Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


The Emerging Global Wish List

61. At Prepcom II in New York, in January 2002,[73] a number of issues emerged as the focus for the Summit outcomes: poverty eradication, sustainable patterns of consumption and production, the sustainable development of natural resources, and making globalisation work to promote sustainable development. Poverty eradication is emerging as a uniting theme. The Chairman of PrepCom II sent delegates away with a parting message that if poverty was eradicated all else would follow.[74]

62. UNED-UK told us that education for sustainable development was also emerging as a key theme for the Summit in the preparatory meetings for the Summit.[75] It is an issue being particularly highlighted by UK UNESCO (the National Commission for UNESCO) and its importance was also stressed by the Local Government International Bureau (LGIB).[76]

63. We note that poverty eradication is emerging as a uniting theme for WSSD. We acknowledge that this issue is a prime candidate for a Summit agenda which is seeking to explore global problems in the context of their economic, social and environmental impacts. We therefore hope that the Government will endeavour to ensure that any additional resources agreed at Monterrey are linked explicitly to key action programmes to be discussed at WSSD rather than relegating the Summit to a rehearsal of old stalemates on development policy.

UK expectations for WSSD

64. The Summit is expected to deliver action but there is rather an atmosphere of low ambition. Mr Prescott told us that a successful outcome for the Summit would be if participants felt that it had been successful and there was no obvious breakdown.[77] He believed that, as with all international conferences, it was important not to make demands that were too ambitious, if consensus was to be reached.[78] The DPM acknowledged that it was a very real danger that, in trying not to be overambitious, the Summit could end up as something too vague with little in the way of specifics.[79] He hoped that Johannesburg would deliver a plan of action with associated programmes and a timetable for monitoring and review—in the same way that the Millennium Development Goals and Kyoto Protocol had timetables.[80]

65. Margaret Beckett told us that she was looking for a range of more practical, project-orientated outcomes from the Summit as was therefore particularly enthusiastic about the potential of the Type 2 outcomes that the UK is pushing for.[81]

66. We accept the DPM's concerns that expectations of WSSD should not be over-ambitious if there is to be international consensus. However, expectations should not be pitched too low either. We cannot risk underestimating the nature of the task—achieving consensus and progress on issues such as poverty eradication and access to basic resources such as freshwater, is an ambitious challenge in itself. It will require the UK and other participating nations to be wholeheartedly committed at the outset to engage in delivering some new momentum in these areas.

67. We support the UK Government's push for practical, project-orientated (Type 2) outcomes from the Summit.

UK priorities for the Summit

68. It is important that the UK defines its own priorities for the Summit and plays an active part in influencing its agenda. The DPM told us that he believed that the UK was well positioned to make a strong and focused input to the Summit and that the UK preparations were well advanced and co-ordinated.[82]

69. The Government has set up a number of specific cross-governmental committees to prepare for the Summit and has a number of initiatives in train to engage a wide variety of other stakeholders in the preparations. These are discussed in paras 122-7.

The Cabinet Committee co-ordinating work on WSSD, MISC 18 (see paras 137-140), has agreed the following UK priorities for the Summit:

  • poverty eradication
  • resource productivity (including the development and application of scientific and technical knowledge)
  • sustainable development initiatives for Africa
  • water (freshwater and oceans)
  • access to modern energy
  • capacity building and education

Financing for development and international sustainable development governance will also be key cross-cutting issues.

70. These priorities were largely influenced by the UK's commitments arising from the Rio Earth Summit but a clear political decision has been taken to concentrate on some of the more social and political factors; and to develop sectoral initiatives from these and to engage other stakeholders such as industry to help deliver these initiatives.[83]

71. The Prime Minister announced these initiatives in March 2001.[84] They cover:

  • water
  • energy
  • finance
  • tourism
  • forestry

72. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has applauded the Government for taking this sectoral approach which it sees as the most effective way of engaging business in the preparations for the Summit.[85] Mrs Beckett explained that this initiative was designed to provide a clear pathway for the business community to become involved in the Summit. We commend the Government for this innovative approach.

73. A number of NGOs, including FoE and Christian Aid are working together to promote the idea of corporate accountability which they would like to see as a major issue for discussion at the Summit. However, John Prescott told us that it was not an issue the UK Government wanted to push at the Summit as it still favours voluntary measures in this area.[86] In a supplementary memorandum, the DPM explained that the Government saw Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a primarily business-led agenda but that it was still very active in promoting CSR.[87]

Influencing the EU agenda

74. The UK is also working to the EU priorities for the Summit which have been identified as:

75. The EU agrees common positions to be advanced by the Presidency in the UN negotiations for the Summit. Member States share the responsibility of developing EU positions and the UK has taken the lead on developing a position on poverty and the environment and on action to assist Africa, as well as taking the lead on environmentally sound technology. The EU Environment Council has taken the lead on EU preparations so far but the objectives for the Summit were also discussed in the context of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy at the Barcelona Council in March 2002. Mrs Beckett told us that there had also been discussions in the General Affairs Council, Development Council and ECOFIN as well as at European Council meetings. She was hopeful of further engagement by the Council formations[89] and DEFRA expects that there may be further discussion in the General Affairs Council and the Seville Council (21-22 June 2002).[90]

