WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
Mr John Horam, Chairman
Memorandum submitted by Department for International Development
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON CLARE SHORT, MP, Secretary of State for International Development; MR ANDREW BENNETT, Director of Natural Resources; and MR TIM FOY, Environmental Policy Department, examined.
(Clare Short) Yes. It has been one of my obsessions for some time, and I think there is a real opportunity at the Johannesburg summit that the very northern-dominated green agenda, which is almost anti-development, is moved across to an agenda for those concerned about the environment and sustainable development, which understands that if the world is to move forward together, there must be a guarantee of development to the poor countries and the poor people within a framework for the planet that is sustainable. The dominant environmental voice has been almost anti-development. It annoys people in the developing world enormously, who feel we have plundered the world, we have polluted it, and now we are trying to bring in rules that will pull the ladder up after us. If that goes on, the world will divide and we will not get global environmental agreements. So my hope for Johannesburg is that there will be a shift to this guaranteed development for the poor within a global system that is sustainable for everybody. I think it would create new energy and we could move the world forward. That is my hope.
Chairman: That is certainly the topic we want to start with.
(Clare Short) We gave you a copy of my letter to development ministers. At the beginning, with Europe and other countries, the preparatory process was all environmental ministers, and tended to not have the development perspective coming from the north. We have made an effort to correct that, and of course, with the fact that it is being held in Johannesburg, in Africa, and the South African Government is very keen, with its commitment to NEPAD and the better development of Africa, to incorporate the poverty perspective. Coming from the south there is a strong voice saying poverty has to be in there, and the fact that the conference is being held in Africa strengthens that. Latterly there has been engagement of development ministers and adjustment of this perspective.
(Clare Short) My Department is very respected in the international system, and very familiar with years of UN conferences and preparatory processes, so we have engaged very strongly over three years, with some extremely good people, operating very strategically to try and steer the preparation and thinking process - you know the power of a first draft - in this direction, and then having the joint publication with UNDP and the EC. So we have been working away, and I think we are strategically influential because we operate in the long term, and we deploy people across the world, and if government voices are going to be represented we try and encourage poor countries to weigh in. So I think we have helped to shape a shift towards incorporating the poverty perspective.
Chairman: We have not had the letter you have mentioned, the letter to other development ministers.
(Clare Short) I think the whole development system is shifting on this. The perspective used to be that development almost always harms the environment, therefore you have to have environmental assessments to check all development projects, to stop the negatives, and the environment agenda was a check and a block on lots of processes. There have been famous rows in the international system. That perspective was in the World Bank too, the negative check, do no harm - "Can this development project go forward or will it harm the environment?" rather than looking for sustainable development projects and proposals. Secondly, until recently, there have been lots of very strong tensions and mutual antagonism between UN agencies, the World Bank and the IMF, and a lot of competitiveness. This is partly due to the values of the 80s and early 90s, with structural adjustments that were quite harsh in terms of charging poor people. There was a lot of tension in the international system and jealousy in the UN system for the resources the World Bank can deploy. So you would not expect the World Bank to have a leading role in this, but things are moving very much better. Kofi Annan has put a lot of work into this. Jim Wolfensohn has changed the leadership of the Bank. Certainly for financing of development the institutions are coming together very strongly. I am not aware of the Bank playing a strong role in the preparations. They came in on this report. Is this their biggest contribution? Have they been influential in the preparatory process?
(Mr Bennett) Yes, they have put a lot in.
(Clare Short) That is a shift, really, to get the Bank engaging in the preparatory process for the UN. It is very good.
(Mr Foy) I think it also reflects a widening understanding of the concept of poverty, which recognises that poverty is multi-causal and multi-dimensional, and that in many ways environmental issues impact greatest on the poor. Sustainable strategies to deal with poverty must take account of environmental issues and environmental resources, and the voice of the poor to control environmental resources as well.
(Clare Short) Northern-dominated.
(Clare Short) No. I do not want to admit purist. I think the anti-development perspective for the environment is profoundly wrong.
(Clare Short) Let me make myself clear. I am not saying we alone shifted it. I think the merits of the argument, as people analyse and look, shift the perspective, but we are shifting from a mind set that is in a different place predominantly in the world. So we are part of it. I am not claiming that we are the only authors of that shift. It is true of all of our work, that to get changes in the IMF and the World Bank we have a joint office with the Treasury in Washington, and to get a more development-friendly trade round at Doha we worked with the DTI, so a lot of the work my Department does is very much getting other departments and other institutions in the international system to shift. That is one of the ways in which we work. My officials have been working very hard at improved working relationships with DEFRA. I think they were always there, but they were more superficial. It has deepened, arguing through this agenda, getting more sympathetic understanding, and then at ministerial level, the John Prescott-chaired Cabinet Committee MISC18. Margaret Beckett comes to that, and I am there, and there are people from other departments, just working it through in a whole series of papers. I think we have had a healthy mind set shift that DEFRA is incorporating into its own values, which is what we all seek to do. We do not want DfID coming along and shouting at other departments if you can get the mind set shift in that other Department incorporated. DTI now no longer sees its job as simply negotiating the UK's trade interests; it sees part of its job as getting a more equitable and sustainable international trading system. Now they have taken on that hat, they like it, but it was a big piece of work to get that shift in mind set, and I think the same sort of thing has been going on with DEFRA and now has gone quite well.
(Clare Short) Certainly in the case of our own Government, I think we feel that with DEFRA it has gone very well. We are battling away in Europe.
(Mr Bennett) Europe is moving in the same direction.
(Clare Short) Michael Meacher is unusually sympathetic compared with some other environment ministers.
(Clare Short) I was there. It is my very strong view that it is wrong to try to use the World Trade Organisation to impose environmental standards, or indeed labour standards, because you will end up punishing the poor countries for their low standards.
Chairman: I would agree with that.
(Clare Short) I am going to Johannesburg and I am going to Jakarta.
(Clare Short) There have been, as you know better than I do, a whole series of international negotiations on environmental issues and a whole series of agreements reached. It is incredible how this phase of history is being handled, that the world through its nation states has to reach these profoundly important agreements by consensus. When you look at the nature of national politics, it is remarkable that the world can only take itself forward by getting agreement from governments, and there has been a series of very important environmental agreements. We believe that there should be agreement in the WTO on mutual respect for those agreements. They are globally agreed environmental standards, and they should be respected by the WTO, but the WTO should not take over an enforcement role for environmental agreements. That is where we believe things are on that. I also believe personally - and I will ask Andrew or Tim to come in - that if you take, say, animal welfare, which is an issue that causes enormous feeling in this country, the standards that people have been trying to push through the WTO, or in any international agreement, in terms of access to food and water, would be higher than a lot of children have in the developing world. That is a really serious problem, which the northern-centric view does not think about. Animals should have access to clean water. Lots of human beings do not. Lots of children die because they get diarrhoea and so on repeatedly for that reason. We need base standards that are required for trade and very basic protection of human beings and food and standards and so on, and beyond that I think we need voluntary agreements, and you need to be very careful with all of this, otherwise such complex standards are set that it is another way of locking developing countries out of the international trading system, and a lot of the standards people, not thinking it through, are doing that, and there really are problems - like fish from Uganda and the problem they had with the European market.
(Clare Short) I think that is an extraordinary question. Surely the right of every human being on this planet to live, to eat, to have clean water, to see their children educated and have health care has a higher moral claim than anything else. You ask me if we are concerned with poverty, how we can be sure that the environment is a core issue. My first issue is the right of every human being on this planet to have a decent life, to eat and to see their children thrive and grow. I start with that. That is the first moral and justice issue. Then I ask myself whether this can be secured in a world that is managed in a sustainable way. If not, we are in trouble, but it is the second question to me, and my answer is, through all the work we do as a Department, yes, we can do that. But if you are saying that in order to protect the environment lots of people are just going to die and live in squalor and there is nothing to be done -
(Clare Short) No, but the way you asked the question implied that - the world would be in desperate trouble. So when it comes to energy and renewables, obviously we are all very interested in renewables and solar energy and developing renewables so they are more and more useable across the world. We know that currently energy produced through renewables is more expensive than through old-fashioned technology, but I am sure, personally, that it will become cheaper as it becomes more mainstream. In the mean time, poor people in Africa and Asia are dependent on dung and wood for their basic energy for cooking and for boiling water, and they have lots of ill health because they cook inside houses with these kinds of fuels. It is an enormous cause of ill health in the world. I went to a remote part of Nepal and sat with a group of women, and they said their major priority was electricity. What I am saying is we should look for the cheapest and most effective way of improving access to energy for poor people, and we, the countries that have more wealth and technological sophistication, should drive forward the technology on development of renewables until they come to cheaper prices, and then they can be applied to the developing world, rather than - which happens a lot with the green agenda - dreams of a kind of green and ecologically balanced world, and then projecting on to the poorest people in the poorest countries a duty to move in the most balanced environmental way, when our own countries do not do it. That whole mind set is the wrong way round.
