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10.9 am

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro): We have been faced with serious challenges since the Rio summit, with continuing global environmental destruction. I do not want explore the full range of issues, which have already been covered by previous speakers. I want to keep my remarks short to allow others to comment.

Perhaps the greatest and most intractable problem has been the financial resourcing of our commitments to achieving environmental and social sustainability. Finance is likely to be at the centre of debates at the UN General Assembly special session in June, the so-called Earth summit II, and will be fundamental to its success.

The need of developing countries for external funds is as great as it was in 1992. Since then, forests have continued to be cleared, wetlands have been further destroyed, and the earth's biodiversity has been substantially further eroded. In too many cases, this is not through wilful neglect but because many developing countries lack the resources to pursue more sustainable forms of development.

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I visited Brazil two years ago to see construction on the Amazon. One key problem was the poverty of farmers who cleared land in a desperate attempt to grow the food they needed, which led to the early destruction of that land, for which their agricultural techniques were inappropriate. They have neither the information nor the training to make better use of their resources.

Another key problem was the inability of the Brazilian Government to fulfil their commitments, not least because they cannot afford the immensely difficult task of policing their policies effectively. Similarly, when the Environment Select Committee visited Thailand and Malaysia, it found the same problems: there were difficulties with tackling illegal logging, let alone getting policies right in the first place. Continued economic pressures hit Governments' ability to tackle the problem.

The developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments at Rio to provide new, additional resources. Official development assistance fell from a peak of £62 billion in 1992 to around £53 billion in 1995. The £3 billion pledged to the global environmental facility since 1992 has not come close to making up the shortfall, let alone meeting the increased need identified at Rio. If developing countries are to remain committed to the ambitious agenda agreed at Rio, and it is imperative for all our futures that they do, we must demonstrate at Earth summit II that we are prepared to live up to our financial commitments and ensure that adequate financial resources are available.

The developed world has only 20 per cent. of the world's population, but consumes 80 per cent. of the world's resources. That level of consumption is already leading to the destruction of the global environment. If the developing world follows our path of wasteful consumption, the destruction will accelerate fivefold. As we have been the beneficiaries of the destruction up to now, no one should argue that we should not bear a fair share of the cost of putting it right. That means a majority share, including helping the developing world to avoid the path that we have so destructively followed.

An incoming Government, of whatever colour, will face two immediate challenges, both of which are opportunities to make their mark on the environmental political scene. On 2 May 1997, negotiations will begin on replenishment of the global environmental facility. We must argue vociferously for an increase in funding from developed nations. That would send a clear signal of co-operation to developing nations before the Earth summit, and will make it far more likely that we can achieve the necessary progress.

The second challenge is a UK one: to make a commitment to meeting the aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product within 10 years. Only the Liberal Democrats of the major parties are costing that into their pledges for the general election. Before the manifestos are launched, I urge that the other parties do so as well. The Government's commitment stands at only 0.28 per cent. of GNP, which has fallen from the 1980-84 average of 0.37 per cent. The cuts must be reversed, or we will share the vastly larger costs of environmental destruction and climate change.

The cuts are a practical obstacle to solving the developing world's environmental problems, but, even more important, they are a major psychological block to winning co-operation from the developing world in setting

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the necessary targets and strategies at the Earth summit. At the same time, the quality of aid must be improved. Although progress has been made, all too often aid continues to focus on large-scale, technology-intensive projects, rather than small-scale, sensitively planned projects that yield environmental and social benefits to the communities involved and further the aims of the Rio agreements and subsequent conferences.

Although international private investment has grown dramatically since 1992, the bulk of it goes to a handful of fast developing countries, hardly any of which are among the least developed. Almost three quarters of foreign investment in the developing world goes to only nine countries.

In any case, we should have no illusions that private finance is a panacea. Private funds are driven by market imperatives, and will not automatically deliver public goods such as environmental sustainability or the elimination of poverty. Because they are driven by an economic priority set largely in the developed world for goods that we continue to waste and with which we destroy the environment, they are even more destructive in countries where they bear little relation to the needs of communities. There will remain a substantial need for public funds, and for private finance to be regulated to ensure that it is consistent with those aims.

I recognise that public spending in the developed countries is under domestic and international pressure. Conventional development assistance budgets will never be able to provide sufficient funds to meet demand. That is why debates have started at the Commission on Sustainable Development about new ways of generating funds, such as new international taxation. Liberal Democrats want more debate in Britain about how to progress along the route of environmental taxation.

A charge on aviation fuel on international flights is one currently mooted proposal, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). We should push that up the agenda in our international negotiations. However, it needs international agreement and co-operation to achieve action. We cannot go it alone, but that is all the more reason for the UK to take a leading role in arguing for it.

The time is ripe to make swift progress on the issue, because the EU is to consider at the end of 1997 the expiry of the exemption of aviation fuel from excise duty. The money raised could be channelled back into the global environment facility to promote the aims of Agenda 21 and other Rio commitments in the developing countries. Much global environmental damage could be avoided and substantial funds raised for environmental protection, and not only in developed countries. That could be done with funds that currently subsidise operations that actively damage the environment.

The Worldwatch Institute has estimated that Governments worldwide subsidise environmentally damaging activities, such as over-fishing, and excessive road transport and coal production, to the tune of more than $500 billion a year. It is vital that we start working out how to eliminate those subsidies and put them to better long-term sustainable use.

Non-governmental organisations working in the field suggest that a new forum may be need to facilitate debate and political consensus on new ways of financing

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sustainable development. An intergovernmental panel on finance, situated in the Commission on Sustainable Development, is their preferred option. We should consider that seriously, and I hope that the Minister will say that the British Government will it give their encouragement and consideration. The CSD could also have more formal links with key international financial bodies such as G7 and the World bank. That would help to put sustainability at the heart of the world's most powerful financial and economic centres.

All funds in all countries need to be not only used in the way intended but seen to be used as such. That will happen only when we have proper accountability of funds and full transparency. Far greater efforts are needed to eliminate corruption and make sure that social and environmental priorities remain paramount. That is a matter in which the British Government, while they may have their faults at home, have considerable expertise, which, as well as practical help, they can offer to countries around the world.

Much was achieved at Rio five years ago, but an awful lot still needs to be done. Over-consumption in the north and population growth in the south are combining to put huge pressure on the dwindling stock of natural resources and on the earth's ability to absorb pollution. The developed world contributes disproportionately to those problems, so we must disproportionately take on the burden of overcoming them. We must help developing countries to develop in a more sustainable way than we have done, at the same time as we put our own house in order.

We should never think that developing countries are not concerned about the environment. Polls show that people in countries such as Brazil and Poland are as concerned about the environment as people here. But people in such countries have far fewer resources and far less room in their economy to tackle the problems. That means, at the very least, that Britain must meet our internationally agreed targets for financial support.

The optimism and consensus of Rio show that the world knows what needs to be done. We must not let it break down in bickering about who does what. Britain must show that we are willing to play our full part, and that, having identified the problems, we will take our role in finding the solutions.

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