Examination of Witnesses (Questions 146
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
MP, MR ANDREW
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.
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 processyou
know the power of a first draftin 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
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
(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
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.
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 personallyand I will ask Andrew
or Tim to come inthat 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 problemslike 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 thatthe 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 thanwhich
happens a lot with the green agendadreams 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?