(Clare Short) I am going to bring my officials in. Why do we not have panels on all our houses then?
(Clare Short) Yes, but this is a myth.
(Clare Short) It is not. Please. This is very important. This is a specific example of the northern thinking projecting on to the south.
(Mr Bennett) The whole issue of energy is one that, as you well know, the prime source of energy in most developing countries at the moment is wood, charcoal and other sources. Solar energy has many attractive features, particularly for small electronic kits and things like that, but as you well know, there is a big problem storing that, because the sun is not out when you want the energy most.
(Clare Short) The sun is not out at night when you want light, for example. That is the storage point.
(Clare Short) This is a man who has spent a lifetime working on these issues.
(Clare Short) I do not believe, Chair, with respect, that I am taking an adversarial view.
(Clare Short) Yes, but she was quoting an answer I gave to a question as though that was really problematic, and I was explaining why I gave that answer. The interest in renewables and the rest in my Department is great. In fact, we are working on an energy strategy, which is coming to me in March, and we will probably share with you, and that will work through all these issues very carefully. Then it is becoming adversarial between us. I quite like that way of proceeding. But we have thought through and do very sincerely mean these positions. I understand the good intentions of people who think that every poor family in the world could have a solar panel and that might solve the problems of the world, but it is not as easy as that, as Andrew Bennett is trying to explain.
(Mr Bennett) Solar energy has been shown to be very valuable for providing power at particular times at particular levels, but the types of energy needed for cooking and the various other sorts, the need at the moment is filled by fuel wood and charcoal, and in some cases animal dung. There are of course other sources of renewables, for example, wind energy. I attended a meeting the other day where people were advocating very strongly the provision of wind energy.
(Mr Bennett) As solar is expensive, wind is expensive.
(Mr Bennett) It is all more expensive than fuel wood and what is currently being used. Therefore, we do have to look very closely at how one would meet that differential in cost and the reliability of supply. Nobody is against renewable energy. Indeed, there is an awful lot of work going on. But at the moment it does not offer the same flexibility, and it is more expensive, and until such time as one can find ways of making it both practically and affordably available, we do need to recognise that most of these communities will continue to rely upon their more traditional sources of energy. The important thing is that they do grow trees, and they do replace them in the first instance, because trees not only provide fuel wood but they provide fodder and other amenities. I am not trying to turn the question. I just think there are no single silver bullets, and we have to move forward logically. Let us find the source of energy that works best and find ways of ensuring that it is affordable.
(Clare Short) We are talking about countries with a GDP of $200 a head. Ethiopia is significantly less than that. If they are making their poverty reduction strategy and deciding as a country how they are going to grow their economy, how they are going to invest in education, health care, energy, transport and so on, it is all priorities. If a renewable is more expensive, they are unlikely to go for it, because every farthing is stretched to try and take forward the provision of services to people.
(Clare Short) As you know, there is an OECD Convention that is voluntary on corporate accountability. There is more and more interest amongst big corporates in social and environmental responsibility codes, both because as transnationals really become transnational and invest massively in their labels and titles, they cannot afford the damage to their reputation of the exposure of some sort of sourcing that is destructive, or child labour stories or environmentally damaging stories. So more and more companies are interested in cleaning up their act and being socially responsible, not just because there is some well-meaning director or two, but out of their own self-interest, which I think is good, because it is more sustainable and long-term. The experience of companies that have gone down this road is that it makes you a more effective company, that as you manage more carefully all the resources you are managing and all your staff across the world, it is also economically beneficial and tends to lead to better investments and a better managed organisation. That whole field is moving forward very rapidly. We engage with it seriously in all parts of the world. We have this ethical trading initiative, for example, that we now have £100 billion a year turnover of British retailers in membership. It is a partnership with NGOs and the trade union movement, funded and supported by my Department - not large amounts of funding, but just helping it to organise itself and go forward - cleaning up the supply chain right across the world, with monitoring. I think that is fantastic, because £100 billion annual turnover is a lot of resource, and if you get the big companies - and most of the big British retailers are in it - voluntarily but objectively monitored cleaning up their supply chain in terms of labour standards, that is a heck of a lot of human beings whose lives are improved. So we are doing a lot of work on that. Since the new code on pension funds we are beginning to ask them simply to record whether they have an ethical code. We are beginning to look at how we can work with that.
(Mr Foy) The issue of whether or not we should be applying the Convention on transnational corporations for corporate social responsibility has actually been around for quite a while; it is not something which is particularly new. I think the question we and colleagues in the DTI have struggled with over the years has been to identify what in practical terms it could achieve beyond the power of the market, which is far more important and far more influential in determining the way in which corporate entities direct their resources than any amount of legislation. There are two practical issues which are worth bearing in mind here. The first is that the stylised notion of transnational corporations as having a northern home with southern associated entities is rapidly changing. Many of the large transnational corporations are actually now southern-based, and there are intricate webs of organisations which would make tracking such arrangements very difficult. Also, many of the worst offenders regarding corporate social responsibility are southern-based, not northern-based. Those of us who work in the forests sector are well familiar with the actions there. The sense really is what could be practically achieved beyond market-based consumer approaches in terms of applying the Convention.
(Clare Short) No. For example, in India, if you take energy and electricity, you have state-owned, very inefficient, highly subsidised electricity provided virtually free to rich farmers for irrigation. You have constant power cuts, the lack of availability of electricity, which is a constraint on economic development, which is crucial to the poor. If your population growth is faster than your economic growth, you get growing poverty. The public revenues that should be being spent on health and education services for the poor are being sucked into massively subsidising electricity supplies. We as a Department have been engaged in India in trying to support electricity reform in order to release the revenues in order to get health and education for poor people. So we are not coming at it because we think it is some kind of theoretical good idea; we are trying to help countries run their economies and their public finances in a way that enables their economies to grow beneficially and provide decent public services for people. We are not coming at it for a theoretical reason; it is a very practical reason in order to improve services for poor people and reduce poverty.
(Clare Short) No. I think the truth is very important and very powerful in all things, and even if sometimes it creates strains and paradoxes, we have to work through it. We cannot not speak the truth because some badly intentioned nation might exploit the truth. If the nation I think you might be talking about would listen to me more about development, it would please me greatly. I do agree with your first proposition, that deforestation, soil erosion and so on are massively important questions for developing countries and poor people but, for example, what we know in our forestry work is that poor people will continue to chop down trees and use the resources of the forest if they are desperate and if they have to, and even to get land that is soon sterile if they have no choices. But if you give them some control over the resources of the forest and the future of the forest, they will manage it sustainably. If they have no power, and some corrupt company is coming and stealing all the logs and destroying it, then they will take as many logs as they can take. So the issue of how you deal with the erosion of forestry gets down to due respect for people who live in the forest. You look at their lives, you think how can they live in the forest in a way that the forest can be sustainable, and their lives will be better. The environment is crucial to poor people because they are so dependent on it for fishing, for wood, for food. They make their own lives out of the environment. I do a lot of meetings around the country on the development agenda of the UK, and a lot of very well intentioned environmentalists and ecologists come to those meetings, and they frequently say, "Trade has got to stop. No transnational investment." They mean it. They are very sincere. They are living in a country with all the fruits of multinational capital in every high street. They arrange their meetings on the internet and have their mobile phones and their Nike trainers, and they have a well-intentioned rural idyll in their head about Africa and Asia, and people being close to nature and close to God, and not wanting their life despoiled by development. There are a lot of people like that. They mean well, but in the mean time African children are dying. People desperately want enough development so that their lives will be better but that is respectful of their environment. I want to try and encourage environmentalists to turn the telescope round the other way and ask, "How can the poor of the world have a better life within a sustainable planet? How can we support and guarantee the changes in the way we manage the planet that guarantees development to them in a way that will be respectful of the environment?" The poor people who live in rural areas, which is still the majority of the poor, though the world's population is urbanising very fast, are much closer to the environment than we are. They live in it, beside it, and use it in order to survive. I hope you understand my answer. I am not having a fight here for the sake of having a fight. I have this argument all the time, and people constantly say, "Oh, no, we don't want any trade with poor countries. They should hide behind their tariffs. Development is too materialistic." That is all wrong. That is sentencing the poor of the world to be marginalised and impoverished for all time. I have this battle endlessly with well intentioned people.
