WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2002
Mr John Horam, in the Chair
MR ROBERT LOWSON, Director, Environment Protection Strategy, MS HELEN LEGGETT, Head of Branch, SDU, and MR ANDREW RANDALL, Policy Adviser, Environment Protection International, DEFRA, examined.
(Mr Lowson) Perhaps just a word of introduction. My name is Robert Lowson and I head DEFRA's Environment Protection Strategy directorate. I am accompanied this afternoon by Andrew Randall who helps coordinate our work on the sustainable development side and by Helen Leggett who is in the Sustainable Development Unit which sits within my directorate in DEFRA. I am very glad to have this opportunity to give evidence to this hearing. It was our impression that the Committee's earlier inquiry helped to raise the profile of the UK's preparations for the summit and now we are embarked on a process, which I hope we share, of ensuring that the commitments are properly followed up. DEFRA is still finalising proposals on exactly how this is going to be done and I imagine that Mrs Beckett will be able to say a lot more about this when she appears before the Committee in January. By then I hope too that we will have produced the UK's annual report on sustainable development which will also inform the Committee.
(Mr Lowson) Yes.
(Mr Lowson) It is a firm intention. On that basis, I am very happy to have this opportunity to talk about the outcome of the summit and the way we are going forward.
(Mr Lowson) Do not expect there to be a change tomorrow afternoon because the summit was not about signing up to new commitments that would be implemented immediately. Kofi Annan described what the purpose of the summit was in his opening remarks as being not to rip up the fabric but to weave in new strands of knowledge and cooperation. We wholly abide by that. The outcome of the summit has been to intensify and develop the process of pushing forward sustainability that we were embarked on anyway, in which the UK Government was a leading figure. That said, there were a good many concrete results from the conference. We went to Johannesburg with an objective of making globalisation work for sustainable development, particularly for the poorest. We identified a number of headline areas where we wished to make progress. Overall, the Government thinks that Johannesburg did make progress, that it built successfully on last year's Doha talks on the new trade round, on the Marrakech accords on climate change and on this year's Monterrey conclusions about financial development. It therefore fits into an ongoing rhythm of multinational cooperation to promote sustainability and particularly to benefit the poorest part of the world's population. Among the concrete things which the conference agreed was a new target to halve by 2015 the proportion of the people in the world living without basic sanitation, which supports the existing millennium development goals on safe drinking water and health. There are also targets and timetables on the safe handling of chemicals, biodiversity, marine protection and fish stocks. There is to be joint action on reliable and affordable energy provision for the poor and urgently and substantially to increase the global share of renewable energy. The developed countries agreed to lead the way on developing a ten year framework of programmes to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable consumption and production. None of these will be changing on the day after the conference concludes, but they represent commitments to ongoing programmes of action. As Mrs Beckett said in describing the outcomes of the conference last month, the right way to look at Johannesburg is as the beginning of the process rather than the conclusion. In addition to these multilateral conclusions, over 300 new partnerships were launched at the summit which represented over $235 million of new resource. We have provided a table setting out the detail of that. In these partnership areas, there is concrete action underway already, for example, in some of the water initiatives that have been taken with African countries, in the development of sustainable tourism initiatives, in the promotion of sustainable financial instruments. Things are beginning to change and were beginning to change, even before the summit concluded, particularly in the area of partnerships. It was certainly our intention that we were not going to Johannesburg to sign new statements. We were going to Johannesburg to do things which would change people's lives and we are confident that, over the time to come, that is what will happen.
