Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Barker

  20. Is not the bottom line that the US is very cool on this conference, and without their involvement the thing is going to be a complete flop? What do you think the chances are of actually getting George Bush Junior there; to me, they appear very slim? And the reason that Rio worked was, because, and I think partly because, of pressure from the British Government, actually George Bush Senior arrived, at the end of the conference. And we hear a lot about the special relationship between Britain and the US, but, in actual fact, we do not seem to see, the Prime Minister does not appear to be getting any leverage out of that whatsoever, and, unless we get the US on board, you can fly around all the world, and any different capitals you like, unless you actually make a difference in Washington, it is going to make absolutely no difference whatsoever?
  (Mr Nouhan) For what it is worth, the United States had the largest delegation there, for those two weeks, there were dozens of people there from the US.


  21. At the PrepCom?
  (Mr Nouhan) Yes; engaged in every which way you can imagine, initiatives for Africa, global governance, they had representatives from the EPA, talking about indicators and how they can be used, globally and nationally. This is not just because I am American, which you have probably been wondering, but I have gotten to know the head negotiator, the lead person from the US delegation, who is at every one of these meetings. What you see in the press and what you hear at the higher level, what you hear publicly, is one thing; that is not to say that they are not cool on this, because they do not want to—

Mr Barker

  22. I do not mean Americans, period, I mean the Bush Administration, particularly?
  (Mr Nouhan) The Bush Administration had dozens of people there, focussing and working very, very hard to have positive inputs.

  23. That is very encouraging.
  (Mr Nouhan) Whether or not they have come up with anything substantial, whether or not Bush goes, is not a question I can answer.

Mr Challen

  24. It seems to me that since 1992 there has been a lot of trimming; there have been some bold initiatives, and Kyoto perhaps is something that has happened in the last ten years, which has brought a sense of reality to politicians, and it is still the case that Kyoto has not really moved us much further on, internationally, although some Governments clearly have made quite strident efforts, and I think the UK Government is one of those. I just wonder if I could tempt you to be perhaps a little bit risky, and ask you if you could make a prediction of what will be the great achievement that politicians laud, in the first weeks of September this year, as having come out of this conference, what do you think they will be saying is the great achievement?
  (Mr Phillips) I am pretty sure that it is going to be around poverty. And what we are, in our most cynical moments, and we are sometimes very cynical, but we are mostly very optimistic, at Friends of the Earth, actually, despite the fact that very often we are called just the cynics, what we were concerned about at Rio was that some of the key issues were sidelined, and there was this sort of deal between some of the big players in the world to get sustainable development on the map, but some of the uncomfortable things were put aside. The financing and the environmental governance arrangements were not very clearly sorted out, the role of business and industry was completely set aside, in favour of them coming on board the sustainable development; so the UN Centre on Transnationals was ended, and the Code of Conduct on Transnationals literally was ripped up, in the days before the Summit started. So some of those kind of key driving issues were not there. But at the end of it there was the business sector and some of the world's Governments saying, "Well, look what it is; here we've delivered sustainable development." And what we are worried is that they are going to do the same thing this time, they are just going to call it `poverty'; and we are just concerned about the `business as usual', to be honest, we need this to be a turning-point for the world, not just a road map. It needs to be a place where the assessments are made, the judgements are made, where we actually appraise whether the particular route that we are taking is really delivering or not, and that, if it is not, this has to be the place where we make the turn. Where else is it going to be, because we are not going to get that kind of turning-point in the WTO, we are not going to get it in Bretton Woods institutions; therefore it needs to be addressed within the sort of multilateral framework that Governments can deliver, and therefore they have got to tackle some of the issues that were not tackled before. So poverty is going to be the headline thing that they will be talking about, but there is going to be precious little to back that up which, when you tease it out, it is not going to be about a trade-off between financing, opening up some markets and making this kind of global deal stuff, which the EU is promoting.

  25. Is it your view that tackling poverty means greater world trade and opportunities for transnationals to come in and do things in certain countries?
  (Mr Phillips) It is certainly the view that tackling world poverty includes a fairer trade system and it includes dealing with international global equity questions, and it does not just mean that opening up markets is the only route for doing that, it is like the `one size fits all' route is not a route that seems to have delivered so far; therefore, if you look at the situation with Argentina, and so on. So, therefore, that slavish devotion to that particular, one route is not going to deliver, in our view, and that is the `business as usual' agenda we are very desperately concerned about. What we want to see instead is some of the brakes, some of the other approaches which are necessary to start balancing things out, so that we start to get a system which is based on rules, yes, but based on rules of fairness and equity, and a system which also deals with the checks and balances. So that is one of the reasons we are promoting a Corporate Accountability Convention as something which the Summit should seek to address.