Mr Jones: I do not think you need to have that battle with this Committee.
(Clare Short) I think you are right about Rio, and I think it was a big shake for the world. It did come out of the northern agenda, saying, "Think about the environment." I think it was very symbolic that Mrs Thatcher, now Lady Thatcher, went. She had never said a lot about the environment, but the power of that summit is an example of it shifting the conversation in the world, and that was important. But that was an environment perspective. Maybe the world had to go through this. It was not a sustainable development perspective. What I am really hoping for, and I am optimistic about, is that out of Johannesburg we will get a sustainable development perspective, so that having broken through and to get people thinking about the environment, that will become a more sophisticated understanding.
(Clare Short) Hopeful. It could go wrong. UN conferences can always go wrong. My biggest fear, to be honest with you, is that if the financing for development conference in Monterrey goes wrong, and if the international atmosphere sours, Johannesburg will start with a sour atmosphere. There are real dangers here.
(Clare Short) No. My own view on Monterrey - and we have put a lot of work into that - is that the document encapsulates the best possible way of promoting development for the poorest countries and people. Quite a lot of the preparatory process is building a new commitment and consensus in the world about how best to do development which will most rapidly reduce poverty. I think that has gone well. The danger is that the developing world is expecting pledges of more development assistance, and that might not be forthcoming, and that might make people quite bitter. If the atmosphere is bitter after Monterrey, that is the atmosphere in which we will go into Johannesburg. Then I do not quite know where it will be. You all know what the current state of the world is. There are some very bitter and harsh things going on in the world. If that all started playing in, we could get some very nasty UN conferences because of that atmospheric. But I am still hopeful, and I personally think it will be a big achievement if out of Johannesburg we get, ten years on from the achievements of Rio but with just environment, a new shake in the world agenda -- it is interesting that Tony Blair committed to going early. It had that power to pull him in -- that commits to sustainable development rather than environmental protection. Whatever the specifics, if there is that mind set shift in a significant way, and there is more and more understanding across the north, among radical young people, that we have got to work to guarantee development for the poor sustainably, rather than a lot of the well intentioned energy going into an almost anti-development agenda, I think that would be a great gain, and I do think changing ideas in the world at a time like this is very powerful.
(Clare Short) This is the danger. This is the very serious danger. We need more and better aid. We need a change in the mind set about what aid is for, not for hand-outs and projects, but to help countries have the capacity in their systems to manage their economy, to regulate their banks, to run health care and education, to have the capacity of a capable modern state, and we should see aid as an investment in helping countries put those kinds of conditions in place, and then grow their own economies and run their own services. We and some others have moved very much in that direction. There is 50 billion of aid in the international system. Both the World Bank and former President Zedillo of Mexico have done studies about how much aid is needed to get the world to meet the Millennium Development Goals, as they are now called. The lowest estimate is a doubling of the 50 billion. Actually, of the 50 billion we have, it could be increased in value if it were better deployed. Particularly the EC's money is skewed and is moving more and more away from the poor, for example. My own view is that the optimistic scenario for Monterrey would be a commitment to more and better use of aid, and actually, if everyone were to focus more on where the poor are and backing reform, because that is where aid is most effective and brings very significant advances, we could increase probably by 50 per cent the current 50 billion in value. I think it would reconnect with our public, who would see aid being effective and would be more supportive of it. That is what we are working for, but the climate is not good. The US are not planning significant new commitments, though they have talked about something on education. Let us keep hoping and working. Germany is currently going through a difficult time and is not proposing any increase. Japan is cutting, and Japan is a very big provider, the second biggest economy in the world. This makes Europe's position crucial. There has been an effort going on through the Commission, well led, to get Europe to be on the front foot, and promising a commitment that European countries will all agree by 2006 to increase at least to the European average, which is 0.33, and then of course the average will go up and you could commit that everyone would move forward again, something which just offers more and better, and that battle is going on in Europe at the moment. In terms of Monterrey, that is where things are, and the real funding thing is Monterrey.
(Clare Short) We have had battles through the WTO, on bananas famously, and hormone beef and so on, so this is not the first, but this is very big, and it is a crude defiance of WTO rules. The US, because it is such a big country and such a wealthy country, finds it difficult to believing that cooperating on a multilateral rules basis system should apply to the US. It is very difficult, but we have to keep working at it. My greatest fear about the World Trade Organisation is that the rich countries will break away from it, saying, "We can reach bilateral and regional deals; we don't need a rules-based system," and the poor countries will not get the trading opportunities and their chances of securing development. This is very serious. If it can be resolved within WTO rules, that is good for the world, because it means we have a system where even the biggest and richest countries, if they apply those rules, have a process for sorting things out. If we do not resolve it, and if it endangers the authority and future of the WTO as one of the multilateral bodies through which we have to manage our sustainable world, then I think we are in trouble.
(Clare Short) We have had a great flurry of replies, basically positive, and I think the letter was useful in that lots of development ministers who do engage in this discussion started thinking, "Oops! I had better get more engaged in the preparations for Johannesburg." I think it helped to prompt that and that was useful and good.
(Mr Foy) All the countries will be attending, all the development ministers. At least half have indicated at this stage that they will all be attending.
(Clare Short) We are agreeing a communications strategy with DEFRA. This is another of my many obsessions. All the NGOs think they have to go to the summit, because these are intergovernmental bodies. Proper accountability is through parliament and civil society at home, and each country should be accountable for what it does at international meetings in that way rather than people thinking the only influence they can have is if they can get on a plane and travel there, which is very much the atmospheric often. So yes, I am very keen, and obviously we need to engage parliamentarians more, and they should check on government positions before they go or when they come back. That is proper accountability.
(Clare Short) I know, but it needs strengthening right through the system. Lots of these international conferences are mysterious and do not get discussed in parliament. That is a real malfunction as global agreements become more and more important. So yes, we have been working with DEFRA on a communications strategy. My Department has over two years had a series of development fora across the country, drawing in some of these people with whom I have these discussions, just to talk about where we are, and we have a paper on sustainable development. That is one of the three issues we are taking right through the country on this round. We are trying hard to do that.
(Clare Short) No. We are also trying to do more work with education of the public generally about development. If rich countries, the OECD countries, do not take this more seriously, the world is at a turning point, and either we could have a period of enormous advance in the globalising world, if the technology, the capital and the knowledge available is really applied across the planet, and give a lift-up to the poor of the world. If we do not, and the world is more and more bitterly divided and environmentally eroded, we will have all sorts of bitterness and division. This is in the selfish interests of UK citizens; it is not just morally right. We are testing opinion regularly, public opinion and young people's opinion. They show enormously high commitment to development. It comes in at 70 per cent. The levels of poverty in the world are the biggest moral issue facing the world. Then when people are asked what they can do about it, they have very limited sense of what to do, and they end up saying, "I should give some money to a charity." People have the intelligence to realise that this matters for their own security as well as mattering morally, and we need to deepen for them the sense of what can be done that will make the future of the world safer. I think that is where British public opinion is.
(Clare Short) No. Fair and equitable rules of trade, and more and better aid to build up the capacity of developing countries to grow their own economies and to provide services for their people.
