happy to be actively involved in, because they have given it a lot of thought. This is bound to enter into a proper process in preparation, I would have thought, for whatever ultimately comes out post-2015. It will take time to reach that precise form of words, such as we have with MDGs at present, that garners support from the nations that in principle supported the SDGs. Do you want to add to the process?

Andrew Lawrence: No, I just think you are right. It will need to be developed over time and people recognise that. Some of the concepts that you were mentioning earlier about establishing the role of SDGs and hopefully some of the themes and getting currency for them is an idea and a good way to take forward sustainability. I think those are the priorities, if you like, and then we can try to tee up a sensible process beyond, levering what the Colombians and others have done on that already on that thinking. I think that is right.

Q22 Dr Whitehead: Isn’t that process to some extent separate from just the process of looking at what happens after 2015 in the sense of the millennium development goals?

Caroline Spelman: Maybe. Who knows? That needs to be-

Dr Whitehead: Should that not be a separate process and would you not ensure that it is?

Caroline Spelman: There is quite a lot of support for a single process, but I would have thought the authors of the original idea ought to have a very considerable input into that process because they are the ones that have given it proper thought. I am sure we will continue to support the Colombians-because, let us face it, they have had one of the best ideas-to help them with the elaboration of that.

What is very important is the strength of the evidence base. That is going to be very important. We believe in evidence-based decision-making here and we need to make sure that, whatever goals are chosen thematically, we can get the very best global evidence base to support the ultimate choice of goal. That took quite a bit of time in preparation of the original millennium development goals. It is right to take the correct amount of time to make sure it is robust, but we will be as supportive as we can with our own strength in evidence gathering and, if that is the way it goes post-Rio, which I hope it will, then to make sure we have a good, clear goal that people can sign up to that stretches and challenges and delivers something good.

Q23 Neil Carmichael: The UN Secretary-General has appointed the Prime Minister as one of the three co-chairs of his panel looking at the goals for 2015 and beyond. What sort of timetable do you think that is going to involve and when do you think that will get started?

Caroline Spelman: First of all, it is a huge advantage to the UK that our Prime Minister is on Ban Ki-Moon’s high-level panel on development. That is excellent and I pay tribute to my colleagues at DFID, who I know have been actively involved in that, and we support them in that. As I understand, the work on that will probably commence in the autumn.

Andrew Lawrence: Yes, it will be launched after Rio.

Caroline Spelman: It is a huge advantage that we, as a nation, have a seat at the high level. We don’t know the details of how the outcome from Rio works with that at the moment, because we can’t pre-empt the outcome of Rio. My job as the Environment Minister is that there is a good outcome from Rio that will then move forward and, hopefully, work in a complementary way with what the Prime Minister is going to be doing.

Q24 Neil Carmichael: The other co-chairs are the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia. What sort of issues do you think might become contentious, or at least be handled in different ways, by the three leaders?

Caroline Spelman: I can’t possibly know, in the sense that these are sovereign nations with their own interests. What I can tell you is that we have a very good working relationship with Indonesia and I know that the Indonesian Environment Minister is one of those key players on the global stage in preparation for Rio and is a strong supporter of looking at the food, water and energy nexus, because he has said so. I have arrangements for a bilateral meeting with my Environment opposite number, and I can obviously speak to him then about the role his Prime Minister will be playing with my Prime Minister, but that is not so much the case with Liberia. I haven’t had any direct contact with my Liberian counterpart, I have to say, but I can look them out in Rio while we are there and find out elements of common ground.

I don’t think there is any doubt that, in terms of development, the UK can hold its head up high because we are on track to meet our 0.7% of GNI in overseas development assistance. I also must pay tribute to the fact that Defra and DFID have been a major supporter of the endeavours by three Departments to set aside £2.9 billion of funding for international climate finance, which we will endeavour to give in a way that secures the multiple outcomes of poverty alleviation, which will be important to Indonesians and Liberians, as well as the reduction of deforestation and the enhancement of biodiversity. I am confident that in our own Prime Minister, we will bring not only a very able individual, but one with some natural connections to and natural standing in those two countries that you mentioned.

Q25 Neil Carmichael: Yes. In terms of the European Union, will any effort be made to inform the Prime Minister on the European Union’s position in the role that he will have as co-chair?

Caroline Spelman: That is a different question completely from the Rio Summit.

