Examination of Witnesses (Questions 269
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
MP, MS SHEILA
269. Good afternoon, Secretary of State. We
are delighted to see you. I understand that you would like to
make a brief statement on Kyoto and your visit to Africa?
(Margaret Beckett) It is mostly about
my visit to South Africa because it is part of the run-up to WSSD.
270. Please do.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not know if this is the right
moment or not but can I also say that this morning we published
a short document about the Department. I hope we have brought
enough copies for all the Committee.
271. About the Department?
(Margaret Beckett) It is about the Department, yes.
Put simply, we get quite a lot of queries about what is the Department,
what does it mean, what does it do. We have tried to prepare a
short accessible document that gives answers to some of those
questions and we thought, as we published it this morning, that
the Committee might like copies.
272. Thank you very much indeed, that is a very
good idea. I think we might do the same thing for the Environmental
Audit Committee since we are always asked how we are different
from the Environment Committee and so forth.
(Margaret Beckett) Especially with pictures. Chairman,
thank you. You have already had our memorandum as a Department
which is setting out all of the work we are doing on WSSD and
giving an outline of how we are implementing sustainable development
at home. I thought it might be helpful, I hope it will be, if
I say a little to the Committee about the outcome of my visit
to South Africa last week to discuss WSSD. I was there from the
12 to 14 March and accompanied by an inter-departmental team of
officials including our High Commissioner in South Africa, officials
from DEFRA obviously, from FCO, the Cabinet office and the local
DFID Director. While I was there I met quite a range of people
involved in the summit. It included Valli Moosa, the Environment
and Tourism Minister, who is leading on the summit, officials
from the Water and Forestry Department, business and NGO representatives
and the Johannesburg World Summit Company who are dealing with
many of the practical arrangements. I also visited a DFID coast
project near Cape Town and launched a DEFRA funded teachers' guide
to WSSD at a school in Soweto and I addressed a meeting of NGOs
and educationalists. I also had the chance to exchange ideas with
Jan Pronk, who is Kofi Annan's Emissary for the summit, who was
also visiting. The purpose of the visit was to reinforce the United
Kingdom's support for the summit to the South African Government
and to explore areas where the UK can assist and advance discussions.
So the timing of the visit was just before PrepCom II in New York
and the G8 Environment Ministers' meeting in Canada in April.
It was clear from my discussions that South Africa and we share
many of the same aims for the summit. First, that it should focus
on sustainable development and not on environment issues alone.
Secondly, it is part of a wider process stretching from Doha through
Monterrey to Johannesburg and also linked to the New Partnership
for African Development. Third, that it must focus on practical
action to help deliver the Millennium Development Goals. The key
issues for South Africa are water and sanitation, energy, health,
education, technology and food security, and they are very similar
to our own. I was particularly struck by their interest in using
WSSD to progress and to push for agricultural trade reform. I
understand that has been reflected in statements elsewhere by
other African ministers and obviously we will be exploring the
opportunities for that. Valli Moosa and I discussed how we might
generate greater political impetus into the negotiations. Obviously
it has to be handled carefully within the UN negotiating system
but delivering significant advances at WSSD will, we believe,
require engagement and commitment by Heads. There are a lot of
ideas, a great wealth of ideas out there, but they need much further
work, more concrete work, if they are to deliver action at the
summit. We also spoke about the development of implementation
projects, engaging a variety of stakeholders, the so-called Type
II outcomes where the United Kingdom has shown leadership in developing
ideas. This is a new concept for the UN system and we need to
develop mechanisms to deliver them, both through the UN and in
other parallel processes, and I hope to take some of these ideas
forward when I visit the World Bank on 11 April. As far as the
organisation of the summit is concerned, the South Africans still
face a funding gap of 190 million rand, over £10 million.
The UK is among the largest donors so far at about £1.25
million pounds, but regrettably some large EU countries have yet
to make any commitment and we are exploring how to encourage them
to contribute. Despite that uncertainty there has already been
a substantial amount of planning around the summit in Johannesburg
and we were impressed with the comprehensive planning that is
already under way. The summit company, which is known as JOWSCO,
is well aware of the need to minimise the adverse effects of the
summit, to deliver legacy projects and to engage the general public
in South Africa. Lastly, I also met some business representatives
and the NGO Preparatory Committee. There is plenty of opportunity
for business to exhibit at the summit and there will be a day
concentrating on business's contribution to sustainable development
at the summit on 1 September. There have been some difficulties
over the NGO preparations, due in part to the NGO Committee being
tasked both to prepare the South African NGO position and to organise
the NGO events, but they seem now to have resolved those problems
with maturity and sensitivity and are firmly committed to organising
an effective NGO element. I understand that they were hoping to
progress that work at Monterrey this week. Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Secretary
of State. I am glad to hear that the practical preparations are
going well. This Committee will be sending a delegation to the
273. In view of what you have said, and I really
welcome everything you have just said to the Committee, could
I ask which of the European countries still have not made their
contributions? I think it might be helpful for this Committee
to know in order that we can pursue that with our counterparts
in those countries.