(Clare Short) I do not know whether you were in the House at the time, but we took through Parliament a Bill, which was very thoroughly discussed and supported by all parties, which committed us to restructure CDC, keeping its development objectives absolutely central, both in terms of the countries in which it invests and a very strong ethical code on environment, social, labour and the rest, but to try to get more private sector investment in partnering CDC into developing countries where the private sector tends not to go. That is the whole purpose, and we sought, and it was scrutinised, parliamentary approval, and all parties supported it. There is a disgruntled group of former employers who have generated two stories in the media. One ridiculous front page series in The Times - shock, horror - revealing that the Government is doing what it got the permission of Parliament in thoroughly scrutinised legislation to do. Obviously, the journalist concerned thought he had got a secret story but did not bother to scrutinise the parliamentary record. So we are absolutely committed to creating a partnership between CDC and the private sector to get more investment into developing countries under a very stringent ethical code. I absolutely still believe that this is the right thing to do. In order to do that and in order to get the long-term investment, CDDC is moving more to equities, which, as you will know, means more engagement with management, and a lot of these countries need better management capacity in their own private sector. It means needing to get higher rates of return in order that all of our pension funds and all the rest will follow and be willing to go to these kinds of countries. Some of the old-fashioned, low rate of return agricultural investments have been sold on to local owners, not closed down, and I think that is a perfectly good thing to do - the CDDC investing in something and then selling it on and it is still working. That is what we are doing, proudly. I think the dishonest attacks in The Times (and there was a previous piece in The Economist) are grossly mis-informed and are maligning the current management team who are doing a great job. The international climate has not been helpful for driving this forward post-September 11, and the rest, but I absolutely believe in what we are trying to do and I believe it will be successful. I think the CDDC, instead of being government-funded, small investment, low-rate of return, can-never-be-an-example-for-the-private-sector-to-follow, can blaze a trail that will help to bring beneficial, large inner amounts of investment from the private sector into the poorest developing countries.
(Clare Short) No.
(Clare Short) I am sorry, with great respect, I have now got a time problem and I care about this enormously and I do not want to avoid answering your questions.
(Clare Short) It is not central to this Committee.
(Clare Short) I am delighted to find a way of having another discussion on where the CDDC is ----
(Clare Short) Nothing that has been said has been anything to do with the environment, it is whether the CDDC should restructure in order to ----
(Clare Short) No, nothing that has been said has touched on the environment.
(Clare Short) No, absolutely wrong. I profoundly disagree. I have said to you there is a very stringent code on environment labour and ethics under which the CDDC operates. Again, if you are right, the world is in desperate trouble. If the private sector cannot get the rate of return that will take our investments and our pension funds to developing countries in responsible investments that generate economic growth that are also responsible environmentally, then the poorest countries are going to remain marginalised and going to be more and more environmentally degraded and the world is going to be more and more in bitter trouble. Happily, I think you are wrong. If you are right in saying the private sector will never go to these countries, then these countries have had it.
(Clare Short) The CDDC is leading the way. The other thing is we did have very long debates in the House of Commons on these questions. I do not know whether you have looked at the record.
Mr Barker: I think we are trying to probe what actually happens in practice.
(Clare Short) What is happening is exactly what was outlined would happen in those debates.
(Clare Short) There are tough environmental considerations and sustainability considerations, and I think this is another myth. If anyone is seriously arguing you can only have beneficial and environmentally responsible investment at very low rates of return that the private sector will never engage in, and it will only get the resources for those kinds of investments in poor countries out of the public sector, then they are never going to have clean water and sanitation. Half of humanity has no sanitation.
(Clare Short) It is moving well, and there is a group of malign forces which is trying to distort what is happening. They tended to work in the past in very low rate of return agriculture, and they are misleading people about what is taking place.
(Clare Short) I would be delighted.
(Clare Short) We can enclose that.
Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State. It was a belated start but, nonetheless, we are delighted to have had such an interesting session. Thank you very much indeed.
Memorandum submitted by The Sustainable Development Commission
Examination of Witnesses
MR JONATHAN PORRITT, CBE, Chairman, MS PATRICIA HAYES, Secretary, MR PHILIP DALE, Deputy Secretary, The Sustainable Development Commission, examined
(Mr Porritt) Very interesting, Chairman, and very illuminating.
(Mr Porritt) Not particularly, Chairman. I hope that we will get into the areas that you would be interested in exploring through the questions rather than anything else. We just wanted to be sure that everyone on the Committee was fully aware of where the Sustainable Development Commission fits, as it were, with all the rest of the government bodies that are coming before you. As long as everyone is clear about that, I think we can go straight into it.
Chairman: We may want to ask one or two questions about that, in due course, but we understand that very well.
(Mr Porritt) It is.
(Mr Porritt) I am not sure it would be proper for me, really, to comment on the CDC issue, per se, but perhaps I can give you a rather more generalised response to that, which is that I do not think either the private sector or government departments, through conventional aid flows, are construing sustainable development properly. I think what is happening is that people are still looking at sustainable development and seeing it in terms of these three pillars - call it what you will - environment, society and economy. There is still a sort of understanding that that inevitably means that there will be trade-offs. Pretty much invariably, it means the environment is being traded off against conventional economic development goals - not always, but still predominantly. That means that the powerful, convening aspect of the concept of sustainable development is not being used in investment appraisal processes, in project appraisal processes, and in ways in which you look at the impact of policy or projects and think about getting synergies between those outcomes - social, environmental and economic - rather than trade-offs between them. I think there are some very powerful UK aspects of that failure to use sustainable development properly as a concept, which we might come on to.
(Mr Porritt) One of the things we are looking at, at the moment, is the whole Green Paper on Planning. Although there are obviously some quite proper and perfectly convincing references to the importance of continuing to protect the environment through development controls and through planning processes, you could not possibly point to that Green Paper and say that it is fully understood what sustainable development is all about. It simply is not embedded in the conceptualisation of a planning system; it does not work its way through all the different recommendations. I think - and perhaps we have started off, a bit unfortunately, on the negative end of things rather than the positive end, because there are a lot of positive things to be said as well - there are question marks about the degree to which government departments have understood the degree to which sustainable development needs to act as the framework within which policies are pursued rather than being seen as something that is added on to everything else that they are doing. I think that is the crux of what the Commission is trying to work away at and certainly forms the main element of our work with central Government, which is to say "Stop thinking about this as an add-on. Some of the language is right, some of the policies are right, some of the practice is right, but what you have got to do now is to see sustainable development as the overarching framework within which these things need to be brought together."
(Mr Porritt) I think that goes to the heart of the role that the Sustainable Development Commission was given when it was set up. No complaint about our role, we were given a very constructive, open-ended, remit to be fully engaged in all aspects of both government, and other sectors, in developing sustainable development in the UK. We were not given a particularly strong steer on the international scene and, indeed, have no real locus through the formal committee processes around WSSD. So what we are doing is pursuing a engagement role much more informally through DEFRA, through relevant committees, through a meeting coming up with the Deputy Prime Minister, through our engagement with UNED-UK and the NGO effort, but it is interesting that we do not actually have a formal role in that regard as that was not in our starting remit.
(Mr Porritt) Absolutely.
(Mr Porritt) I think our house is more in order now than it was, let us say, back in 1997, to take a date. I think that bits of the house have been better ordered since that time, and I think there is a process of incremental ordering (to carry on with the metaphor) that is encouraging. There is a seriousness of intent in trying to do that. If you were to ask me to put a tick in the box to say the UK Government can go out to Johannesburg with everything hunky-dory back home, and speak to other governments on that basis, I think that would be an extremely unwise position for the Government to take to Johannesburg, as there are many, many areas where the house is not in order. I think it is interesting you picked up on that part of the memorandum we put to you, because it is this question of quite detailed systematic approaches to embedding sustainable development process and practice in what goes on. I think it is easier for me to give you a couple of very quick, concrete examples.
(Mr Porritt) Let us just look, very, very quickly, at three quick areas. Regional Development Agencies - very powerful regeneration bodies now in England - had a sustainable development remit when they were set up as well as all the economic remits that they had. They are now in the process of revising their economic strategies. If one actually looks at the degree to which guidance from DTI has helped the RDAs to get on top of its sustainable development remit, you would have to say it is not; it just is not doing the job; it has not helped the boards and the executives of the RDAs to think more carefully about the combined outcomes - sustainable development outcomes as well as economic outcomes - that its statutory remit asks them to do. So it is there, they have created the platform but the platform is not being used. The same with local government. One can say that in terms of the new emphasis on the well-being powers that local authorities have to push forward community planning and the new emphasis on local strategic partnerships - all of these things theoretically should be very helpful to a sustainable development framework, to thinking more sustainably about these issues, but in practice a lot is falling through the cracks, so that the guidance on local strategic partnerships, for instance, very, very grudgingly refers to the importance of Local Agenda 21, which was one of the great outcomes of the Earth Summit back in 1992. So it is almost as if you can put in these minimalist platforms and then you think the job is done. We would argue very strongly that it is good the minimalist platforms are in there, but they are not worked as much as they should be until they are properly embedded in the decision-making processes at each of those different levels. You could talk in the same way about the business community and how there is a lot of exhortation from Michael Meacher and, indeed, from the Prime Minister himself about business doing more on this agenda, but falls short of creating the kind of framework which would permit business to do what it does on a more environmentally and socially responsible basis.