Neil Carmichael: It is, yes.

Caroline Spelman: This is a question not to do with the Rio Summit, but with the Prime Minister’s role on the high-level panel. Obviously I have come prepared to talk to you about the Rio Summit. I am thinking on my feet what you mean. What do you mean?

Q26 Neil Carmichael: There are three co-chairs. They are all quite different in terms of the countries that they represent. David Cameron might want to talk to his colleagues in the European Union, just as the President of Indonesia might want to talk to his colleagues in neighbouring areas. Will there be any sort of dialogue of that type, do you think?

Caroline Spelman: He is an active member of Heads of State meetings at a European level; a very active member with all that is going on in the eurozone at the moment. I would imagine the question of development assistance to these countries does come up from time to time. Once again, overall in the EU, the UK is one of the member states that is on track to meet its UN commitment of 0.7% of GNI by 2013, which gives the UK a certain amount of credibility in talking to other Heads of State about our obligations, even though these are difficult financial times. You are bound to be listened to with more respect if you are doing what you are asking other people to do. That point was made by the Chair earlier: don’t ask other people to do what you are not prepared to do yourself. He will have natural standing with his colleagues, and I would have thought his role on the high-level panel will be good for the EU. At that moment, he is a European representative on the high-level panel.

Andrew Lawrence: A lot of what you are asking will be built into the high-level panel’s design and terms of reference. That is clearly a matter for the UN Secretary-General and it has not been published or made clear yet. He has announced three co-chairs, but the level of support the co-chairs will get on their engagement and outreach and the technical assistance that they will get will all be designed in, if former high-level panels are anything to go by.

Q27 Neil Carmichael: The co-chairs will obviously be thinking, either individually or collectively, about how they see the role developing because it is an important role.

Caroline Spelman: Indeed.

Neil Carmichael: What I am probing here is what kind of preparations are being made in advance of the first sessions.

Caroline Spelman: Across Whitehall, we have already had meetings with DFID, the Deputy Prime Minister and myself on the interface between the Rio Summit, the high-level panel and the post-2015 process to make sure that it is seamless. That discussion has already taken place. As British politicians, we can see the opportunity that exists for the United Kingdom to be a force for good in terms of the post-2015 process, but from a position of strength so that we are on track to give what is required under the UN guidelines.

Q28 Chair: Is this not one of the inconsistencies at the heart of where we are in the preparations for Rio now, that the UK is going out to Rio as part of the EU delegation and, irrespective of whether that is right or wrong, the Prime Minister is not part of the process leading up to Rio but then, subsequently, at the later stage, he is taking on this special role at the request of the UN Secretary-General? There is a slight disconnect, because then he is going to be doing it as a UK appointee, rather as part of the EU. Isn’t it a process that we need to be looking at? There needs to be that continuity and that constancy through the process.

Caroline Spelman: I honestly think that you are trying to make something out of nothing in the sense that he was asked to join the high-level panel well before the Rio Summit. Whether or not there had been a Rio Summit, he would be on the high-level panel for development post-2015. The Rio Summit is taking place. We don’t yet know what is going to come out of it. As the Department with chief responsibility for the negotiations, I have been working very hard to try to make sure that something good comes out of it.

Q29 Chair: My point is about the process. Therefore, you can’t just connect a bit of a process.

Caroline Spelman: At the moment, the processes are not connected at a global level. You can’t make that link between them, can you?

Chair: I think that the process is continuous and it is just difficult just to come in and to come out of it. It needs to be looked at as a whole and it needs to be integrated. That is where my concern is, but I will allow Neil Carmichael to continue with his questions.

Caroline Spelman: I would just like to reinforce that the PM not going to Rio is no indication of a lack of commitment on the part of the United Kingdom to play a really active role at the Rio Summit. There is plenty of evidence to show that we have played a key role in the preparations for Rio. We are delighted that the Prime Minister is on Ban Ki-Moon’s high-level panel on development post-2015 MDGs, but it is not clear at this point in time what will come out of the Rio Summit and whether that will relate to that process or not. We can’t write history until it has happened.

Q30 Neil Carmichael: According to some evidence that we have been looking at, the millennium development goals are tending to focus more on inequality than poverty. Is that something you would agree with and, if so, do you think that is appropriate and what do you think the Prime Minister’s preferences would be, given the discussions that we have just had?

