Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from the Northern Ireland Assembly to the Clerk of the Committee

Thank you for your 6 February 2002 letter to Mr Foster asking about the extent to which Northern Ireland has been involved in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg later this year. Following Mr Foster's resignation your letter has been passed to Mr Nesbitt who has taken up post as Minister of the Environment. The Minister has read your letter and asked me to reply.

  The approach in Northern Ireland to the World Summit on Sustainable Development should be seen in the context of the priorities set by the Northern Ireland Executive Committee.

  In its Programme for Government (PfG), endorsed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in December 2001, the Northern Ireland Executive has set out its vision for the future of society in Northern Ireland. That vision is one of a peaceful, cohesive, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the "achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust and the protection and vindication of the human rights of all". As an integral element of delivering on that vision, the PfG went on to state that: "Sustainable Development will be a key theme running through our work and priorities."

  This commitment to sustainable development is demonstrated by the adoption in the PfG of "Promoting Sustainable Living" as a cross-cutting theme and pursuing priorities such as "Growing as a Community", "Working for a Healthier People" and "Securing a Competitive Economy".

  There is already a substantial platform of existing and developing strategic policies in Northern Ireland which reflect Sustainable Development principles and take an integrated approach to tackling issues. These provide solid foundations on which to build, reflecting the fact that sustainable development is a core theme running through the PfG which sets the overall direction for the Executive.

  The Executive has also recognised the necessity to garner the ideas of as many sectors, groups and individuals as possible to encourage greater participation in the promotion of sustainable development principles. It therefore gave a commitment to publish proposals for a Northern Ireland Sustainable Development Strategy. The Department of the Environment plans to consult publicly on these proposals in the near future.

  The consultation will refer to the commitment set out in the PfG that the Executive will seek to promote sustainable living in Northern Ireland in an increasingly integrated way that will embed the principles of sustainable development in the rural and urban economy. It will recognise that we will want to report on progress in Northern Ireland against integrated social, economic and environmental objectives and that we will use the UK headline indicators as a basis for doing that. However, we will be seeking views on whether these are appropriate for Northern Ireland and if there are other indicators needed. This consultation will link to the preparations for WSSD.

  There have been a number of contributions already in Northern Ireland to the run-up to WSSD. The Department of the Environment sponsored a day-long conference involving a cross-section of civic society to feed into the UK, UNED-UK process of collating a civic response.

  In addition the Department is also working in partnership with WWF on "Our World Project". This Project is a joint venture between WWF, the UK Government and the devolved administrations. Its aim is to offer young people in the UK an opportunity to add their voice to the debates on environment and poverty in the lead-up to WSSD. As part of that project, a young person from Northern Ireland, one of four Earth Champions from each of the winning schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will be selected to fly to Johannesburg to play a real and active role at the Summit as part of the UK Government or WWF delegation.

  Earlier this month Belfast played host to the Department for International Development's Development Policy Forum. This was the first of a series of 11 to be held throughout the UK during the first half of 2002 and focus on globalisation and its potential to reduce world poverty. The Northern Ireland forum was well attended by our major stakeholders with an interest in this area. It looked at three key issues all within the context of the changes which globalisation is bringing ie environment and development, trade and development and private sector and development.

  As you are aware, the Minister of the Environment here has been invited to attend meetings of the MISC 18 Ministerial Group on the WSSD. Unfortunately Mr Nesbitt's predecessor, Sam Foster, was not able to attend because of Assembly and Executive business. However, he did write to the Deputy Prime Minister explaining the position but lending his support to the process. Mr Nesbitt hopes to attend future meetings subject to the demands of Executive and Assembly business. In addition, officials are receiving papers from the Steering Group on WSSD chaired by DEFRA and will contribute to the process where the agenda is likely to touch on Northern Ireland interests.

Evelyn Hoy

Private Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

March 2002

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