(Mr Porritt) I think that is difficult because, as always, it is such a patchy picture. If you look at the local scene, you could point to some really fantastic, leadership authorities - champions, or beacon authorities, to use the prevailing jargon.
(Mr Porritt) I am not allowed to say that. There are known champions in the local government scene which have been working away on this stuff since Rio, ten years ago, and have succeeded in main streaming it into the corporate work of that local authority as a whole. You would have to say that that has largely been done off the back of their own understanding of why that will work for them as a local government body. At the other end of the scale, as this Committee will know, there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of local authorities who are doing no more than ticking whatever box it is they are asked to tick and playing around with sustainable development tokenism of the kind that is bringing no benefits to anyone. So where does the blame lie there? You have to say the blame lies there with the individual local authorities for not taking advantage of some of these new modernisation initiatives to bring themselves into a very different way of doing business.
(Mr Porritt) It need not necessarily be damaging to the effectiveness of Johannesburg. There is an on-going international process around climate change, as you will know. There are a large number of elements, agenda items, statutory processes and targets in play already. The fact that it is not going to be a major item on the Johannesburg agenda does not mean to say that it is not, as we have described it, the single most important issue - set of interlocking issues - touching on the global economy, on the environment and on society. I do not think it is a tragedy if Johannesburg does not have it as one of its absolute mainstay agenda items because it will certainly come in through a whole lot of other concerns about resource use in general, about equity issues, about the shape of the global economy. That is where, I suspect, climate change can be dealt with as well as dealing with it as a headline issue in its own right.
(Mr Porritt) I think what we would like to see, first and foremost, is a much greater level of ownership within each government department that this is something that they have to do as well as DEFRA. For historical reasons - and this is always a big issue, which is standard throughout all western European countries - because sustainable development has been seen to come largely out of an environmental history and a set of environmental issues, it tends to get confused, even now, with environmentalism of what I would describe as the old-fashioned, narrow-focussed kind. So when sustainable development is being driven out of an environment department, there is an understandable temptation for other government departments to say "Sorted. That is their job. There is this little unit called the Sustainable Development Unit, beavering away at the heart of DEFRA with a remit to take sustainable development out to the whole of the rest of government, but we can leave it to them." With a few exceptions, and there are some important exceptions - the DTI, for instance, has addressed these issues through its own strategy and through a team of people within the DTI; the DETR is looking at these things, we are talking to the Department of Health about it, and the Ministry of Defence would undoubtedly want to put its hand up and say "We are beginning to address some of these sustainable development issues" - by and large the level of ownership at the most senior levels in each of these government departments is inadequate if one is talking about sustainable development as the overarching framework for promoting government policy. That is the starting place. So the starting place, for us as a Commission, is to track the degree to which the understanding of sustainable development is embedded in each of these different departments, where the championship lies and how effective DEFRA is being in doing its job to get government as a whole to take up sustainable development. You will have seen in our memorandum that something we are keeping a very close eye on is the role that DEFRA has been properly exercised to persuade other departments to take their share of this burden. That is the starting point we would look to. Without that and without the Prime Minister's own significant leadership contribution to that, through No 10 and his influence over government process, with the best will in the world a lot of other government departments will go on saying "This is not mainstream for us; this is someone else's thing".
(Mr Porritt) How likely? We have genuinely welcomed the sustainable development focus that has come into the Comprehensive Spending Review this time round. It was there in the earlier Comprehensive Spending Review but it was not really used pro-actively as part of the process. It is there this time. Every government department has to indicate the degree to which their spending plans will impact on sustainable development, and we think that is very important. We regret that that will not be made more publicly available. We will not be able to see how the Treasury has assessed the sustainable development analysis coming from those departments. So there is not going to be an easy way of following up on what was an important process development; it could just remain within Treasury and that will be the end of it. How likely is it that they will move towards reporting? I do not know. I think an awful lot of people are quite tired of certain levels of exhortatory enthusiasm from government into the private sector berating Footsie 100 and Footsie 350 companies for their failure to report properly on an integrated sustainable development front. They look to government and they think to themselves "We get an annual sustainable development report which aggregates the net contribution of all these government departments, but these are huge entities in their own right. If they are asking the private sector to do that, why the hell should they not do it themselves?" I think there is not a sort of joining up going on - a walking-the-walk bit - that is so important. Think of the Department of Health: a massive, massive presence in all of our lives, in the economy, in people's communities, the impact on resources, on transport, on pollution issues, on public health - vast impact on quality of life throughout the UK. For the Department of Health not to be publishing a report seems peculiar when it would expect every single pharmaceutical company in the land to publish a report and when it would expect others involved in wealth creation at different points. It seems to me there is a failure to join it up in a way that we would like to see. Of course, the Government is reluctant to mandate this reporting process, so it may not necessarily mandate it even for its own government departments.
(Mr Porritt) On that score.
(Mr Porritt) Indeed, and we have been very clear about that. We have been very supportive of how that process has helped mainstream sustainable development in the Comprehensive Spending Review process (I think that should not be forgotten, it is an important innovation) but the next stage is equally important, because as that data becomes available it can be used to look for ways of improving departmental performance.
(Mr Porritt) We have commissioned some research into this, which we are looking at. We happen to have one of our regular, plenary meetings with the Commission next week in Belfast and one of the major items on the agenda is to look at the Green Paper. We will then come up with our opinion about that, as part of the consultation process, and we will certainly seek to make those views known as widely as we can with as influential a set of people in government as we can. I think there is an issue here which has not been properly reflected in the way ministers have talked about this, and that goes to the heart of governance issues, which is a strong and prevailing set of concerns about weakening governance systems in the UK - falling votes, lack of participation, indifference towards the democratic process and a larger number of disaffected people. I am not seeking to change our understanding of sustainable development away from social, environmental and economic, but governance issues are central to making sense of this way of looking at improving quality of life. You cannot detach the governance issues from the planning debate, because the planning system is one of the principle mechanisms available to people at the local level for engagement in decisions that touch their lives.
(Mr Porritt) I have to be a bit careful here because I do not think the Commission has a collective view on this as yet. I need to draw a line between me and the Commission. We have got a collective view on a lot of things and we will soon have a collective view on planning issues. I can assure you that collective view will link up to that governance challenge absolutely head-on, because if we are not putting the planning debate as part of the broad debate about the vitality of our democratic systems in the UK at every level then it is a disconnected debate. I think that we would be very keen to join those two things up. I am conscious we have not signed off on our contribution to that yet.
(Mr Porritt) Were the Canadians able to shed any light on what they thought they had achieved through their process for you?
(Mr Porritt) Which was unimpressive, as far as you are concerned.
Mr Jones: The problem with having a concept which means different things to different people is that people can then point to achievements in one region and call them sustainable development but if they have not got a phrase for sustainable development they could still point to the same achievement and call it something else.
Chairman: The great block in Canada was actually the governance, because we found for example that everybody in Toronto said there should be a public transport system, but there could not be a public transport system because the city of Toronto disagreed with the province of Ontario, which disagreed with the Federal Government of Canada, and no one could agree. So, despite all the words produced, nothing happened.
(Mr Porritt) Yes, I think it is a problem for those who like it to remain a problem. There is undoubtedly a gap between the conceptualisation of what sustainable development means at a theoretical and a policy formulation level and the operationalisation thing. There is always going to be a gap, and it would be very wrong of anyone who feels passionate about sustainable development to argue that it will solve all your difficult decision-making problems for you, and it is a substitute for the kind of political and economic judgment that you are being asked to make as legislators or community activists; that by just putting the data into your sustainable development black box, out the other end comes this magic answer. Anyone who has thought that sustainable development is of that kind, undoubtedly set off with an illusory notion of what it is. I am sure that does not apply to you, but just in case it might apply ----
(Mr Porritt) Maybe it applies to people in Canada, in which case they will have come up with some very muddled outcomes. I feel very strongly that sustainable development is a concept of enormous significance at this stage in the development of the industrial revolution, if you like. The reason why I feel that is that we had a model of progress that largely permitted us to grow our economies without taking a great deal of care about some of the environmental and social externalities which were generated as a consequence of that industrial process. The upshot of that has been that we are now trying to back-fit our model of industrial progress to take account of these externalities - to use the economists' jargon - and to seek to go on growing both GDP and per capita well-being without those externalities. I know of no other conceptual framework that enables one to bring together those concerns more effectively than sustainable development. It does so for two good reasons: one is you have got to weight these things in such a way that you are pressing for integrated economic, environmental and social benefits and you have got to do it for today's generation and for tomorrow's as well. There is no other conceptual framework that enables better decision-making to emerge against those two sets of challenges than the one provided by sustainable development. I only urge you to look at what is happening in other parts of the world; to look at the impact of sustainable development, for instance, on business decision-making. Look at those companies that are now beginning to get serious about sustainable development and are beginning to integrate their economic and financial obligations to their shareholders with their sense of obligation to society, to communities and to the wider environment, and are able to call on the theoretical framework of sustainable development to provide them with a very powerful rationale for integrated accountability to different stakeholders. That was not there before sustainable development arrived as a conceptual framework within which they could locate those issues. The debate we have just had about government: what would be an equivalently powerful convening principle to persuade the DTI and the Department of Health and every other bit of government that it was not just pursuing a narrow focus, it actually has overarching generic responsibilities to promote people's well-being, improvements in their quality of life, without the externalities that had previously been an automatic consequence of economic development?