(Mr Lowson) I have never thought whether it was one out of ten or ten out of ten. The conference did not have to succeed at all; against the background of an unpromising international, economic environment and political strains around the world, it was not a given that the parties to the conference would come away from the conference having agreed anything.The fact that they did and maintained a multinational approach to dealing with the consequences of globalisation was itself a valuable step. In some ways, the conference broke new ground. The 300-plus new partnerships that I mentioned were in no sense a substitute for international, multilateral action; they were an additional means of delivering the objective of sustainable development using the Johannesburg Summit as a framework within which to adopt them. The prominence that these partnerships achieved at the conference is one of those elements that would push the score up in the direction of ten. One of the elements that would push the score down is the extent of the involvement of non-governmental parties. The negotiation at the end was clearly a negotiation between governments and the intentions which had been clearly expressed in the early months of negotiations -- we are talking about a process which had run on for two years or more -- to involve non-governmental players more than in conventional, multilateral negotiations faltered. It was not clear that the involvement of non-governmental parties in the event led to outcomes that were different from conventional, multilateral negotiations. That said, during Johannesburg there was a series of discussions chaired by the South Africans, facilitated by the Dutch Minister, Mr Pronk, involving a wide range of stakeholders on the five specific topics which the Secretary General had identified as crucial to the future of sustainable development. Those events seem to me to signpost an interesting and important way forward, a way of bringing non-governmental parties more actively into the negotiating process. It is perhaps disappointing that those did not happen earlier because happening at the last stage of the negotiating process meant that it was very difficult to integrate the outcome of that process into the final results.
(Mr Lowson) More than five.
(Mr Lowson) You are absolutely right that part of the background to the conference was indeed to look backwards to how well the world had done in meeting the commitments that it had taken on in Rio. A large part of the documentation that the conference had in front of it was around that objective. Throughout the preparatory process and throughout the conference itself, there was a growing realisation that the world could not be satisfied with the progress that had been made. There was a need not just to take new agreements, although these were taken in some new areas such as the sanitation target that I have already mentioned. There was also a genuine need for parties to recommit themselves to some of the things which they had already pointed themselves towards at Rio.
(Mr Lowson) I would share some of that concern. It is necessary to examine why the world has fallen short in the delivery of some of the commitments that it entered into at Rio and do something about it. That is, in my view, what is happening.
(Mr Lowson) Where it is necessary and appropriate to do that, we will look at ways of filling those gaps but in a lot of cases these are gaps which have arisen because the conference did not reach the unilateral agreements that are touched on in those areas.
(Mr Lowson) It is certainly the UK's view that there is scope for more partnerships to develop, not as a substitute for multilateral action but as an addition to multilateral action. We think an important strand of the future work at the international level will be to develop means of promoting further coalitions of the willing. That is what these are. That is the difference between a multilateral agreement and a partnership. With a multilateral agreement, there is bound to be a level of compromise. With a partnership, it is the parties who are actually interested in acting in a particular area who can carry the work forward. We would certainly hope that, at the international level, machinery might develop for promoting new, additional partnerships.
(Mr Randall) Off the top of my head, I am afraid I could not give you a precise breakdown. Obviously, we can see whether we can give you any further data on what the basis of the figure is. One of the interesting things though is that the partnerships which were officially registered for Johannesburg are not the full total of the partnerships. There were some quite prominent partnerships which were not officially registered. We know that some things the UK has done were not submitted to the secretariat, which was a slightly bureaucratic process. There will be a continuing effort to take forward those sorts of initiatives.
(Mr Randall) We were conscious in going into this that there was a danger of double counting and people simply registering things that had already happened. The organisers of the summit were as well. We set down various criteria that had to be met for things to be submitted and a closing date. As Johannesburg approached, a number of governments were trying to get things together to make them known. In some cases, they missed the deadline but partnerships were brought to the summit and announced by leaders. We have to recognise that there is a lot of useful activity which will continue, which was catalysed by the summit, but will not necessarily have been caught in what was officially registered at the summit.
(Mr Randall) Yes.
(Mr Lowson) I do not know if I would describe it as a failure on renewable energy. We had gone into the conference with an aspiration to secure targets, timetables and deadlines to the maximum extent that we could get people to sign up to in detail. There is a commitment in relation to renewable energy. It was striking that at the closing stages of the conference a large number of parties did say they wished they could have gone further. We in the UK are certainly committed to promoting further international efforts to accelerate the development of renewable energy. Some of the highest profile partnerships that we were involved in are designed to that end, such as the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership. We are going to keep on working in this area. We are optimistic that the conference, although it did not go as far as some parties, among them ourselves, would like it to have done, nevertheless will have provided some momentum.