Caroline Spelman: Once again, the primary responsibility for the millennium development goals is DFID, not Defra. I haven’t done a close examination of the millennium development goals, because it is not within my brief, but clearly, the objective of securing sustainable development goals will be to help alleviate poverty. That is certainly something that we desire to see out of the Summit. The overall theme for the Summit is the green economy. We have understood very clearly that, in the eyes of the developing world, unless we make it clear that we see it as an inclusive green economy, developing countries can feel that it may not have sufficient benefit to help them with poverty alleviation. We have understood that clearly. The lead on the discussion about the content of millennium development goals post-2015 is not with my Department, but with DFID.

Q31 Neil Carmichael: Finally, do you think that the Prime Minister’s role on the panel could tie your hands in any situation in Rio, because of the panel, as you have already said, operating after Rio has concluded?

Caroline Spelman: No. As I think I have said, I see it as an advantage. Whatever comes out of Rio, if I am successful, part of the process is to secure sustainable development goals in principle, and I regard it as a big advantage to have our Prime Minister on the high-level panel on development and the post-2015 process. That can only be to the good. My job is to try to get something really positive and tangible out of the Rio Summit.

Neil Carmichael: Absolutely. Thank you.

Q32 Zac Goldsmith: You mentioned earlier the water, energy and food nexus that the British Government has envisioned. Can you briefly describe what that means and why?

Caroline Spelman: To take food, for example, part of the world is presently undernourished and the majority of people globally live in absolute poverty. Most of those are smallholders and many of them are women. I think it is incredibly important to make progress on addressing that issue. If we could move the world’s subsistence farmers to sustainable farming, we will have done a huge, good service. As I said, the whole world’s agriculture needs to be moved on to a sustainable footing, which is why a goal about sustainable agriculture would be a good goal to secure, but it could mean different things in different countries.

To achieve that shift-say, in the Horn of Africa-from subsistence farming to sustainable farming would mean addressing two key things. One would be water capture and storage, which presently does not happen. It is not that the Horn never gets any water. It is just when it comes, it is not easy to capture. The infrastructure is not there. Secondly, they suffer terrible harvest losses. When they are able to grow the crops, they are not able to conserve them. If we could make a difference to those two things in parts of the world like the Horn of Africa, we would go a long way to shifting some of the world’s poorest farmers, many of them women, onto a more sustainable footing.

Back home, our goal on sustainable agriculture might mean something different. It might mean reducing the amount of inputs that we apply, reducing the amount of water that we use to produce the crops and what we often term as sustainable intensification, which is producing more food at less cost to the environment. You can see how that overarching goal around food could have quite different interpretations, depending on where it is applied. That is the beauty of a universal goal. Everybody is engaged in it. Every farmer everywhere in the world needs to help put agriculture on a sustainable footing, but how you do it will depend on where you live and what the natural resources are at your disposal, as a farmer, to husband more sustainably.

Q33 Zac Goldsmith: There are so many tensions. It is a huge area that you are discussing and obviously central, but one of the obvious tensions lies in the question of whether land should be used for growing food or biofuel, which has become an increasingly significant issue. Is that something that you imagine will dominate at least part of the discussion?

Caroline Spelman: It might well come up as part of the discussion because when Environment Ministers have met in preparatory meetings to face up to this challenge of an extra 1 billion mouths to feed in just 13 years’ time, that focuses the mind. One always uses the statistic of 9-10 billion people in 2050, which is so far off it does not feel so relevant, but having an extra 1 billion mouths to feed in just 13 years’ time really makes you sit up and think, "How would we actually do that?" One of the challenges is competing demand for land use, absolutely, and that is something that we are concerned about, as well as the impact that has on water consumption. Agriculture counts for 70% of global water use, which is why I would say that food, water and energy are a nexus, and you have to deal with all three if you are genuinely going to get sustainable development.

Q34 Zac Goldsmith: I agree with that, but you also have a further issue. You can’t talk about food without also talking about the marine environment. You already said that earlier, but you can’t tackle the problems with the marine environment without also taking on very big vested interests. We have a situation in Senegal now, which you will know about, where 52,000 fishermen have said that they are going to effectively declare war on their own Government unless they get rid of the international trawlers. They are right. If the Government was behaving responsibly, it would torpedo those international trawlers because they are wiping out the Senegalese economy. I wonder whether there any leaders in Europe or the developed world that are willing to take a stand and recognise that there is a basic incompatibility between these international trawlers and any kind of sustainable future for the people who live on those coasts. The likelihood is that, without that kind of leadership, Senegal will become a pirate zone, like Somalia. Is that kind of discussion going to happen? Is anyone going to have the courage to take these vested interests on?