(Mr Porritt) That is not quite what I said.
(Mr Porritt) It is not what I said. I said that it is open now to the Department of Health to use the concept of sustainable development to do what it should have been doing and what legislators should have asked it to have been doing for decades but somehow had not.
(Mr Porritt) Yes, we share a lot of your concern about the degree to which sustainable development remains a pretty alien concept in terms of the vast majority of people in this and most other European and other countries. There is no question about that. So that will show you just how little understood and recognised - let alone owned - the concept of sustainable development is. I am absolutely at one with you about that, and that is certainly a big challenge for us, which is why, out of the five main elements in our work programme, one key element is our communications work specifically to add what we can to that overarching challenge of making sustainable development a more useful, comprehensible and accessible concept than it is now. I am absolutely with you on the analysis. I think there is a bit of "chicken and egg" here about whether it is the political will that would help drive increased public knowledge and understanding of these issues, or whether the politicians, as it were, will only own it and use the concept more powerfully when there is a bigger push from the public. I think there is a bit of a "chicken and egg" job going on there. I am not completely down-cast by this, although I must admit that we all suffer under the really hideous jargon we have to use in this world. Our jargon is not helpful to us and we have been absolutely up-front in acknowledging that. I am not down-cast because this concept is, in public terms, very new. At the most you are talking about a decade. To seek to influence people's mind-sets, their perspectives on personal development, progress, their models of what is going to happen in the big wide world within a decade you do not do much more than scratch the surface of where whole nations are going. The take-up has been much better than some people have allowed for. So I am not too disheartened on that score, and I am greatly heartened that when you actually do these exercises at the local level, through community-visioning processes or Local Agenda 21 - whatever it might be - and when you unpack what it is that people look for in terms of improvements in their life, improved quality of life and so on and so forth, and you run through these lists that just come out time after time after time from people, it is all about the things that you would expect; it is all about improved quality of life locally, it is about the state of their local environment, it is about security issues, crime, it is about jobs and the quality of work - it is all of the things you would expect, which, when you bundle them up, is sustainable development. So people may not say "I care passionately about sustainable development" and take that to their respective representatives in an electoral process, they do not do that, but when you ask them "What do you care about?" and you do this analysis of what actually forms a vision in people's minds, it is sustainable development. That is what they are articulating in their vision of a better world. So communication is one thing, and I believe the vision is basically there, but I do not think we have done - and with great respect I do not think many politicians have even sought to do ----
(Mr Porritt) Absolutely. You are the Environmental Audit Committee, but you could have been the Sustainable Development Audit Committee (I am just being mischievous, for the sake of argument).
(Mr Porritt) Exactly. We have got Green Ministers, even though the remit for the Green Minister is a sustainable development remit. It is a very interesting issue, not daring to take on the challenge amongst ourselves and not actually confronting this and saying "Okay, this is not the easiest concept to work with but if we do not work with it it is never going to get any easier."
(Mr Porritt) That is rubbish.
(Mr Porritt) The Secretary of State is extremely well-known for her difficulty with encompassing where the modern environmental movement is, and for her one-woman campaign to seek to belittle the work done by an awful lot of environmental NGOs to knit environmental, social and economic concerns in a genuinely integrated approach to development. It is a bee which she has in her bonnet that buzzes regularly and forlornly. It would be enormously helpful if she actually up-dated herself on the work that is being done by many of those environmental NGOs to make development a very powerful concept indeed. The old-fashioned notion of environmentalists as protectionists who say "Don't go there, don't do this, build absolutely nothing absolutely anywhere near anybody" - all of that kind of stereo-typing of environmentalists - is just caught-in-a-time-warp stuff. It is very important to get out of that stereo-typing of environmentalists as nay-sayers, people who are down on progress and development.
Chairman: She did insist that she went round the country and met a lot of these people, characterised as she did.
(Mr Porritt) That is the danger certainly. The discussions and the preparatory meetings, as you know, have been very polarised, with many people from developing countries absolutely adamant that Johannesburg will not be Rio, that it will be a conference that addresses their principal concerns first and foremost, and their principal concerns are to do with equity, poverty, access to the world economy and so on. So there is a sense maybe we are not beginning to integrate any of these concerns in the way we should do. In answer to your question about whether this is a Western concept, I really fight against that. It completely ignores, for instance, the incredibly powerful contribution of NGOs in India, for instance, where thousands of NGOs at the local and national level work incredibly hard to talk about a different pattern of economic development which does not destroy the natural capital and natural resources on which that Sub-Continent depends. That is not an anti-development movement, that is a very powerful NGO contribution to a different pattern of development. I would be nervous of saying this is a Western concept. If you go back to 1987 and the Brundtland Report and you look at the membership of the Brundtland Commission - it is worth going back to the origins here - to bill that as a Western impulse would be completely wrong. That whole commission came into being specifically to find ways of talking about development in the poorer parts of the world without causing the environmental damage that we have done historically in our part of the world. That is what it did. The starting premise was how do you find a better model of development which will help people in poorer countries, not how do we create more effective patterns of environmental protection in the Western world. I would strongly take a line that this is not a Western concept, this is a universalistic concept which allows for different interpretation whether you are in Canada or India or whatever it might, quite obviously because different countries are in different parts of their growth curve.
(Mr Porritt) As you know, that is an extremely dense area of very lively debate, which is the debate about can one talk of standardised, global rules for large multinational entities, wherever they are operating, or does one have to allow for a certain amount of local sensitivity and local adaptability according to the conditions of the country in which that company is then operating. To be honest, there is a constant battle going on between those two elements.
(Mr Porritt) At the worst end of it, that kind of double standard leads to the kind of abuses and disasters of which Bhopal is one, which rightly made many multinational companies sit up and think, "That is not a good place to be." If you look at the large multinational companies now, many of them would not dream of building plants to a different set of technical specifications in the developing world because they would know that simply was not going to work any longer. They put the plant in at exactly the same technical specifications. When it comes to paying the people in the plant, they would still say, "We are bound by the market constraints in this market, not by a set of standards for a global payment system", so they would differentiate in some of their social and economic policies.
(Mr Porritt) It is a global market but clearly there are differences in different parts of that global market, as we all know. That is why we have such difficulties in this respect. So the issue of globalisation is bound to loom over Johannesburg, it will not go away, and in many respects the big picture challenge for governments coming together in Johannesburg is to see if they can begin to enunciate a more or less helpful concept of responsible globalisation. Globalisation is not going to go away. We live in a global economy, that economy is becoming increasingly interconnected, networked, interdependent, and that brings both benefits and costs. It is foolish to stereotype this debate as the global economy being all wonderful or all wicked; it is an absolutely ridiculous debate we have fallen into. There is a real challenge which actually I think the UK Government has a serious leadership contribution to make on, which is what we mean by responsible globalisation. What would it look like? How does the private sector work with international institutions to fashion patterns of intervention in developing countries which eliminates some of these externalities and abuses? How do we, as you said, reform organisations like the WTO and the World Bank to fit with a more engaged concept of responsible wealth creation. That is not an anti-development message at all, not at all, absolutely not, but how do you get those things knitted together in both the public and private sectors.
(Mr Porritt) Indeed.
(Mr Porritt) I would say, with great respect, that the essence of sustainable development is that you cannot interpret it in an anti-development way. That is why it is such a significant improvement on some of the old-fashioned - I did not mean it pejoratively, I meant it analytically - concepts of the environment which did indeed in their worst manifestation lurch into elitist, Western protectionism. You cannot do that with sustainable development because it is about changing the patterns of development, not stopping development.