(Margaret Beckett) I am not entirely sure whether
it is quite proper for me, to be honest. I am not sure that it
is in the public domain because this is information that we sought
semi-privately from the South African Government so that we can
put on pressure behind the scenes.
274. We can no doubt find out.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. Can I just say if you think
of some fairly large names.
275. Beginning with?
(Margaret Beckett) You may find they have not all
done so, although some say that they are going to.
276. Physically large, you mean, geographically?
(Margaret Beckett) Physically and financially.
Joan Walley: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you for that statement and for
making it brief too. We will start off the questioning and Mrs
Clark, I know, wants to come in.
277. Yes, thank you. I am very encouraged that
you started off immediately talking about sustainable development
and that it really should be the focus of Johannesburg, that is
what we are concerned should be the focus as well. You mentioned
that it was very important that it was not about the environment
alone. I think we are concerned that it is not actually about
development alone. Are you concerned yourself that, in fact, Johannesburg
might end up, despite all the best intentions, just being yet
another UN development summit, say, without the interfaces between
development, environmental concerns and obviously economic issues
addressed, which is of course sustainable development?
(Margaret Beckett) Quite. Obviously there is always
a risk but I am extremely encouraged. From right back at the beginning
when we first had a conversation with the South African Government
about the preparations for the summit I recall that I went to
that meeting briefed with the point of view that this is not a
summit about the environment, this is a summit about sustainable
development, and I found that coming back at me across the table
from the South African Government. I think they and we have been
clear from the very, very beginning and deeply relieved to find
that we very much wanted the same kind of outcomes. For my own
part, and this is something that I keep shoving into all the speeches
that I make on this issue, I think it is so patently obvious that
dire poverty and environmental degradation actually feed one off
the other and they are a kind of vicious circle that it seems
to me to be self-evident as an issue that you have to balance
the social and environmental and economic effects. We say about
climate change that it is something which affects everybody but
particularly the poor who are most vulnerable to it, and again
it is the poor who most need sustainable development.
278. Again, I think from a DEFRA point of view
that is very, very encouraging indeed. I am also encouraged that
you said that South Africa is working to the same hymn sheet as
our ideals. I think what we are slightly concerned about as a
Committee is not the position of DEFRA, which is absolutely clear,
but rather the position of DFID. We did interview Clare Short
a couple of weeks ago at Committee about these matters and she
did say that actually DFID was working very closely with DEFRA
on these matters.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed.
279. But then went on to posit a rather different
perspective herself. She said that in her opinion the environmental
agenda often tended to be a Northern agenda, an anti-development
agenda, so therefore not making the connections that you have
made yourself about the whole business of environmental degradation
and dire poverty actually going hand-in-hand. Following on from
that, Jonathon Porritt happened to be sitting in and obviously
heard some of the comments that she was making and he went much
further. Having admitted that the two of them had never actually
sat down and talked and thrashed out these issues, and some of
my colleagues think that perhaps they should, he said she was
talking "rubbish", that she was "extremely well-known
for" what he described as "her difficulty encompassing
where the modern environmental movement was" and what he
described as her "one-woman campaign to seek to belittle
the work of a number of environmental NGOs . . ." etc., etc.
On the one hand we have got the DEFRA and South African perspective
absolutely united and then we have got all the contra-indications
of a completely different line being peddled by another department
in Her Majesty's UK Government.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think that I would accept
that a different line is being peddled. In fact, as I think you
said yourself at the outset, and I am sure Clare would say, as
departments we work together extremely closely and extremely well
on the preparations for the summit and, indeed, on the agenda
for it. Without wanting to get into a dispute between two people
who apparently said things to this Committee, neither of which
I heard, I think certainly there have been times, although I would
myself be inclined to say perhaps in the past, when people who
were passionately concerned about the environment have tended
to look more in their own context because this was where people
could first get a handle on things. I think for quite some considerable
time it has been the case that the wider perspective of sustainable
development is very much the context of what those who care most
about and work most on the environment have become involved with.
Certainly we were anxious quite early on that because it was a
sustainable development agenda, and that is very much the concern
of environment ministers, I do not mean exclusively but environment
ministers are involved in that because of the environment aspect
of it, we were worried we might find that it was mostly environmental
NGOs who were looking to come to and be involved in the preparations
for the World Summit and, for precisely the reasons that you and
I have just been discussing, we were extremely anxious that that
did not happen and, indeed, quite early on we put out feelers
through DFID and their contacts and through various observations
I made at public gatherings, we thought it was extremely important
that we got environment and development NGOs engaged in the work
and working together, and they are engaged in our Communications
Strategy Group and so on.
1 "Working for the Essentials of Life",
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, March 2002. Back