Mr Best

  26. I was very pleased and relieved that we are not without hope, and I am wondering how hopeful we might be. There would seem not to be, from your experiences at the pre-conference, good grounds to be optimistic, but hopeful; that, I think, though is worthwhile. I am just interested to try to get into your minds about a particular view that I hold, it is to do with the language and the way in which language describes and manages realities, sometimes. I personally dislike intensely the word `stakeholder', I find it an objectionable word. I have a view that it tends to describe and admit the existing distribution of wealth in the world, and that there are some people, for example, who have got a 60 per cent stake, and they are going to hang on to it, and some with a lot less than that and they are going to have to stick with it. Whereas I think that what we have—this is a long sort of preamble, I am sorry about that, Chair—is a world which inevitably is going to be having to manage a universal view, which would be a sort of comprehensive and continuous recognition of a shared, equal interest. Now that being the case, I am delighted to hear, and I would just like some confirmation of this, that poverty eradication, I gather, looks like being the central issue, and, if it is, it may be the beginnings, Chair, of the steps towards improving the degree of benefit that may accrue to one country from world trade as opposed to the present situation; and we might then see the stakeholders, as it were, levelling up, so that there could be some prospect of agreement amongst so-called stakeholders. Is that a view that you might share, that we have to eliminate and build a better, equal distribution of the world's wealth?
  (Dr Jefferiss) That would be my aspiration, I would share that aspiration; whether or not this Summit is likely to deliver that, I am not sure. I would agree with Matt that poverty alleviation, in some respect, is likely to be the keynote issue of the Summit, and it is likely that we will emerge with the conclusion that poverty alleviation is very important, for all sorts of reasons, including that it will take pressure off natural resources, and, by preserving natural resources, we will be better able to alleviate poverty, that there are synergies, and so on. I think the crucial question though is how the international community decides to achieve poverty alleviation, and I think there is a real danger that it will devolve to `business as usual', either in the form of more trade, rather than fair trade, or in the form of bilateral donor agreements for development aid, rather than a kind of international community set of agreements. I think there will probably be quite a lot of reliance on voluntary measures, there will be lots of piecemeal efforts. So I would be concerned that, although it is a useful aspiration and it will likely be the focus of the Summit, the Summit probably will not deliver concrete mechanisms for achieving it.


  27. Could I ask you just one or two specific questions about the UK Government's preparation. Do you think there are any particular Government Departments which could make a greater contribution?
  (Mr Nouhan) The Departments which one might think were the obvious candidates, what is now DEFRA, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID, are the four Departments, and I am sure you are aware of that. With the recent election, and now that we have DTLR, they certainly were not represented in New York, as the others were. All the four Government Departments I have mentioned were represented in New York and the Cabinet Office had a representative there as well.

  28. So that is five that were there?
  (Mr Nouhan) Five were there; but, if I could say, there should be more engagement, I am not sure why it is not the case, perhaps because it is new, but DTLR, especially because of its role with local government, and the Education Department.

  29. They were not there?
  (Mr Nouhan) They were not there; and one of the big themes that is emerging in New York has been education for sustainable development, it has been emerging here in the UK, UK UNESCO is focussing on that, a number of other stakeholders, pardon the phrase, we are so used to saying it, we are stuck with it, to be honest with you. So, off the top of my head, those two, and I think there is an effort to get them engaged, but it is also getting a bit late; once the third PrepCom is over, the agenda is pretty well set.

Joan Walley

  30. Can I just follow that up, if I may, Chair. In terms of local authorities not being represented there at the New York conference, sorry, DTLR not representing local authorities, how crucial do you think that is, and what scope do you see for them being involved; what should have happened?
  (Mr Nouhan) I am not the best person to answer that. I would suggest that, the next session, when Mike Ashley, from Local Government, is going to be sitting with you, he would be the best person to answer that question.


  31. What impression do you get of DFID's role, in preparation, the Department for International Development?
  (Mr Nouhan) Very active; DFID is very, very active.
  (Dr Jefferiss) I would frame it slightly differently, in that my impression has been that DEFRA has been so active, as the lead Department, that its activities, to a large extent, have overshadowed the activities of other Departments, so that it has been hard to discern what others are doing. DFID is probably the exception, they have certainly been active as well; but the activities, at least to my knowledge, of Foreign Office and Cabinet Office have not been as clear..