Caroline Spelman: I think it will and I think it has. In preparatory meetings, as I mentioned, the countries that are interested in having a sustainable development goal on oceans include the maritime nations and include the West African maritime nations. Whenever we have discussed it, that is one of the issues that needs to be looked at. I don’t think any Environment Minister is afraid about going to Rio without taking on vested interests. We were elected to try to make sure that we put the global economy on a more sustainable footing.

We should not tar everyone with the same brush. We should also be clear that businesses that are going out to Rio are among the most progressive, businesses that have a desire to ensure that their whole operation is put on a more sustainable footing. That is the reason we have supported Aviva in taking out their method of reporting sustainability in their corporate annual accounts and their report, because the way you try to move the thinking of vested interests is to demonstrate better ways of doing things.

The exciting thing about taking a British company with us that manifests how to do things in a better way is because that is business speaking. It comes with a power, in an international forum, for a business to be able to say, "Look, we do it. The entire length of our supply chain is now on a sustainable footing. We have helped small and medium-sized enterprises along the length of our supply chain onto a more sustainable footing and we account for it in our annual report and you can read about it yourself. When you, as an investor, are making a decision about whether to invest in this company or that company, it is one of the things that makes a difference". One of the advantages of Rio is that, by convening business, NGOs and politicians together, we can demonstrate the political will to take on vested interests, as you put them, or interests that don’t desire to move their activities on to a more sustainable footing. Essentially, that is what we are collectively engaged in.

Q35 Zac Goldsmith: But it has to at least partially involve enabling countries like Senegal, as one example. There are other examples. At the moment, there is virtually nothing they can do. It is not a failure of Government or a failure of their people. It is simply that they are being invaded by Chinese, Russian and European boats and those boats are hoovering up their future economy. It has to require some kind of international intervention, even if that means curbing vested interests that have an anchor in our economy.

You have answered the question and I know that we are running out of time, but I do have one other slightly disconnected issue. An area where the Government has taken a lead for some time, both Defra and the Foreign Office, has been raising the status of the issue of environmentally harmful subsidies. I know this has come up over and over again in every conceivable context. There are rumours circulating about other countries trying to play down the importance of subsidies in the Rio context, in the discussions preceding Rio. Is that the case? Do you think that this issue will be tackled adequately in Rio and it will remain on the agenda?

Caroline Spelman: You can be sure that the UK will tackle it and you can be sure that EU countries together will tackle it, because it is in our Council’s conclusions and because we believe it is important to point out the effect that environmentally harmful subsidies have. There may be people who don’t want it discussed, but we will not be among them.

Q36 Dr Whitehead: When you wrote about the Summit in The Guardian on 16 May, you mentioned that you agree with "British businesses who want the Rio summit to make corporate sustainability reporting the norm, rather than the exception, and will call for more businesses to commit to improving their sustainability." You said you would join the call for Rio to drive uptake of sustainable business practices, in particular transparent and coherent sustainability reporting. I imagine you will have taken comfort from the zero draft, which indeed calls for private companies to include sustainability information in their reports. Do you stand by that?

Caroline Spelman: Yes I do, but I don’t underestimate the challenge of the task here. We are not content with just having a simple acknowledgement that sustainability reporting is a good thing. We would like to go further than that. I am glad that it is in the zero draft at a minimum, but we would like Rio to make it clear that this is something that companies should be doing. That is part of the reason for going and supporting British companies that do it and we can be strong advocates with their peers, to say, "Look, we are doing this. It makes sense to do this. Investors want to know they are investing in sustainable companies". We welcome this initiative. We are here to demonstrate it can be done. It brings benefits and it is something we advocate others do. I hope that we can go a bit further in Rio than just saying, "Well, it is a good thing".

Q37 Dr Whitehead: But in the UK we have done the opposite though, haven’t we? We simply have not carried out what it said in section 85 of the Climate Change Act 2008, to make regulations requiring directors’ reports of a company on emissions of greenhouse gases.