76. It would certainly be in keeping with the spirit of the 'Cardiff Process', initiated by the UK Presidency in 1998, if a wide range of Council formations did discuss the EU preparations for the Summit. The Treaty of Amsterdam established sustainable development as one of the objectives of the EU and an overarching task of the Community.[91] It also requires that environmental protection 'requirements' are integrated into the definition and implementation of Community policies and activities. The Cardiff European Council (June 1998) invited all relevant formations of the Council of Ministers to establish their own strategies for giving effect to these requirements within their respective policy areas. This helped to translate the Treaty requirements into some tangible action and provides a platform for engaging various Council formations in the preparations for WSSD.

77. We believe that the Government should be advocating discussion of the agenda for WSSD by the European Council of Ministers (in all its formations) just as all departments within the UK Government should be engaged with the preparations for the Summit. This would be consistent with the spirit of the 'Cardiff process' for environmental policy integration which the Government itself instigated during its EU Presidency in 1998.

UK Progress

78. Table 2 sets out the key overarching Government strategies and programmes which have been developed since Rio to provide the overall framework for sustainable development. The UK also has an array of plans, programmes and action plans relating to specific commitments under the Rio conventions, for example the Biodiversity Action Plan[92] and the UK Climate Change Programme.[93] The UK is also aiming to publish a Government Statement on Sustainable Forestry which will form an integral part of the UK's National Forest Programme.[94] The Forestry Commission is undertaking an independently reviewed audit of progress since 1992 on its contribution to the sustainable development agenda in England, Scotland and Wales.


UK Headline Indicators

H1    Economic output (GDP at constant prices)
H2    Investment (current prices)
H3    Employment (% of working age people in work)
H4    Poverty and social exclusion
H5    Education
H6    Health
H7    Housing
H8    Crime (recorded offences per 100,000 population)
—Violent crime
      —Theft of, or from vehicles and domestic
H9    Climate change (greenhouse gases)
H10  Air quality (days of moderate or higher air pollution)
H11  Road traffic (vehicle miles)
H12  River water quality (percentage of total river length)
H13  Wildlife (populations of wild birds)
—Farmland birds
—Woodland birds
H14  Landuse (%new homes on previously developed land)
H15  Waste (arisings and management)

79. At Rio, the participating nations agreed to produce national sustainable development strategies by 2002. This commitment was reaffirmed at Earth Summit +5 in 1997 (see para 13). The UK was one of the first to produce such a strategy in early 1994.[95] In 1997, the incoming Labour Government announced its intention to produce a new strategy which was eventually published in May 1999, entitled 'A Better Quality of Life'.[96] This built upon the 1994 strategy and identified fifteen headline indicators (see box 3) and a core set of around 150 indicators of sustainable development.

80. The Government is now committed to reporting annually on progress by the country as a whole towards sustainable development including a description of progress against the fifteen headline indicators. It is also committed to adjusting policies accordingly when an indicator trend moves in the wrong direction.[97] These indicators are intended to act as a barometer of quality of life in the UK.

81. Mr Prescott summed up the Government's progress on sustainable development as "a lot done, a lot more to do".[98] The RSPB told us that there was little indication of progress towards sustainable development at all in some important sectors such as transport and planning.[99] The SDC also cites transport as one of the most pressing issues that needs to be addressed in the context of sustainable development, along with climate change, food and farming, waste and resource productivity and transport.[100]

Table 2: Key overarching Government sustainable development strategies and programmes.

Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy This built upon the 1990 White Paper on the Environment, This Common Inheritance, and its two successors in that series.
A Better Quality of Life: A strategy for sustainable development for the UK This strategy sets out the key issues and priorities at national scale. The strategy also includes a core set of around 150 indicators of sustainable development, with a sub-set of 15 headline indicators, and a commitment to reporting against them on an annual basis.
Quality of Life Counts:
Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the UK: a baseline assessment
A statistical publication providing historical data in areas covered by the core set of indicators of sustainable development against which future progress can be measured.
Local Quality of Life Counts: A handbook for a menu of local indicators for sustainable development This handbook is intended to offer some ideas for measuring sustainable development and quality of life in local communities.
Regional Quality of Life Counts:
Regional versions of the national "headline"indicators of sustainable development
This is a statistical publication to present the available regional data for each headline indicator and to make this information more readily available at regional and local levels.
Achieving a better quality of life: Review of Progress towards sustainable development. Government Annual Report
Government Sustainable Development Website Launched.
This was the first review of progress in the UK towards sustainable development, as measured against the baseline data provided in December 1999. It was intended to meet the commitment to report annually made in A Better Quality of Life in May 1999.

The website brings together key publications, news and developments relating to sustainable development
Mar 2002Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development.
Government Annual Report 2001
The second report reviewing UK progress towards sustainable development, as measured against the baseline data provided in December 1999.

