Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


Structures and processes

89. The UK has made good progress in establishing processes and structures—a traditional strength in UK Government—to implement Agenda 21 and sustainable development objectives. These include the Cabinet Committee ENV, the Green Ministers' Committee (now a new sub-committee—ENV(G)),[109] the SDU (housed within DEFRA), the SDC and indeed the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee itself. The Government has also sought to develop integrated policy appraisal tools.[110] Collectively, these are often referred to as elements of the 'Greening Government' initiative and we monitor the effectiveness of these mechanisms on a regular basis.[111]

90. Sustainable development has also been incorporated into the legal duties and powers of a number of organisations: local authorities, the Environment Agency, Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), the Strategic Rail Authority and the devolved administrations. It has yet to feature in the duties of utility regulators but they do have secondary duties to have regard to environmental and social matters.

Local Government

91. Much of Agenda 21 refers to the need for local and community action to put its principles of long-term planning and the integration of economic, social and environmental concerns into practice. Local authorities have translated Agenda 21 into Local Agenda 21 (LA21).

92. In June 1997, the Prime Minister set a target for all local communities to have LA21 strategies in place by 31 December 2000. Over 90 per cent of local authorities met the target but the LGIB reports that the quality of the strategies was patchy.[112]

93. After Rio, a UK National Agenda 21 Steering Committee was set up to advise and oversee progress at the local level. A Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) was also set up in the Local Government Management Board.[113] The SDU supported local authorities in their implementation of Agenda 21. These structures have now been reorganised and the SDU disbanded to accommodate local authorities' new duty to prepare Community Strategies for promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas and thereby contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK.[114] These strategies are expected to provide a framework for tying together a range of local initiatives including LA21 and the Government expects local authorities to build on their existing LA21 partnerships. The LGIB and WWF cautioned that sustainable development expertise built up through LA21 work in local government should not be lost.[115]

94. We see some signs that this institutional machinery is starting to generate policy changes. In Spending Review 2002 (SR2002), the Treasury required all departments to submit sustainable development reports with their bids. This move has been widely welcomed by ourselves, NGOs and the SDC.[116] It was billed by Margaret Beckett as DEFRA's "greatest success" although she admitted that she had been somewhat "astonished" to get the Treasury on board.[117]

95. Unfortunately, the Treasury has indicated that it will not be making these reports publicly available as they are part of departmental bids. In our February 2002 report on the Pre-Budget Report 2001, we accepted that the Treasury's concerns about making these reports available during the Spending Review process. However, we made it clear that we saw little reason to keep them secret once the conclusions of the review had been made public. We have made a request to receive these reports so that we can audit them in line with our remit from the House. At the very least we expect Treasury to allow the National Audit Office to audit these reports and report the results to us.[118] Jonathon Porritt, confirmed that the SDC was also pursuing this matter.[119]

96. However despite these positive moves, the SDC believes that the UK is nowhere near making the kind of structural and policy changes that will be needed to the economy and society to deliver sustainable outcomes. The Commission also concludes that the Government has yet to embrace sustainable development as a central driver of policy formulation.[120] Dr Paul Jefferiss of the RSPB agreed that sustainable development still stood outside mainstream policy-making.[121] He felt that there were a set of structures to deliver sustainability but implementation, in particular in economic sectors, has either been incomplete or contradictory.[122]

97. Sustainable Development needs to be integral to every department's work but is still largely seen as the responsibility of DEFRA. Jonathon Porritt, Chairman of the SDC, told us that there were question marks concerning the degree to which government departments had understood how far sustainable development needed to act as a framework within which they pursued their policies rather than something they just needed to add on to everything they were doing.[123] The RSPB felt that policies still lacked the coherence that the unifying objective of sustainable development could offer.[124]

98. Much of the evidence we received singled out the Government's recent Green Paper on Planning as an example of a key policy proposal where the concept of sustainable development was noticeably absent despite an early reference to it.[125]

