Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2

Letter from the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to All Members of Parliament


  In September world leaders will come together in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. This crucial event will take stock of progress made since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and set out some concrete outcomes on where the world can—and must—go next. I am writing to you now to let you know the UK's current thinking and to seek to involve you, and your constituents, in that process. Although September may seem a long way off, when we assess progress since Rio, the message is very clearly that there is much work to do—it will be upon us before we know it.

  The Prime Minister was the first world leader to commit to attending the summit. Indeed the UK has been a key force in leading the preparations in Europe and globally.

  On the international stage, preparations for the Summit are gathering pace. Five regional meetings have been held to identify priority areas for the Summit's agenda. A considerable degree of consensus has emerged on key issues—poverty and environment linkages, Africa, Official Development Assistance, resource efficiency, institutional reform and the sectoral issues of water, sanitation and energy. And Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk has been appointed as Kofi Annan's Special Envoy on the Summit, charged with engaging other world leaders and adding pressure at the political level as well as through the formal UN channels.

  But we have long espoused the view that if practical action is to come out of Johannesburg the Summit needs to involve more than just Governments. The involvement of the private sector, civil society, young people and local authorities is vital and we are already working closely with some of these groups and looking for opportunities to involve others. In March last year the Prime Minister invited business leaders and NGOs to develop initiatives in several key areas. These were finance, tourism, energy, forestry and water. He recently hosted a seminar at No 10 Downing Street to assess progress—at this meeting we engaged with key businesspeople and non-governmental organisations and it was clear, again, both that some excellent work is being progressed, and also that there is lots more to do. A separate progress report on these initiatives is attached.

  Another example of this "partnership" approach is the WWF "Our World" project which my Department is funding in conjunction with DFES and the Devolved Administrations. It is aimed at raising young people's awareness about the Summit and of sustainable development in general. Four "Earth Champions", one from each of four winning schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, will attend the Summit and play a real and active role. BBC Newsround are covering the competition and we hope that it will provoke real interest in the Summit amongst young people.

  Last Summer we also ran a discussion forum to find what people wanted on the agenda of the Summit and what they thought the UK's aims and objectives should be. You can find information on this and the UK's preparations for the Summit on the Government's Sustainable Development website at

  The next eight months will see a number of important international events that will feed into the Summit. Of particular importance are the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico in March and the reconvened Children's Conference in May. These will serve as a reminder that the Summit is not just an environmental conference—it is about addressing global sustainability in terms of environmental, economic and social factors. In particular, combatting global poverty remains a priority for the UK, and examining the links between poverty and environmental degradation. It is the poor who contribute least to environmental degradation, but suffer most from its effects.

  In your constituencies you may expect to be contacted by "green groups", but I would like to encourage you to engage locally with non-governmental organisations on the development, as well as environmental side, to establish if there are elements they think there are important issues which do not yet appear to be high up the agenda for Johannesburg. You may also like to hold some events for local representatives of development and environment NGOs, and invite views from constituents through your local media.

  Above all the Summit needs to be about finding practical solutions to the global challenges we face. I believe that the emphasis we have placed on partnership, on the involvement of all stakeholders, and on action not words, is the right approach, and will ensure that we leave Johannesburg with a clear route forward for implementing sustainable development.

  I look forward to working with you to that end.

Margaret Beckett

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