Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 196 - 199)

Question Number




  196. Thank you very much, indeed, Jonathon, for coming here today. I am sorry we are starting late. You came in at the end of a rather interesting session.
  (Mr Porritt) Very interesting, Chairman, and very illuminating.

  197. Before we actually start to cross-question you, first of all, thank you very much indeed for your memorandum, which we are delighted to have. Thank you for bringing your colleagues with you. Is there anything you would like to add by way of a brief introductory statement?
  (Mr Porritt) Not particularly, Chairman. I hope that we will get into the areas that you would be interested in exploring through the questions rather than anything else. We just wanted to be sure that everyone on the Committee was fully aware of where the Sustainable Development Commission fits, as it were, with all the rest of the government bodies that are coming before you. As long as everyone is clear about that, I think we can go straight into it.

  Chairman: We may want to ask one or two questions about that, in due course, but we understand that very well.

Joan Walley

  198. Can I say, Jonathon, first of all, how pleased we are. I think this is the first time you have given evidence since your appointment as Chairman before any Select Committee.
  (Mr Porritt) It is.

  199. So we are very pleased that it happens to be the Environmental Audit Select Committee. I wanted to kick off, because I think you heard the tail-end of our last session just now, with the theme that I think is really perplexing us, which is how we can make sure that the objectives in respect of environmental development and environmental protection can link up and be wholly in harmony and in balance with eradicating poverty and development issues. In the wake of the last debate which took place, where do you feel that the balance should be? In respect of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is I think the CDC capital partners, do you feel that has brought about a shift? Is that going to deliver the environmental agenda as we pursue this issue of eradicating poverty and development in developing countries?
  (Mr Porritt) I am not sure it would be proper for me, really, to comment on the CDC issue, per se, but perhaps I can give you a rather more generalised response to that, which is that I do not think either the private sector or government departments, through conventional aid flows, are construing sustainable development properly. I think what is happening is that people are still looking at sustainable development and seeing it in terms of these three pillars—call it what you will—environment, society and economy. There is still a sort of understanding that that inevitably means that there will be trade-offs. Pretty much invariably, it means the environment is being traded off against conventional economic development goals—not always, but still predominantly. That means that the powerful, convening aspect of the concept of sustainable development is not being used in investment appraisal processes, in project appraisal processes, and in ways in which you look at the impact of policy or projects and think about getting synergies between those outcomes—social, environmental and economic—rather than trade-offs between them. I think there are some very powerful UK aspects of that failure to use sustainable development properly as a concept, which we might come on to.

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