(Mr Lowson) Yes. Some of the oil producing developing countries have taken quite a strong line on this, but we have to remember that, at the beginning of the conference, those parties were resisting any kind of commitment at all. We have undoubtedly done two things. First of all, kept the renewable energy issue on the agenda and we have raised the profile of it and secured quite a reasonable amount of international opinion which was in favour of at least looking at going further.
(Mr Lowson) Not a lot on the part of the oil producers. It is noteworthy that, during the negotiating process, the divisions that you would expect to exist among some of the groups of countries did begin to emerge. Mexico and Brazil are members of the renewables coalition which emerged during the conference and these are important, very influential members of the group of 77. The realignment was beginning to happen during the conference, which we can expect to go further.
(Mr Randall) To underline the significance of that, at Johannesburg it was very much a question of people negotiating in blocks. The G77 were maintaining a very disciplined front on a lot of issues, even though it is difficult for them, given the range of different countries involved, to reach agreement. They were operating in a very disciplined way so it was highly significant that we had them breaking ranks on the renewables issue and that you had Brazil quite actively lobbying for a switch in the way the G77 were approaching renewables. There are no signs yet of a softening of the OPEC position, but it is important you have Mexico and Brazil coming in. Only last week we had the EU Commission with representatives from the Danish presidency and indeed from the UK going to Brazil for a meeting about how they could take forward the renewables coalition. This is a very significant development and I think it could be very interesting to see how it develops.
(Mr Lowson) It is perhaps not right to split UK-level policies and others. The Government will be pursuing action internationally at an EU level and domestically to deliver the results of Johannesburg. We will be working in the UN Commission for Sustainable Development which meets next spring, in the UNECE Governing Council next February, to embed WSSD commitments in the way they work. A key milestone will be the Environment for Europe Conference in Kiev next May, which will be looking at actions within the UNECE area to promote environmental improvement and the scope for new partnerships within that area and new multilateral agreements within that area. Within the EU, we will be pressing for the EU to continue to give a high priority to its own sustainable development strategy, which will be considered at the European Council next spring, and we will be intent upon ensuring that the EU sustainable development strategy gets the right level of priority at this very high, political level. Domestically, what we aim to do is to embed the outcomes of the summit in existing processes and work streams. We do not want to regard WSSD as something that happens in a ghetto; we want it to become something which is mainstreamed throughout the Government process and beyond, picking up on major policy developments which we expect to occur over the coming months, such as the publication of the Energy White Paper and the action that will follow the publication of the Strategy Unit's work on waste, which are probably the most important elements when one comes to consider the delivery of the Johannesburg commitments of sustainable consumption and production.
(Mr Lowson) Yes, definitely.
(Mr Lowson) It certainly does. Because of the size of those implications, we did not come back from Johannesburg knowing exactly what we were going to do; nor did we come back to a domestic scene where things were not already happening. There are already undertakings like the sustainable technology initiative, Envirowise, the waste recycling action programme, the market transformation programme, the Carbon Trust and things like that. We need to pick up the work that is happening there, to pick up the work that emerges on waste and energy that I have talked about already, talk to stakeholders and partners about how we can build the commitments we have taken at Johannesburg into the work that is already in train in the way I have described.
(Mr Lowson) Over the coming two years, we have a commitment to review the UK sustainable development strategy. A key element of the sustainable development strategy is the suite of headline indicators within that strategy. We will look at those indicators from the point of view of the commitments that we came back from Johannesburg with and we will ask ourselves do those indicators match up to measuring the Johannesburg outcomes. There is a clear agenda there which we will certainly be pursuing during the review process, which we aim to start quite soon.
(Mr Lowson) We would certainly be looking at how far we can develop indicators that do just that, yes.