99. The Council for Environmental Education (CEE) outlines many successful and exemplar government initiatives in this area but maintains that education for sustainable development is still too often seen as a costly bolt-on rather than as a means and opportunity to better achieve existing goals for education and sustainable development.[126] The CEE is now calling for a national strategy on sustainable development education across all education sectors. It believes that the WSSD presents an excellent opportunity to review the many UK educational initiatives, to learn from them, and to develop a coherent strategy.[127]

100. Our analysis is that we are still far from putting sustainable development at the heart of policy-making and it is nowhere near the heart of economic policy-making. For example, the Treasury appraises all Budget measures which have a significant impact on the environment or serve an environmental purpose but does not assess the environmental impact of the majority of fiscal measures. As the RSPB point out, although, Department's spending bids will be assessed for sustainability in advance they will not be reported on or evaluated against sustainability criteria afterwards.[128]

101. Following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit there was no systematic, independent scrutiny of the UK's implementation of the agreements in the context of sustainable development—although select committees and others have scrutinised aspects of the Rio agreements.[129] The Environmental Audit Committee now exists and are we are well-placed to scrutinise the implementation of any commitments agreed at the WSSD.

102. We acknowledge that the Government has put in place much of the machinery necessary to generate policies with sustainable development at their heart. However, these are far from delivering their full potential because few departments consider sustainable development to be central to their activities.

103. We recommend that the Government makes efforts to ensure that all departments make full use of the structures and processes which have already been set up to deliver policies consistent with sustainable development. Such engagement will be key to implementing any new commitments agreed at Johannesburg.

Generating enthusiasm and action at home

104. Kofi Annan has said that the key is to make sustainable development matter to people in their everyday lives and turn it into a daily reality.[130] Both DEFRA and the Sustainable Development Commission accept that this is a major challenge.[131]

105. However, it is not every day that a World Summit on Sustainable Development comes along and the Government needs to seize the marketing opportunity which it brings to generate interest and engagement in sustainable development issues at home as well as seeking to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the preparations for the Summit itself. The Summit also offers an opportunity to demonstrate that the UK is meeting its international responsibilities, and is working to improve the quality of life for this and future generations.[132]

Presenting clear messages

106. DEFRA is keen to ensure that the participation and contribution to the Summit preparations is bottom-up and not perceived as Government-led. The Department is also conscious that Government campaigns can turn people off no matter how many speeches Ministers make.[133] However, the Government does have a clear responsibility to ensure that it presents a coherent vision, as one voice, when giving out messages about what sustainable development means in practice.

107. DEFRA has lead responsibility for promoting sustainable development which includes encouraging public participation. It is also responsible for the upkeep of the Government's sustainable development website.[134] The Department sees itself as having a central role in raising awareness of the WSSD. The Sustainable Development Commission also has a role in this area as it is charged with deepening the understanding of the concept of sustainable development and raising awareness of the issues which it raises in the UK.

108. The Government's Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP)[135] recently reported that there was a "hunger" for clear and consistent messages from Government and others about sustainable development. They would like to see relevant Government departments providing "information in parallel, linked by a communication campaign with common threads" from which sustainable development education would follow, leading to positive action at all levels.[136] They comment that the Prime Minister's two recent speeches[137] began to meet this need, but were mainly reported in specialist media to those already sensitised and committed.[138] The Panel points to the Green Ministers as being in a powerful position to provide the necessary consistency of approach.

109. It is important that Ministers across Government take on a leadership role in explaining and articulating sustainable development as it relates to particular policy areas. We fully endorse the Sustainable Development Commission's suggestion that each Cabinet Minister should make a key note speech on a sustainable development theme in the run up to the Summit.[139]


110. The Government has started to develop a communications campaign for WSSD and DEFRA has responsibility for the overall Communications Strategy for WSSD (see Ev 93-98). This strategy has been agreed inter-departmentally and was signed off by MISC 18 in December 2001. It is key to delivering the consistency of approach recommended by the SDEP and recognises the awareness-raising opportunities discussed above in paras 104-9.

