Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)
RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER MP, MR JOHN ADAMS AND MR STEPHEN HALL
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
120. And would you now think it might be important to have that, although it is only 57 per cent and not 60 per cent, it is not that far from target; but surely there is an issue here that needs to be addressed, if that proposal were to go ahead?
(Mr Meacher) If there were an intention to change the target, in order to meet the long-term trend, I think that would be a significant issue; but this issue has not been raised with me.
121. Minister, you said you thought that this country compared very well with other countries on issues, for example, climate change, and I understand that the European Union is developing sustainability indicators of this kind; will they be similar to these indicators, or will they build on these indicators, or will they complement them?
(Mr Meacher) I think they will. The European Commission produced a synthesis report to the spring Ministerial Council, which integrated seven environmental indicators into the suite of social and economic indicators, which were already there, and they covered greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, share of renewables, volumes of transport and modal split of transport, air quality and municipal waste.
122. Ah, municipal waste?
(Mr Meacher) Yes; municipal waste.
(Mr Meacher) ToucheĢ. All of which are indeed covered by the UK headline indicators, although no doubt you will say that municipal waste is only partially covered by
124. So it does not cover land use?
(Mr Meacher) No.
125. And it does not cover wildlife?
(Mr Meacher) No.
126. It does not cover river water quality?
(Mr Meacher) No.
127. So there are some considerable discrepancies?
(Mr Meacher) Ours goes wider, yes; but those that they have chosen are more or less the same as we have in our set of headline indicators, and maybe they will decide to extend them further, we would encourage them to do so, of course.
128. Do they publish them annually?
(Mr Hall) Yes, it is going to be the annual synthesis report from now on. This is the first one, this spring.
129. When will that be published?
(Mr Hall) It has been published, in the spring. There is going to be a wider pool of indicators from which they are going to choose a small set to put into the synthesis report each year, and there are indicators in that wider pool covering biodiversity and water quality and water resources. But the synthesis report is going to focus on particular topics and it will select the indicators to put into the report for that particular year.
130. So for the first time we will have quality of life indicators over a range of countries, on a reasonably rational basis, though not entirely the same?
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
131. We have, of course, and you are probably aware of this, the World Economic Forum already publishes an Environmental Sustainability Index, which presumably does the same thing, it covers a range of countries?
(Mr Meacher) It is not the same thing.
132. It covers a range of countries though?
(Mr Meacher) It covers a range of countries, and a large range of countries.
133. And it is attempting to measure quality of life, just as the Government is attempting to measure quality of life and so is the European Union. And I understand that we fell from 16th to 91st in this Sustainability Index, which Mrs Beckett poo-pooed, on the grounds that the weighting was different and therefore wrong. Have you any comments on that?
(Mr Meacher) You will not be surprised to hear me say, Mr Chairman, that I actually believe this; this is a very good example of lies, damn lies and statistics. If you have a different choice of components and you apply different weightings one year to another, you get completely different results.
134. Are you saying they apply different weightings between one year and another?
(Mr Meacher) As far as I know, that is true.
That cannot be true, surely?
(Mr Hall) They themselves say that the Index that was published for 2002 is not comparable with the Index they published in the previous year.
136. That is very strange.
(Mr Meacher) If you change the components, there are a very large number of components, and if you change those components and you change the weightings that are given then you cannot get a valid basis for comparison, whatever.
137. As a matter of fact, we understand, our information is, I do not know what your information is, that they actually increase the weighting for greenhouse gases, on which we would expect to do well, and yet we fell from 16th to 91st?
(Mr Meacher) That is just one component. It did contain 67 indicators, 22 environmental sustainability sub-indices, so it had a very large number of components and factors; and we have had the discussion this afternoon about how you underpin, in a precise, accurate and rational way, any one particular component. The more you multiply that, the more uncertain the results, and if you get a single aggregate measure which purports to bring all of them together into one single measurement, whether we are at 16, which is good, or 91, which is bad, I think the whole exercise is profoundly flawed, not just because we slipped, if we had gone in the other direction I would have said exactly the same; this is not a good exercise.
138. Though, curiously enough, the countries which normally do well on these indices, such as Finland and Norway and Sweden, did well in this particular set, in both years?
(Mr Adams) Some of them did, but some countries you might expect to have done well did quite badly. I think, Japan, for example, is 78th on that list.
139. Right; but Japan you would not expect to do well with those?
(Mr Adams) Not with those, but you would expect it to be not two-thirds of the way down.