(Mr Lowson) We will be doing two things but this has to be under the reserve that we are talking here about what happens in summit meetings and the line that we take at summit meetings is decided by Prime Ministers. In broad terms, I am quite sure that we will first of all be seeking to maintain our fairly ambitious position and we will also be very keen to deliver concrete outcomes. We will be looking for ways, for example, of securing at EU level concrete measures which promote the use of sustainable technologies. This has been a theme that the UK has been pursuing for some time and I cannot imagine that ministers will want to go back on that. It is an ambitious agenda but a practical one.
(Mr Lowson) I cannot immediately think of anywhere where the two are not consistent. What Johannesburg does mean is that there needs to be an increased emphasis on ensuring that the words of the sustainable development strategy feature in the policies that the EU is considering. That is not at all out of line with mainstream EU approaches. That is quite consistent with the conclusions that have been reached by the General Affairs and External Relations Council.
(Mr Lowson) We certainly need to work with local authority partners, regional partners and the devolved administrations. Beyond that, I am not an expert and I am not an expert on Agenda 21.
(Mr Lowson) Yes, at a fairly superficial level so far. I have talked in the last few days to the local authority associations about how do we ensure that there is a process that enables us to pursue these outcomes. We have not taken it further than that yet.
(Mr Randall) I suspect that might be the kind of thing that would be addressed when we look at how we deal with sustainable development within the UK. When we move into that sustainable development strategy review next year, maybe some of the implications will become clearer.
Chairman: It was very striking that there was no mention of sustainable development at the Urban Summit which Mr Prescott held in Birmingham a month ago. You were saying you wanted to get into the mainstream of policy making and it was absolutely absent on that occasion.
(Mr Lowson) The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the lead minister on the Urban Summit, was fully involved with the negotiating process up to and during Johannesburg.
(Mr Lowson) Their approach to the Urban Summit is something you need to talk to them about but my take on it is that their approach is likely to be highly conditioned by what came out of Johannesburg and the interest they take in Johannesburg and, although the expressions "sustainable development" or "WSSD" have been mentioned at the Urban Summit ----
(Mr Lowson) It may reflect their approach to mainstreaming. This is something you need to talk to those involved in the Urban Summit about.
(Mr Lowson) You are quite right that it does need to be dovetailed together. I am not familiar enough with what happened at the Urban Summit to be able to go very much further than that, I am afraid. What I can tell you is that the Deputy Prime Minister's Office were fully engaged in the Johannesburg process and will have taken away from Johannesburg the same key messages that we took away and I would expect those messages to be reflected in the policies for which they are responsible, even if they do not use the words. It is something which needs to be pursued with them.
(Mr Lowson) I would see it as DEFRA's job and our responsibility to promote sustainable development across government to ensure it is being carried forward in the right direction.
(Mr Lowson) My area of DEFRA was not heavily involved in the Urban Summit and the reason I did not feel an urgent need to be one of the parties of the Urban Summit was because I knew that Mr Prescott personally and his advisers had participated fully as members of the negotiating team and had been central to developing our position before the conference.
(Mr Lowson) Were you involved?
(Ms Leggett) Not to my knowledge.
(Mr Lowson) I think the Urban Summit was rather like the Johannesburg Summit. It was at the start of the process rather than at the conclusion. It will be our concern to ensure that all government departments whose actions are going to impact on sustainable development are aware of the imperatives of sustainable development.