111. DEFRA is currently establishing a wider stakeholder group to consider the strategy and identify ways in which the Department can work with a wide variety of organisations and individuals to take forward the ideas in the strategy. DEFRA also sees this group as an opportunity for stakeholders to feed in any views they might have on UK preparations.

112. It is important that efforts are made to engage the public in sufficient time so that they can participate in the preparations for WSSD as little or as much as they choose. However, this clearly needs to be balanced with the need to avoid 'Summit fatigue'. Friends of the Earth told us that they are not even going to try and start raising the issue of the Summit too early as they will have to spend half of their time explaining what it is all about before they can get on to saying what they would like to see come out of it.[140] They therefore expect a lot of the public momentum around the Summit to be back-loaded to the month or so preceding the Summit. They acknowledge that unfortunately this will be too late to focus minds before the negotiating business is largely concluded at the Ministerial PrepCom in Bali in June.

113. Mr Prescott discussed the difficulties of making sustainable development press worthy. He told us "we keep plugging it...but if we ring a journalist up and ask to talk to them about sustainability they will say "Call me next week".[141] WWF is concerned that there has been a "sad lack of interest" in the Summit by the general public, not aided by the lack of media debate.[142] The Woodland Trust welcomed the manner in which NGOs like themselves had been able to contribute to the formulation of UK preparations but believed that greater efforts were needed to highlight the importance of WSSD to the media, business and general public.

Departmental input

114. According to DEFRA, all departments have agreed to identify relevant opportunities to promote WSSD at either Ministerial or official level and to link any relevant web sites to the sustainable development site. DEFRA's Director of Communications has contacted other departments to highlight the importance and relevance of the Summit.[143]

115. DEFRA is clearly trying to set a good example and its sustainable development website is comprehensive. We are pleased to note that DEFRA also took the opportunity of its latest annual report on UK progress towards sustainable development to include a separate chapter on the WSSD and UK preparations.[144]

116. DEFRA held a discussion forum on its sustainable development site over summer 2001 to give people the opportunity to indicate what they felt was important for the Summit. However, disappointingly there were less than a dozen participants. The Department is considering doing something similar, closer to the Summit, which it hopes will generate more interest.[145] We asked whether Mrs Beckett might participate in an on-line chat herself as the European Commissioner, Margot Wallström had done. Mrs Wallström has had four on-line chats over the last 2 years and received over 700 messages for her session in April 2001 on the EU's Sixth Environmental Action Programme. Mrs Beckett took the idea away with her as "a very interesting suggestion".[146]

117. Some departments are certainly 'doing their bit'. The Summit's agenda sits well with DfID's own aims and objectives, and the Department is using the current round of Development Policy Fora to raise environmental issues and the profile of the Summit more generally.[147]

118. DfES told us that it was publicising its preparations for the Summit through Ministerial participation in events around the 'Our World' schools challenge. This is a WWF project which DEFRA, DfES and the Devolved administrations are currently funding. The aim of this imaginative project is to actively engage young people in preparations for the Summit. Schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have been invited to submit sustainable development projects and the four winners will get a 'makeover' for their school and the opportunity to go to the Summit.

119. Unfortunately, we find that many departments cannot point to any awareness raising activities linked to the Summit at all and have yet to flag up the event through their websites or even provide links to the Government's sustainable development website. HM Treasury, a key department, openly admitted that it had not actively publicised the Summit or its own involvement.[148] This does little to support the "economic" angle of sustainable development.

120. We welcome the preparation of the Government Communications Strategy for WSSD. However, the late appearance of this strategy means that there has been little impetus for departments to start to 'drip-feed' messages about the Summit at an early stage. Now, with five months until the Summit, there is little evidence of a sound foundation of public awareness upon to which to launch a more powerful media offensive nearer the Summit itself. It is crucial that the Government makes good use of the time it has left to generate some enthusiasm for the event.

121. We support the recommendation of the Sustainable Development Commission that all Cabinet Ministers should make a key note speech on sustainable development in the run up to the Summit.