Caroline Spelman: That is a different set of reporting. At the moment, what we are aware of is companies are asked to do quite a lot of different sets of reporting. What we realised when we consulted on this issue is that, first, greenhouse gas reporting is not done in the same way by all companies. You get inconsistencies in reporting. Even though guidance has been given on how it should be done, the fact is that it is done differently. Also, they are being asked to report on different things and corporate carbon reporting commitments overlay the top of this. We are just looking at the landscape of reporting at the moment to try to think what a rational approach to this is, but it doesn’t in any way detract from our view that reporting for sustainability, which is different again-it is broader than greenhouse gas reporting, which is just reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Corporate reporting for sustainability is a much wider concept of looking along the entire length of your supply chain and satisfying yourself that, at every step along the supply chain, your process is completely sustainable.

Just in case we think that is academic, take the example of Honda in Swindon, which was affected by the floods in Thailand when a component part for their production could not be produced and they had to stop production in Swindon. That is a stark reminder that sustainability reporting for the length of your supply chain is very real, very important and something we support.

Q38 Dr Whitehead: Isn’t reporting emissions of greenhouse gas analytic to the wider issue of reporting on sustainability? It is not a separate issue, is it?

Caroline Spelman: It is one part of it, but it also relates to the carbon reduction commitment. What we need to do is get a streamlined process of reporting so that we are not putting an unnecessary burden on business, asking them to duplicate reporting requirements. At the moment we are just taking a look at the different things they are required to report for. That does not detract in any way from our view that corporate reporting for sustainability, which some British companies do and want to go and advocate, is something that we regard as a good thing.

Q39 Dr Whitehead: Do you think that, whether it is perceptual or not, there might conceivably be an area of embarrassment should we go to Rio advocating sustainability reporting by companies and someone says to us, "Well, you haven’t done this, even an analytic part of that, in the UK"?

Caroline Spelman: You might like it to be like that.

Dr Whitehead: No, I am sorry. It is a serious question.

Caroline Spelman: I know. I hear you and I am just saying you might like it to be like that. I am focused on the big picture in Rio. Success in Rio will not boil down to what one individual country is or is not doing in relation to greenhouse gas reporting. It can come down to the collective political will to try to move our economies on to a more sustainable footing, to green our economies and to make sure that we achieve the complementarity of economic growth and environmental protection. That is the big picture that we observe in Rio. There are lots of things that we are currently working on, like any other Government going to this Summit, but our efforts in Rio will be focused on trying to secure a really good, tangible outcome for the world.

Q40 Dr Whitehead: The purport of my serious question is-bearing in mind particularly that that particular suggestion would, I guess, be subsumed, into a number of the sustainable development goals and, therefore, might be the subject of further discussion-would it not be a good idea if we proceeded with getting that right in the UK?

Caroline Spelman: The reason why I don’t think it would be part of the sustainable development goals-and this has come up quite a bit in meetings with stakeholders-on the whole, I don’t think Rio is going to focus primarily on climate change, because there is a UN process on climate change. There is no point duplicating UN processes. It doesn’t so much have a climate change focus. It is genuinely about the three-pillared economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and finding a good outcome that will mean that we make more progress towards sustainability and live up to the ambition of the original Earth Summit. I don’t think that it will be a primary focus at Rio.

Q41 Chair: You said that you had to leave by 3.15pm, and I am mindful that we made a commitment to you that we would allow you to leave by then. In conclusion, I feel it was important that we did have this session today. There are certainly some issues that we would like to have touched on beyond GDP in a little bit more detail, perhaps areas of negotiation where there might be difficulties between now and what needs to be done on it, but I think, most importantly of all, the fact that Rio+20 Summit is a process that needs to be delivered afterwards. The main thing for this Committee is that we chart not only the agreements at Rio, but what then gets put into practice. I think that is something that, in a cross-cutting way, we intend to keep on looking at. Thank you for coming along today, have a successful visit, regardless of who is and is not going with you, and we very much look forward to hearing the outcomes and to continuing this discussion.

Caroline Spelman: Thank you very much to the Select Committee for having us. I did volunteer to come as I thought it would be useful, because of the Committee’s interest in the area, to share the state of play on the eve of the event. Like you, I hope we get a good outcome. I will give it my very best shot.

Prepared 5th July 2012