(Mr Lowson) I think it went pretty well. We have to start with the notion that the summit was the conclusion of an ongoing process and during the preparatory phase we had a well developed, coherent communication strategy which did not achieve front page news status in the daily, London based media on many occasions. However, we did secure a high level of awareness among a range of audiences, I believe, through segmenting the messages, being clear about the audiences and being clear about the way those messages were conveyed to those audiences. We involved non-governmental organisations from the start in preparing the UK's negotiating position and as members of our delegation in Johannesburg. We were engaged in a range of awareness raising exercises like the WWF Joint Earth Champions Project, which appealed to a particular kind of audience and was very successful. Ministers placed articles of their own in the national press in the weeks running up to the summit. It is clear from looking at the number of visits to the DEFRA sustainable development website that interest in that website grew and the use of that website grew as the summit got closer. We relied, as anybody has to rely in dealing with specialist organisations, on that website as an important element of our communications effort. Generally, my impression was that we ran a coherent, coordinated communication campaign, not just focused on or measuring success by appearances or headline stories in the London based national media. When we were in the conference itself, my impression was that the communications effort was such as to seize the opportunity to raise awareness among new audiences. Here was an occasion where it was going to be possible to secure space in the national media, printed and broadcast, and we did so. There were about 30 UK journalists in Johannesburg. We organised daily media briefings, several of which the Secretary of State attended. She did a total of 35 interviews. Michael Meacher and John Prescott both did media interviews themselves. A range of substantial stories did appear in the written and broadcast national media during the period of the conference itself. At the same time as that was going on, we put a lot of effort into the outreach to the UK organisations represented in Johannesburg. I took a daily meeting with all those organisations and we had open house. Anybody who wished to come was welcome to be brought up to date with the progress of the negotiation. We had non-governmental participants on our delegation. Members were therefore able to be kept fully informed in the process and influence ----
(Mr Lowson) In my previous incarnation as DEFRA's communications director, I was always held personally responsible for whatever the press chose to print about DEFRA and it was one of the unsatisfactory aspects of that job. With reference to your comment about websites, I do not think anybody would pretend that having information on a website was the way to get messages across to the broad, general public. You use a website to inform an informed audience. Penetrating national media with stories that you want to get into them is always one of the most difficult jobs to do because the national media, quite rightly, do not want to print something just because we would like them to do it. What we can do is what we did, which is to provide abundant interview opportunities, to provide frequent briefings. A good deal of written material that formed the basis of The Independent article, if I remember rightly, was material that we provided about the way that the negotiation was going. We took a clear view throughout the negotiation that the way to handle it was to be open about both the successes and the failures of the negotiation. "Failures" is perhaps not the right word, but where we did not get as far as we wanted to get. That I think reflected itself in a step change in the level of interest in the fact that the conference was going on and UK negotiators had an ambitious position that occurred while the event was in progress.
(Mr Lowson) I do not think I would have done anything differently. Within the limits of what the Government can do to lead the national media, what we had was a coherent, well-organised approach which provided audiences at a range of different levels from the expert through to the generalist journalists with the material that they needed to produce the stories on this topic. What they did with that at the journalistic level is their own affair and a good thing too. What we are doing is carrying the process forward. We are working on a communication strategy for sustainable development over the months to come, as we develop our approach to reviewing the strategy, as we try to embed the outcomes of Johannesburg in government policy. We are already looking at the kind of events that we might launch to reach the specialised audience and we are looking for opportunities to get messages across to more general audiences. A particular issue which we need to pursue is to demonstrate the linkages between policy steps as we take them and Johannesburg and sustainable development. We want to be sure that the policy departures DEFRA takes over the months and years to come are firmly situated in our sustainable development strategy.
(Mr Lowson) I can assure you that our approach on communications around this conference was probably regarded within DEFRA as the highest profile event that we would be participating in through most of this year. We produced and worked on a communication strategy to match that, which involved clarifying the messages we were trying to get across, clarifying the audiences we were trying to reach and clarifying the means and opportunities which we would aim to seize. We did so. We were clear about our messages. We were clear about the style of our communication and we provided for ourselves and seized a whole range of communications opportunities to reach the audiences that we needed to reach. Communications directors within government, no matter how skilled -- and DEFRA's present communications director is, in my opinion, one of if not the most professional communications directors in Whitehall -- cannot dictate and rightly so what a journalist will feel will interest the buyers of the newspaper that he writes for.
(Mr Lowson) That is exactly right, whether we approve of it or not. I certainly do not approve of it. It is quite clear what line the press will be looking for.
