Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by English Nature


  1.  English Nature is the statutory body responsible for advising both central and local Government on nature conservation and for promoting the wildlife and natural features of England. In fulfilling its duties, English Nature:

    —  advises Ministers on the development and implementation of policies for nature conservation;

    —  advises Ministers on other policies affecting nature conservation;

    —  identifies, notifies and safeguards Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);

    —  establishes, maintains and manages National Nature Reserves;

    —  provides guidance and advice on the principles and practice of nature conservation to a wide constituency;

    —  commissions and supports research and other projects relevant to nature conservation.

  2.  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues. English Nature is a member of the European Environment Advisory Councils, a Europe wide network of organisations who give scientifically-derived environmental advice to Governments.


  3.  English Nature strongly supports the concept of integrating environmental considerations into policies and procedures of the EU. We believe that environmental considerations, especially those relating to the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of natural resources, should be the cornerstone of all EU sectoral policies. The integration concept that the EU is currently adopting mirrors English Nature's philosophy for achieving nature conservation. As part of our strategy we have adopted a systematic approach to understanding, anticipating and influencing strategic change in key economic sectors. This analysis enables us to identify the policy and programme changes needed within the key economic sectors in order to deliver nationally important nature conservation targets. For England, we have identified the most important 11 sectors for nature conservation as:

    —  agriculture;

    —  coastal defence;

    —  domestic, commercial and industrial development of land;

    —  forestry;

    —  minerals and aggregates;

    —  ports industry;

    —  rural and coastal recreation;

    —  sea fisheries;

    —  inland transport;

    —  waste;

    —  water.

  4.  Of the integration strategies that the Commission is currently developing we have followed agriculture most closely. The agriculture industry dominates land use in the EU and is the most important sector for the achievement of biodiversity goals. The current draft of the strategy to be presented to the Helsinki summit, "Council Strategy on Environmental Integration and Sustainable Development in the CAP" is a more developed document than the first paper prepared as part of this process, the Commission's 1999 paper "Directions toward sustainable agriculture". It does attempt to be more specific in terms of objectives for the environmental impact of agriculture and defines a set of "principles" including basic minimum environmental standards that all farmers should observe and positive payments for delivering environmental services that go beyond these. It also argues for monitoring via regular indicator based reports and associated review.

  5.  However, the strategy falls short of commitments to develop or implement these principles. The current environmental measures in Agenda 2000 are not enough. Too few funds have been allocated to rural development measures, including agri-environment, to make this component credible as the "second pillar" of the CAP. A much more radical approach is needed, starting with a full environmental assessment of effects of agriculture policy followed by radical change of the CAP including a new vision of sustainable agriculture in Europe.

  6.  We advocate that there should be a large reduction in perverse CAP subsidies and a redirection of resources into funding of agri-environment measures. This could be achieved by progressive implementation of the modulation provision in Agenda 2000. Faster progress could be achieved by reopening the debate in Europe of the need to make subsidy payments degressive and to redirect the savings.

  7.  We support the concept of "milestones" as suggested by the Finnish Presidency. Such an approach could include process objectives, for example relating to the percentage of EU and/or national budgets that are allocated to agri-environment measures. English Nature would advocate that all Member States should devote at least 10 per cent of the CAP budget to agri-environment measures by 2005; with other significant increases thereafter. At the EU level we should aim for 25 per cent of the farmed area covered by support payments to be under agri-environment agreements by 2005. There needs to be a very significant shift in support, away from perverse subsidies and into supporting environmental benefits. Observance of responsible environmental standards by farmers is also essential. Milestones could also be linked to indicators of change in the farmed landscape. There is a growing body of literature on this in organisations such as the OECD and others. We propose the development of a framework for sustainable development indicators at the European level to which national sustainablilty indicators of the type currently under development by MAFF as part of the Government's quality of life indicators could integrate. Biodiversity is a key test of sustainable development. The UK Government has recognised this by identifying trends in farmland birds' numbers as a key component of its headline quality of life indicators. We commend this approach across the EU. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) commissioned a brief review of indicator development work across Europe from the Institute of European Environmental Policy. Their report is included at Annex A. [1]

  8.  Fundamental to achieving the desired level of integration is close communication and collaboration between the Commission's Directorates General responsible for environment and agriculture and other key sectors such as Fisheries and Regional Policy. In the UK English Nature has developed constructive working relationships with MAFF and we were invited to comment on their response to the EU draft agriculture strategy. We would recommend the inclusion of the UK statutory countryside agencies in the preparation of UK positions to be taken within the EU on environmental integration, to ensure they reflect the research, policy and practical experience that exists within the agencies.