Reporting against indicators

82. The Government's first annual review of progress towards sustainable development was not published until January 2001.[101] It could only point to limited improvement in many of the indicators and acknowledged that the data did "not paint a universally rosy picture". Headline indicators on violent crime and urban and rural pollution showed sharp rises. In addition, road traffic, wildlife and waste displayed unsustainable trends. The progress of all fifteen indicators is set out in Table 3 and contrasted with the findings of the 2001 Annual report which was published on 13 March 2002.

Table 3: Progress of UK Headline Sustainable Development Indicators

Government Annual Report 2000
Government Annual Report 2001
Change over last year
Change since 1990
Change since strategy
Economic output
Poverty & social exclusion
(no new data)
(no data)
Crime: violent
Crime: vehicle, burglary
Climate change
Air quality
Road traffic
River water quality
— (farmland)
* (woodland)
Land use
* (household)
no data (other)
(no new data)
(no data)


*  Significant change in direction of meeting objective
—  No significant change
*  Significant change in direction away from meeting objective


1. The table summarises the "traffic light" indicators included in the Government's annual reports on progress towards sustainable development.
2. The Government Annual Report 2000, Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development, was published by the DETR in January 2001. See Table 3.2 pages 37-38.
3. The Government Annual Report 2001, Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development, was published by DEFRA in March 2002. See Figure 3.1 pages 53-56.

83. The latest annual report will be submitted to the UN before the Summit.[102] DEFRA reports that ten of the fifteen indicators show progress in the right direction. Of the five not moving in the right direction, violent crime has risen 20 per cent, road traffic was classified as showing no change but was up by 4 per cent; and the waste indicator was declared null and void due to "insufficient or incomparable" data.[103]

84. DEFRA's associated press release heralded this report as showing that life in Britain was "getting a lot better" though there "was room for improvement in some areas".[104] Mrs Beckett told us that you could interpret the report's findings as either finding the glass half full or half empty.[105] She accepted that despite some good progress there were still a lot of problems to overcome.[106]

85. This Committee was an early proponent of annual reporting against core sustainable development indicators and we take a keen interest in their progress.[107] We therefore intend to consider the 2001 Annual Report in more detail and will be discussing its findings with the Environment Minister, Mr Michael Meacher, later in the Spring.

86. We are concerned that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is seeking to portray the latest quality of life indicators as demonstrating improvement in UK quality of life when in fact the picture is mixed. Areas such as landuse, traffic and violent crime show worrying trends.

Reporting to the UN

87. In advance of WSSD, the UN has suggested that all participating nations should conduct national assessments of progress since Rio—"national progressions". These are expected to define what has been achieved so far, the barriers to progress and ways towards a more sustainable way of life. In September 2001, the UK Government published its country report entitled "Review and Assessment of Progress made by the United Kingdom in the implementation of Agenda 21 at National and Regional Levels" to assist its preparations for the Summit. Disappointingly, this is little more than a list of every UK initiative related to a social, economic or environmental policy. It contains no critical assessment of where the UK has got to in the implementation of Agenda 21 and is not the warts and all assessment that the UN is seeking.

88. The Council for Environmental Education (CEE) believes that education should have a high status within the UK submission to the Summit and has pointed out that the UK does not appear to be reporting on its progress against the education targets set at Rio.[108]

73   28 January-8 February 2002. Back

74   Q. 8. Back

75   Q. 27. Back

76   Ev 17. Back

77   Q. 114. Back

78   Q. 90. Back

79   Q. 115. Back

80   Q. 128. Back

81   QQ. 298 and 330. Back

82   Q. 66. Back

83   Q. 123. Back

84   Speech to WWF, Environment: The Next Steps, 6 March 2001. Back

85   Ev 156. Back

86   Q. 95. Back

87   Ev 53. Back

88   SN 100/02 Presidency conclusions, Barcelona European Council 15-16 March 2002, p. 28, para. 7. Back

89   Q. 295. Back

90   Ev 90. Back

91   Agreed in October 1997 and came into force in May 1999. Back

92   Cm 2428, Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan, January 1994. Back

93   Cm 4913, Climate Change: The UK Programme, DETR, November 2000. Back

94   Ev 89. Back

95   Cm 2426, Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy, January 1994. Back

96   A Better Quality of Life: A strategy for sustainable development for the UK, May 1999. Back

97   Ev 88. Back

98   Q. 84. Back

99   Ev 3. Back

100   Ev 70-72. Back

101   Achieving a better quality of life: Review of progress towards sustainable development-Government Annual Report 2000, DETR, 25 January 2001. Back

102   Ev 88. Back

103   For the period 1998/9-2000/1. Back

104   DEFRA News Release 98/02, UK quality of life barometer rises-Meacher, 13 March 2002 Back

105   Q. 304. Back

106   Q. 306. Back

107   Second Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 1997-98, The Greening Government Initiative, HC 517-I Back

108   Ev 157. Back

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