(Mr Porritt) I think that is the worst case scenario which I think everyone is working extremely hard to ensure does not happen. The likelihood of it happening is I think honestly remote. I think it is wrong retrospectively to interpret Rio as a narrowly environmentalist Western agenda, the international instruments which were put in place at Rio on climate change and biodiversity have an incredibly strong development element to them rather than a protection element to them. Indeed, I was referring to NGOs in countries like India, most of their concerns about the Biodiversity Convention is that they are not sufficiently tuned to the protection of natural resources in developing countries, they are not getting Western governments to help them more in their need to protect their natural assets. I think it has become bit easy to re-interpret Rio as an environmental conference. What can be done? I think what can be done is what is being done. I would fight against counsels of despair here, I would fight against incorrect assumptions that there is a powerful group of Western NGOs going around seeking to bring Johannesburg in line with some set of narrow Western views about what environmental protection means. I do not meet these people anywhere wherever I go in the world. I do not see it. Where are they? WWF? Friends of the Earth? Greenpeace? You tell me where these people are and I will happily engage in some dialogue with them, because I genuinely do not find it these days. I think this is a straw person that Clare Short has dressed up in front of you here today and I would strongly advise you to swipe it aside.
(Mr Porritt) The first thing I would say is much more is happening than people know about. It is not a question of isolated, episodic examples of good practice, the odd project there, the occasional shaft of good news over there, it is not like that. There is a huge amount of integrated sustainable development already in place and going on at different levels across the world. I can refer you, for instance, to some of the extraordinary things going on in sustainable agriculture without a great deal of help from the international agencies, without a huge amount of research into this from the international agricultural research bodies. The lives of literally tens of millions of people now are being improved by very practical, on-the-ground approaches to improving yields whilst simultaneously protecting the natural assets - soil, water, biodiversity - on which that agricultural productivity depends. That research is coming into the public domain increasingly. You probably have a model in your mind of intensive agriculture going out there and stripping bare all the assets of the Third World in the interests of screwing as much yield as they possibly can for short-term gain. These perspectives we have are often quite wrong. I would urge people to actually look to the body of work that is currently going on in areas like agriculture which is already demonstrating the practicality and feasibility of more sustainable routes to long-term security, food security and so on. It is already happening. That is my first point, more is happening and we should not be quite so gloomy as we are. We fall easily into gloom because it is where we are happiest. I do not know why but it just seems to be that which gives us our adrenalin rush, when we are feeling really gloomy. The second thing is to hold up those patterns of good practice and ask, "What made them work?" How do we get behind what made them work, whether it is people, communities, institutions, funding streams, new ideas, whatever it might be, and how do we not theorise about this stuff but lend what weight we can to these proven examples of success? Forget all the grandiloquent notions about new economy and all the rest of it, just get on pragmatically at ground level and make it work. You mentioned solar energy in South Africa. The answer for hundreds of millions of people in the developing countries quite clearly is access to sustainable, renewable energy sources, without making them go through what would be a very painful curve if they had to get on to an integrated, grid-based, hydro-carbon based system; the answer to many people in the developing countries, as we know, is access to efficient, reliable, cheap, renewable energy sources. Quit theorising, just get in there and say, "Right, how do we do this? How do we do this for the whole of rural Africa? What is the amount of money involved? What institutions do we need? How do we bring this together?" It drives us bonkers because what we have to do is what we know, we do not have to think this stuff up from scratch, all of what we have to do is known, everything is known. We have to marshal the will, private sector and governmental will, to drive these known solutions through this morass of declining life quality and corruption and all the rest. That is the nature of the challenge.
(Mr Porritt) Good question. Have we had discussions with DFID? No, is the answer.
(Mr Porritt) It sounds like it!
(Mr Porritt) That is a good point well made. The difficulty for us is that DFID just is not in our remit. I know the WSSD is obviously sharpening up our role around this international agenda because our role as we construe it, given the remit we were given by Government, is to engage with this event and with the agenda which lies behind it and to help articulate that and disseminate it in whatever way we can back in the UK, which is our principal area of interest. So we have not had discussion with DFID, largely because we do not have an international remit. What you have done and what this discussion has done is put your finger on the fact that both DFID and the Sustainable Development Commission and others in Government are involved in giving out messages on what sustainable development means, and we probably need to be giving out coherent messages.
(Mr Porritt) I think that is a very good point.
(Mr Porritt) This is typical stuff but I would have to say that in a world where the sole remaining super power is heading off down a line of increasingly aggressive unilateralism, a reaffirmation of interdependence is a critical output from Johannesburg. This stuff cannot be done without nations working in concert to produce mutually beneficial solutions. There is a tendency right now in the world's most powerful nation, to say, "All of that international stuff, all of that acknowledgement of and ownership of interdependence is meaningless." I do not know how much of that political agenda is going to be engaged in, but it is critical. If we want the vibrancy of interdependence, if we want prosperous, sustainable, secure futures for our children here in this country, we are only going to be able to secure that if we allow people in other countries to have the same expectations. So a much more powerful affirmation of interdependence is critical. Secondly, to come down from that rather lofty high-level crown - sorry about that - and say that we do have mechanisms available before us for driving different aspects, different elements, of this agenda, whether it is a more sustainable energy strategy for countries, whether it is sustainable agriculture, whether it is fascinating and really critical issues about increased productivity through technology shift. We can help countries go through parts of their growth curve without generating some of the old environmental externalities through the use of better technologies. There are countless opportunities in that area to do that: the role of the finance sector, which the Government has picked up on, the degree to which capital works to promote integrated benefits through foreign direct investment flows, through venture capital. Those are critical to this. It is getting integration on those kind of things which is important. That is much more operational, it is much closer to the reality of what development means in people's lives, but strong affirmation of this stuff is do-able and can be done. Otherwise we will undoubtedly revert to the frame of mind which says, "It is all too difficult, we are not going to agree on it so wait for the next round of earth-shattering disasters, whether they are disasters of 11 September kind, or disasters of melting ice caps in the Antarctic, wait for the whole thing to fall to pieces and then the ingenuity of humankind will eventually be stimulated into doing something about it." The opportunities for precautionary, anticipatory action now are still there if we seize those opportunities. Talking about your constituents, that is where we can engage. This is just as relevant an agenda to people in the UK as it is to people who are watching the outcome of Johannesburg very carefully.
(Mr Porritt) We would allow people to go on using the Brundtland definition which is in the public domain and it is better that it is there than it is not but it does not do it in every respect. Our working definition is to put in place a pattern of economic development that meets people's needs and allows for the constant improvement in their quality of life within the earth's carrying capacity. So it starts with the concept of development, it does not start with the concept of environmental protection, it starts with these legitimate economic aspirations, to have needs met universally and opportunities for improvements in quality of life without this pattern of damage that has historically accompanied that development pattern in the past - the social and environmental externalities - and that is where you come on to the concept of the earth's bio-physical capacity to bear that pattern of economic development.
(Mr Porritt) That is a very good concept. For a brief period in her political life, as you know, Chairman, Mrs Thatcher got her head round this stuff.
(Mr Porritt) I think it is pretty important. It would have sent out a terrible message in Rio if George Bush had not been there, even though the outcomes of Rio would not necessarily have been different if he had not been there. It will send another very strong message if George Bush is not in Johannesburg, there is no doubt about that, and it is a macro-message to do with the role of America in promoting these interdependent initiatives.
(Mr Porritt) No, indeed not. If you look at the whole concept of what a carrying capacity is, initially you look at the notion of bio-physical constraints ---
(Mr Porritt) --- on development. It does not mean a world in which all other biodiversity is eroded to permit the human species to fill the available space. That is because, if I may, biodiversity is not only about species and habitats, biodiversity is about the services which we derive from nature, services as in water purification, climate regulation, pollenation, soil cleansing, a whole set of generic natural services which we depend on to secure our own economic aspirations. You can only secure those services if you secure the natural systems from which they derive.
(Mr Porritt) Then the question is meaningless.
(Mr Porritt) But, with great respect, you are limiting your understanding of biodiversity to a habitats and species level. That is an incorrect definition of biodiversity. You need to construe biodiversity not just in terms of habitats and species but of the services that we derive from those habitats which permit this species to prosper. So to talk about 20 billion people eroding the available natural capital on which we depend is a meaningless concept because we would destroy the services which make life possible for us.