  9.  English Nature made input to the Global Assessment of the Fifth Environmental Action Plan (5EAP) both directly to the European Commission and through our membership of the European wide network of European Environmental Advisory Councils (EEACs). English Nature was instrumental in setting up a Focal Point Information Service to facilitate the collaboration of EEAC Councils from EU Member States and accession countries, enabling their combined inputs to processes such as the Global Assessment. English Nature made further input to the Global Assessment through our Chairman, Baroness Young of Old Scone, who is a member of the European Consultative Forum on the Environment and Sustainable Development. The forum provides advice to the Commission on environmental issues and held a workshop on the Global Assessment to which Baroness Young presented our views on agriculture. In 1998, the Annual meeting of the European Environmental Advisory Councils, held in Helsinki, considered the theme of environmental integration and included representatives from the EU Environment Directorate-General. The statement of the conclusions of the meeting addressing integration in agriculture, transport and tourism are included at Annex B. [2]The EEAC's are supporting the European Consultative Forum, Finish National Council on Sustainable Development and the Commission's Environment Directorate in organising the "Sustainability 21—Transforming Markets" conference to be held in Helsinki at the beginning of November this year. We hope this conference will help raise the profile of the integration agenda in advance of the important Helsinki European Council meeting.

  10.  Overall we concluded that, whilst the 5EAP has undoubtedly contributed in various ways to integration of environmental issues into other sectors, progress toward its goals has been too slow. Simultaneously other drivers of policy change have taken shape and, by and large achieved greater prominence at national, European and global levels. For example, the production of national Biodiversity Action Plans as a response to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the role of Agenda 21 in promoting sustainability principles at the local level.

  11.  We recommended to the Commission that a Sixth Environmental Action Plan would be desirable, but that it should form the environmental strand of a broader Community Sustainable Development Strategy, putting environmental integration at the core along with social and economic considerations. Clear environmental targets and biodiversity tests of sustainability are needed for the 11 sectors identified in paragraph three of this evidence. We noted that fisheries was in need of direct inclusion in a new 6EAP, and urgently required action as a result of its significant impact on environmental issues including the ability to reach conservation goals for marine areas as set out in the Habitats Directive. It was not a sector covered by 5EAP.

  12.  A new 6EAP, in seeking to further the Cardiff integration process, should set clear goals and targets for environmental improvements in key sectors. The Environment Directorate should take a strong lead in promoting the action necessary to set and achieve targets, through close partnership working with other Directorates-General and actors. The development of an indicator-based approach to monitoring progress must be a key component, with biodiversity indicators used as a key test of sustainability for each sector.


  13.  The development and implementation of a new Community Sustainable Development Strategy, must be regarded as an over-arching responsibility of the Commission. Placing the Sustainable Development Unit in the Commission President's office would highlight its central role, and prevent it being seen as only an initiative of the Environment Directorate. This would also help secure regular periodic reviews of progress as agenda items at European Council meetings at Heads of Government level.

  14.  The Amsterdam Treaty strengthens powers of the Parliament in several policy areas including environment. We recommend the establishment of an Environmental Audit Committee of the European Parliament, with similar powers and remit to the House of Commons' Committee. This would contribute to the achievement of integration within the sectoral Directorates-General. It could also provide a focus for parliamentary support for and scrutiny of any new Sustainable Development Unit set up to coordinate the development and delivery of new strategy.

  15.  We perceive a need to raise the level of environmental consciousness and access to expert advice within the European Parliament and its committee structures. The Parliament's existing Environment Committee will, under the operation of the co-decision procedure, have a need for more independent expert advice on a range of environmental issues. Currently this advice is largely provided by NGOs or the Commission. There is a need for independent expert organisations, such as the European Environmental Advisory Councils, to provide advice and be invited to participate in expert committees of both the Commission and Parliament. English Nature, with its partner Agencies and the JNCC and sister organisations in Europe, recognise the importance of engaging in these processes. It is essential to take the opportunity offered by the current debate in Europe about the need for a Sustainable Development Strategy and a Sixth Environmental Action Plan to achieve environmental integration. Without such strengthening, environmental degradation will continue across Europe and significant opportunities for enhancement of the quality of life will be lost.

October 1999

1   See p 4. Back

2   See p 8. Back

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