Mr Best

  32. I am interested to hear your opinions on whether or not you think that the Government has been sufficiently active in raising the profile of this Summit, both at home and abroad; do you think it is enough, what the Government is doing, or should we hope for more?
  (Mr Phillips) Just a couple of comments on that, because there have been two or three comments now, in particular, also, about public awareness generally. I can look at this, from one side, from a campaigning perspective, and, Friends of the Earth, we are not going to start raising the issue of the Earth Summit too early, because we will have to spend half our time explaining what it is all about before we can get on to saying, "Well, this is what we think it needs to be about." So there is a point at which you can expect a lot of the public momentum around this issue to be sort of back-loaded to the month or so preceding the Summit, whereas probably most of the real negotiating business will be concluded, or not concluded but as good as concluded, in Jakarta.


  33. That is a very unfortunate dislocation, is it not?
  (Mr Phillips) Yes; indeed, the negotiation will take place in Jakarta.

  34. Because in reality it will take place before the Earth Summit?
  (Mr Phillips) Yes. We are worried about that, too, because what that means to us is that the sort of public pressure for change might not actually be taking place, as you say, exactly when the change needs to take place, so the politicians who really want to get something out of this Summit which is really positive and forward-looking are not necessarily going to have the political momentum behind them that they feel they might need. That is why there needs to be, perhaps, a little bit of attention-grabbing from the UK Government, a little bit before, and especially before Jakarta; because if there are a lot of Ministers going to go there—

  35. And how could it do that?
  (Mr Phillips) I think this is going to come down to the high profile Ministers making it an issue and also making it a debate.

  36. And are they doing that, at all, at the moment?
  (Mr Phillips) I think there has been a little bit of activity from Michael Meacher, that I am aware of, but I have not really seen very much. The Deputy Prime Minister is supposed to be co-ordinating the work, so let us see him active.

Sue Doughty

  37. Moving forward a little bit, and I think we have touched on this, about the tensions between International Development, and I think it is very interesting hearing particularly from Friends of the Earth about how poverty is getting high on their agenda, whereas generally they are seen as environmental battlers, more than anything else. But at the WWF's conference last year Clare Short was saying, at that time, that the environmental movement must move away from policing development to harnessing the positive benefits that better environmental protection and management can offer to poor people. I suspect you may agree with her, but, if not, please tell me. Are you taking this approach, in practical terms, and have you any UK examples of projects which would demonstrate this support between better environment and better situations for all poor people?
  (Dr Jefferiss) May I answer that, from the perspective of the RSPB. I think that there needs to be a recognition that there is, in reality, a balance between and synergies between poverty alleviation, on the one hand, and natural resource conservation, on the other. If you manage natural resources sustainably then it provides a means of income, particularly for poor people, who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods; that is the basis behind the International Development Target of reversing declines in natural resources by 2015. Globally, eco-system services, environmental goods and services, appear to provide about the same amount of monetised value, annually, as GDP does, globally; conversely, I think it is equally true that, if you achieve poverty alleviation, that is actually the best way of conserving natural resources, because poor people then need to depend less heavily on their environment, and therefore there is less pressure to degrade it. So I think everyone is agreed that there are synergies and there needs to be a balance. I think DFID agrees that, certainly in recent publications on environment and poverty, and on biodiversity specifically, that has been the balance they have talked about. In terms of the work that we do, it is certainly a balance we try to strike, both in the work that we conduct in less-developed countries, in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and within the UK. And there is plenty of evidence to show that investing in the natural environment, conserving natural resources, does lead to economic benefits; some of those economic benefits are quite direct, in that it creates jobs, it draws in tourism, it creates employment in the local economy. It also serves as a foundation to expand local economic activity, because businesses are attracted to areas which are managed sustainably from an environmental point of view. If you are interested, the RSPB has done an analysis of the precise value that we can calculate, that comes from nature conservation in the activities in the UK.[2]

  38. That would be very useful.
  (Dr Jefferiss) So there is plenty of evidence that that is the case.

Mr Best

  39. I would like to ask a question directly on that. I would be very interested to see those figures, too, and the study that you have done; do you have a sort of matching set of figures and studies that you may have done about the damage that might be done by people travelling to take part in the tourist industry, long-haul flights, etc?
  (Dr Jefferiss) Such analyses do exist. We have not conducted those specifically.

2   `Conservation Works ... for local economies in the UK', together with a summary, published by RSBP, August 2001 Back

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