(Mr Porritt) It is a very, very important argument. Do not get me wrong, people endlessly minimise their understanding of, or seek to deliberately misunderstand what we mean by, biodiversity. We are not talking about the protection of the charismatic mega-fauna and the odd campaign to protect the world's rainforests, what we are talking about is a much, much bigger challenge, which is how we secure the natural services off that set of assets, those capital assets, in such a way that our species can prosper as well as any other species. Look at watershed protection. Sure, you can fill every single watershed in the world with more human beings, but if ultimately you destroy the capacity of the watershed to cleanse water, to regulate climate, to hold water, to retain it in the upper areas of the watershed rather than release it downstream and therefore eliminate flooding, you destroy a set of natural services which make our life possible. That is what biodiversity means in a more holistic way. It is the failure of politicians sometimes to construe biodiversity properly and look at natural services, not species and habitats, which leads to these fairly profound misunderstandings of what carrying capacity means.
(Mr Porritt) That never got us anywhere, did it?
(Mr Porritt) It is.
(Mr Porritt) As I understand it now, and I am not sure I have any greater insight into how the agenda for Johannesburg is eventually going to end up than anyone else, we are not going to end up with a whole set of new legal international instruments of the kind which were secured in Rio. So I do not think we are going to be able to come out of Johannesburg with a product of that kind. That actually makes it much harder to articulate the benefits of Johannesburg to the UK electorate, who will be looking for something quite concrete rather than for opportunities for politicians to get out there and talk their way through the sustainable development agenda. It is going to be very difficult. In that respect, we share the challenge with DEFRA and others of saying, "How are we going to make this relevant to people here in the UK? What can we do to make Johannesburg a living bit of the calendar so they can find their own way of relating to it." I have already said we have a meeting coming up next week, we have a big discussion as to how we are going to play our part in that communication challenge. Unfortunately, it will not come about by saying, "Here is this convention or that treaty or this instrument which will suddenly move the whole debate further forward." It is not going to happen like that.
(Mr Porritt) We have indeed.
(Mr Porritt) Personally?
(Mr Porritt) Patricia has had meetings with both the SDU and EDIN (?) to talk about what role there is for us in this communications strategy they are developing. We see ourselves as very much a supporter of that. Because of our UK remit we think we do have a role interpreting the Johannesburg stuff and making it relevant for people back here in the UK. In our review, which we sent you, Chairman, just to give you an example of how we are trying to do this, in the review we published last year we took these big picture issues like low turn-out at elections, riots in English towns, climate change, flooding, which are very much in the headline news and said, "These do touch people's lives, they really do and they are, whether you are necessarily owning this bit of it or not, all about sustainable development, about more sustainable ways of creating and distributing wealth here in the UK." So we have already taken on the big challenge of trying to re-interpret conventional media coverage of issues through a sustainability prism, and that is the same sort of challenge we are going to try and take up in Johannesburg.
(Mr Porritt) That is the report I am referring to, yes.
(Mr Porritt) 5,000? 4,500 I am told. We would love our communications budget to be substantially enhanced. Is this the point where I make the plug about under-funding? Well, Chairman, I think the Sustainable Development Commission is badly under-funded to take on this communications challenge and we would very much like to talk to Government about it.
Chairman: So is the Environmental Audit Committee! We are very badly under-funded!
(Mr Porritt) Yes, it is.
(Mr Porritt) Many other people sitting in this chair coming from the environmental movement will be very, very cynical about all this globe-trotting, international agreement diplomacy, and they say it is all just opportunities for politicians to parade, it never really does anything ---
(Mr Porritt) I think there will be some genuinely new things. I am aware, for instance, of some of the new things coming forward in the UK initiatives on water, forestry, energy, tourism and finance. In the finance initiative there is a small but significant new product called the London Principles which the UK Government is going to seek to persuade all large private sector interests in the financial services sector to adopt as a set of operating principles as they relate to developing countries. So there will be some new things, but I cannot pretend that our work programme has been significantly influenced by Johannesburg. Our work programme was developed on the basis of what we thought were priority areas for the UK and we will now seek to make whatever contribution we can to the Johannesburg agenda.
(Mr Porritt) Chairman, I think I have probably over-stepped my role as Chairman of the Commission on so many occasions today. I am just beginning to think about the implications of this.
(Mr Porritt) I hope the Commission will not mind but I think I ought to be constrained in giving an answer to that by virtue of the fact we have never talked about it on the Commission, let alone actually come up with a collective opinion on it.
(Mr Porritt) All I would say is that it is impossible to imagine how we are going to arrive at a sustainable global economy without a very powerful role being played by the private sector. If that aligns me with what Clare Short was saying, then I am with her on that front because I just cannot see it. If you look for instance at the water issue which both she and the WDM have endlessly referred to, a lot of the resources for dealing with those issues - the sanitation issues, access to better water - do lie in the private sector not necessarily in government aid flows or NGOs. How are we going to liberate that energy within the private sector to bring those assets to bear on what is an unbelievable set of needs which have to be addressed in developing countries? That is the big issue. Quite honestly, at the moment the globalisation debate has gone off tracks because most people in developing countries look at the way the private sector has sought to squeeze value out of the water assets and said, "No, thank you very much." The water summits have very clearly demonstrated that unless the private sector is prepared to engage on a different basis, it is not going to be a welcome partner in bringing water services, sanitation services, to many people in the developing world. It is not that the role of the private sector is not a legitimate role, it is the basis on which that role is mediated in many of these countries. That is the issue. It seems to me futile to talk about whether there is or is not a role for the private sector. Obviously there is a role.
(Mr Porritt) Yes, indeed.
(Mr Porritt) Indeed. I am very involved with a small charity called WaterAid, which you probably know about, which is funded by the water companies, for what it is worth, here in the UK. Its remit is specifically to build indigenous expertise in developing countries to bring these water and sanitation services to more and more people. It does it in part by having access to some of the corporate muscle of the companies with whom it works, but it does it very sensitively within those local communities, saying, "These assets are communal assets and the management of them must involve local communities in a very different way from how we might think of it in the UK." Is that the kind of partnership which will create the delivery of sustainable water services for the millions of people in the Third World? If you ask me, the answer is yes, indisputably, but a critical role in that is the NGO which creates the trust with the local communities to make these solutions really work.
(Mr Porritt) Yes, they are going under the name of the London Principles.
(Mr Porritt) I think so. This is essentially a DEFRA initiative, working together with the Corporation of London and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, to develop a set of guidelines or principles which will be signed up to by global financial service companies basically - big banks, big insurance companies, others of that kind - which would voluntarily constrain the ways in which they bring their investment power to bear in developing countries. So what are the principles they should work to as they bring their influence into these countries.
(Mr Porritt) Very much so. The financial services sector is about as mainstream as you can get and their role is just enormous. To be able to influence their behaviour is crucial. It is ambitious, because you can imagine all the things they start saying about how to deploy capital in developing countries, but it is the equivalent, if you like, of Kofi Annan's global compact for the financial services sector seeking to bring some of these voluntary principles to bear on the activities of a very large global sector.
(Mr Porritt) I am not sufficiently up on the other four initiatives, I am afraid, to answer that. It has just been pointed out that the London Principles is not a DEFRA initiative but Treasury and DTI.
(Mr Porritt) They are in development.
(Mr Porritt) They are publicly available but they have not been signed off yet.
(Mr Porritt) I think it is absolutely fundamental. The pre-condition for Government to act in an advisory role, either to the general public or the private sector, and exhort both individuals and companies to behave in more socially and responsible ways, is that it does it itself in every aspect of its behaviour. We are looking very carefully, as indeed this Committee has, at the whole area of procurement. How can it use procurement to advance this integrated approach to meeting people's needs. I would like us to look much more carefully at investments in the built environment. I am looking at the new build programme for hospitals and schools and I am thinking, "How much of that flow of money, those billions and billions of pounds, is actually going to come up to any kind of sensible sustainability standard on things like energy, waste, raw materials, impact on local communities?" To what extent are we going to have exemplars of really serious sustainable construction coming out of two of the biggest capital investment programmes this country has ever seen. I am asking the question rhetorically because I think you know as well as I do that the answer is not a great deal.
Joan Walley: I think that brings us back to the very heart of the debate which is going on nationally about private finance and how we have environmental issues at the heart of that.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Jonathon. We are delighted your first appearance before a Select Committee was in front of ours because we do share a similar agenda and can help each other along that path. Thank you very much.