122. The Government has funded UNED-UK,[149] to carry out a consultative process with civil society[150] and has also supported the UK Development and Environment Group. This is a working group of British Overseas NGOs for Development(BOND) which brings together development and environment NGOs. This support is in line with the UN's request that civil society should be as involved as much as possible in the preparations for the Summit. UNED-UK has held three national conferences on the WSSD since March 2001 and is now actively engaging 350 different representatives in its dialogue groups.

123. UNED-UK reports that the NGO sector, including the environment and development NGOs is well represented as are women's organisations, local government and the scientific community. However, it finds the business community to be represented to a lesser extent and the most under represented to be farmers and indigenous peoples. UNED-UK is advocating that if WSSD is to be a success, the process of stakeholder involvement must continue far beyond 2002, to ensure that the recommendations and future policies are practical and easily implemented.[151]


124. Business has been engaging in the PrepCom process through Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD). BASD is a joint initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The organisation has been formed to ensure that business rallies its collective forces for WSSD. Its key aim is to mobilise and present business organisations' own initiatives which demonstrate progress against Agenda 21.[152]

125. Some have questioned the degree of leadership shown by the business community on sustainability issues in the run-up to the Summit.[153] UNED-UK hopes that future collaboration with DEFRA, BASD, and the Prime Minister's business initiatives will draw business interests further into the debate.[154]

126. Sheila McCabe, Head of DEFRA's Environment Protection International Division, told us that until the WSSD agenda was refined it was hard for business to devote time and resources to such a wide agenda.[155] Mrs Beckett expected the business community to become more engaged when they could "actually see what there is to engage with".[156] She highlighted the important work already being done on the financial services initiative (one of the Prime Minister's five sectoral initiatives set out in para 71) by the City of London and others on developing a set of principles to ensure that consideration of the impact of private financing on sustainable development is mainstreamed into City activities.[157] The major financial service companies will be asked to commit to implementing these Principles on a voluntary basis.

127. In a supplementary memorandum, the DPM confirmed that the Government believed that business could play a key role in poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development and was therefore encouraging greater engagement from business—particularly at WSSD.[158] We note that Mr Scot Ghagan, Senior External Affairs Adviser at Shell International, is currently on secondment from DEFRA to help BASD engage in the Summit. Mr Ghagan gave evidence to us as a Steering Committee Member of BASD.

UK Preparatory Mechanisms for the Summit

128. In this section we discuss the key elements of the Whitehall machinery which has been put in place for the Summit. A full run-down of the UK's preparations is provided in DEFRA's memorandum.[159] This information is also available on the Government's sustainable development website.[160]

129. It is widely recognised by NGOs and others that the UK is one of the most advanced in preparing for the Summit both domestically and internationally. However, even the UK could be said to have got off to a fairly slow start in preparing for the Summit. UNED-UK advocated preparations in 1998 but these didn't really get underway until late in 2000.[161] John Prescott acknowledged this although he pointed out that the UK had been actively participating in other relevant UN conferences. He explained that the UK had been very much caught up in trying to progress the Kyoto agreement and had put a lot of political energy into that because "the public felt that something was going wrong in climate change".[162]

130. It is also likely—but impossible to prove—that the post-election reorganisation of Whitehall and departmental responsibilities in June 2001 disrupted UK preparations. The Environment Protection Group and Wildlife and Countryside Directorate were transferred to the newly created Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from their previous home, the now defunct Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. As we commented in our report on this restructuring,[163] this kind of large-scale reorganisation risks diverting both senior and junior personnel from their main task of policy development and delivery. Indeed Mrs Beckett acknowledged that the industrial dispute in particular which DEFRA was subject to early in its creation, had had an impact on the department's overall work and there had been some concerns that DEFRA's services to stakeholders might be affected.[164]

131. Witnesses praised the efforts of DEFRA's Environment Protection International division. UNED-UK told us that they had the sense that the team did not have the resources to do as much as they would like.[165] Mrs Beckett told us that she was "reasonably well resourced" for the Summit with a team of twelve, full time and enthusiastic staff.[166] LGIB commented that UNED-UK had also performed well despite scarce resources.[167]

132. We find UK preparations for WSSD to be comprehensive and well-organised despite inadequate resources, particularly within DEFRA. Although we would have welcomed an earlier start to these preparations, we commend the Government for its strategic and inclusive approach.

