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Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 146 - 159)




  146. Is there anything you would like to say briefly before we start to examine you on the memorandum you have kindly given us?

  (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, has 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.

David Wright

  147. How much do you think other governments are on board on that? How far do you think other governments are going to be willing to accept that argument in terms of the overall approach to Johannesburg? Do you think that poverty alleviation will actually be shuffled down the agenda by the time the agreements come out at the end of the conference?
  (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.

  148. Can you outline your role, how you actually engaged in that? Have you been a leading figure in that in terms of our approach from the UK Government? How have we generated that agenda ourselves?
  (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.

  149. What about the perspective of major financial institutions, such as the World Bank? What is their perspective on the conference? Do they see poverty eradication as the key theme, or do they see themselves soft-pedalling on this agenda and allowing sustainable development and environmental issues broadly to continue to be higher up the agenda?
  (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.


  150. When you say you think you have shifted the agenda more towards poverty and away from the more purist view of the environment —
  (Clare Short) Northern-dominated.

  151. Let us say "purist."
  (Clare Short) No. I do not want to admit purist. I think the anti-development perspective for the environment is profoundly wrong.

  152. The fact is that in this country DEFRA is the lead Department, and as far as I am aware, in other countries too the environment ministry is still the lead department. So how have you managed to get international development into that when another department in most countries is leading the negotiations?
  (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.

  153. So despite the fact that environment ministries are in the lead, you think you have been able to influence their attitude enough to get greater acceptance of your concerns?
  (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.

  154. At the famous Seattle conference, which went so badly, you will remember that the European Commissioner chucked out the environment straight away. The Trade Commissioner just ignored the environment and concentrated on trade.
  (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.

Joan Walley

  155. Will you be going to Johannesburg, and will you be going to Jakarta as well, where a lot of the detailed negotiations will be taking place?
  (Clare Short) I am going to Johannesburg and I am going to Jakarta.

  156. I know this is a conversation that you and I have had on many occasions in the past, but what I wanted to home in on is how much development and the environmental agenda can come together. What I want to press you about is who actually has the responsibility for environmental standards. You say it is not the WTO, and that it would be wrong to use the WTO to have done that, but given the concerns that many of the NGOs have about corporate accountability, and given the whole agenda you have for addressing world poverty and the need for investment and so on, where are the environmental standards in all of this? Is Johannesburg the place where we can further develop those environmental standards so as to promote development, and not just so that the environmentalists are seen as in some way or other preventing sustainable development?
  (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.

  157. Can I just press you? For example, Jonathon Porritt is coming along to our session later this morning, and he talks about the importance of climate change and global warming. The concerns that I have about the way we go ahead with development relate to things like renewable energy, and it is really all about whether or not the public/private partnerships that you are seeking to promote in the sense of promoting the development we all want to see are consistent and balanced with the green environmental agenda. Can I take you back to a parliamentary question that you answered in reply to Gareth Thomas earlier on in the session. He was pressing you about what could be done about renewable energy in Africa, and you said, "Yes, let's use the best possible technology but Africa needs the basics, and we should do all in our power to bring investment in modern infrastructure to countries across the board, not just some nice renewables and odd projects." The point I want to make is, how can we be sure, in pushing ahead the development agenda and ending world poverty, that environmental issues are at the core and the heart of it, if they are seen as somehow just separate and added on to other values that public/private partnerships may have in respect of other technology?
  (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—

  158. I am not saying that at all.
  (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.


  159. Are you not missing something here, with due respect, Secretary of State? We have just come back from Germany, where we visited the Shell solar panel factory. They said their market is not in the Northern world, but with the 2 billion people in the Southern hemisphere who do not have electricity. If you had a programme to fix on each little hut a solar panel for the few dollars it would cost you, you could actually give energy to all these people, without using dung, as you say. You said the first requirement in Nepal was energy. There is an example of how renewable energy could solve the problem.
  (Clare Short) I am going to bring my officials in. Why do we not have panels on all our houses then?

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