109   For further information on the structure and composition of these committees please see Back

110   For a more detailed discussion of environmental policy appraisals, please see: First Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2001-02, on Departmental Responsibilities for Sustainable Development, HC 326, para 32. Back

111   For example, Second Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 1997-8, The Greening Government Initiative, HC 517-I and Fifth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 1999-2000, The Greening Government Initiative: First Annual Report from the Green Ministers Committee, HC 341. Back

112   Q. 61. Back

113   Ev 17. Back

114   Part I of the Local Government Act 2000. Back

115   Ev 20 para 3.9. Interim report for the UK Local Sustainability Group, making the transitions from LA21 to Community Strategies, WWF-UK, March 2001 [not printed]. Back

116   Ev 69. Back

117   Q. 317. Back

118   Second Report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2001-01, Pre-Budget Report 2001: An new agenda?, HC 363-I, para 51. Back

119   Q. 211. Back

120   Ev 69. Back

121   Ev 3. Back

122   Q. 52. Back

123   Q. 200. Back

124   Ev 3. Back

125   Woodland Trust p2, English Nature para 2.6. Back

126   CEE is a national umbrella body representing eighty national organisations committed to environmental and sustainable development education. Back

127   Ev 160. Back

128   Ev 3. Back

129   For example, Third Report of the House of Commons Environment Committee, Session 1990-1, Climatological and Environment Effects of Rainforest Destruction, HC 48-i, Twelfth Report of the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, UK Biodiversity-interim report, Session 1999/2000, HC 444-I Back

130   14 March 2001, quoted in achieving a better quality of life: review of progress towards sustainable development: Government Annual Report 2001, DEFRA, March 2002. Back

131   Q. 248. Back

132   Ev 93, Annex I. Back

133   Letter of invitation from Michelle Cameron, Environment Protection International, DEFRA to stakeholders regarding membership of DEFRA's Communications Strategy Consultative Group on WSSD,11 March 2002. Back

134 Back

135   The SDEP is an advisory body established in February 1998 by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Panel includes Members from business, local government education and the voluntary sector. Its purpose is to work to identify gaps, opportunities, priorities and partnerships for action in providing sustainable development in England, and to highlight good practice. Back

136   Ibid para 46 c) and d). Back

137   Richer and Greener, 24 October 2000 and The Next Steps, 6 March 2001. Back

138   SDEP, Fourth Annual Report, Education for Sustainable Development-Learning to create quality of life, 31 January 2002, para 45 c). Back

139   Ev 74. Back

140   Q. 32. Back

141   Q. 112. Back

142   Ev 180. Back

143   Ev 92. Back

144   DEFRA, Achieving a better quality of life, Progress towards sustainable development, Government annual report 2001, March 2002. Back

145   Ev 92. Back

146   Q. 361. Back

147   Ev 57. Back

148   Treasury para 2. Back

149   The United Nations Environment Programme's National Committee for the United Kingdom. Back

150   For example, Institutions and organisations situated between the state, the business world, and the family including voluntary and non-profit organisations, philanthropic institutions, social and political movements. Back

151   UNED-UK, para 4.0. Back

152   BASD memo. Back

153   Q. 17. Back

154   Ev 2. Back

155   Q. 342. Back

156   Q. 343. Back

157   The Government, the Corporation of London, major City institutions and Forum for the Future's Centre for Sustainable Finance are developing these Principles. The cover: responsible asset ownership, pricing and access to financial and risk management products. Further information is available at Back

158   Ev 53. Back

159   Ev 90-91. Back

160 Back

161   Q. 42. Back

162   Q. 116. Back

163   First Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2001-02 on Departmental Responsibilities for Sustainable Development, HC 326, para 11. Back

164   Ibid, para 11. Back

165   Q. 45. Back

166   Q. 291. Back

167   Ev 17, para 2.2. Back

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