(Mr Lowson) I think it would have been very difficult under the circumstances to have avoided such stories being written altogether.
(Mr Lowson) I know where that came from. It came from the journalistic treatment of what appeared to be developments on the ground during that pretty brief period when the size and shape of the delegation was being discussed.
(Mr Lowson) We are beginning to stray, if I may say so, into areas where these are clearly issues that were discussed among ministers. I can tell you about our approach to a communications strategy and the mechanisms of the process which, in my view, was conducted in a very well organised, exemplary, professional manner.
(Mr Lowson) We are working on that still. This is one of the things I can imagine Mrs Beckett might have more to say about when she sees this Committee in January. You have seen, among the notes that we sent you, the grid that is headed "Sustainable Development Commitments Originating from WSSD Outcomes." This is one which DEFRA has taken the lead to produce because we have been the lead department in the negotiating process and which has tried to identify what commitments emerged from the negotiation and to identify which department should carry those commitments forward. We are still in discussion among departments about how this is going to be done in detail. We regard it as our job to identify the commitments and to identify which departments should be carrying them forward and to satisfy ourselves they are being carried forward. Going back to what I said earlier on, this is with the objective of embedding sustainable development in general, including Johannesburg commitments, within the weave of what all departments are doing within government.
(Mr Lowson) We are not writing on a clean sheet of paper. We already had a range of policies designed to move towards sustainable development and we already had a range of interdepartmental consultation mechanisms. We have to think over the weeks to come whether these mechanisms are adequate to mainstream the sustainable development messages and the Johannesburg outcomes within them. That process has not reached its end yet.
(Mr Lowson) MISC 18 was created to prepare for Johannesburg and ministers still need to decide whether it is going to continue or whether the existing structure of interdepartmental committees without MISC 18 are adequate for the job.
(Mr Lowson) It has not met since Johannesburg, although there has been interministerial correspondence and pretty intensive work among officials specifically about follow-up to Johannesburg.
(Mr Lowson) It does not have a meeting schedule at the moment.
(Mr Lowson) That is right.
(Mr Lowson) From observing the process so far, I do not think that events post Johannesburg have ripened to the extent that it was necessary for the committee to meet. The work has been carried forward at official level and it has not yet reached the point where the need for ministers to get together in the structured way that they do in the Cabinet Committee, has emerged.
(Mr Lowson) Not since Johannesburg.
(Mr Lowson) No. There has been no meeting of those committees.
(Mr Lowson) There are a number of elements to the answer. First of all, the fact that the committees do not meet does not mean there is not political direction. It is clear that, from the Prime Minister downwards, there was a high degree of political commitment to making progress at Johannesburg and that level of commitment is still there. As to should the Sustainable Development Unit or the Sustainable Development Commission do the coordination, there is an easy answer with regard to the Sustainable Development Commission, which is definitely not. It is not the job of the Sustainable Development Commission to coordinate government activity. It is the job of the Sustainable Development Commission to advise on promoting the sustainable development agenda and we in DEFRA, for example, are working hard with the Sustainable Development Commission at the moment to identify ways in which they can develop their work programme to yet further improve the impact they have and to take account of the outcome of Johannesburg. As far as the Sustainable Development Unit is concerned, it is a unit within one government department and I would regard the role of that unit which sits within my directorate as being to provide expert advice and to provide proposals for pursuit with other departments about how we should be carrying the agenda forward. That is what we have been doing.
(Mr Lowson) The Prime Minister has the leadership. The Prime Minister started very committed to Johannesburg. He is one of the first Prime Ministers to express his personal commitment to Johannesburg. That commitment did not dissolve with his leaving Johannesburg.
(Mr Lowson) I am not clear whether there is a need for a new bit of bureaucratic machinery bringing together ministerial consultation or whether the existing pieces of machinery are adequate to the task. That is for ministers to decide and they have not yet decided.
(Mr Lowson) We mislead ourselves if we think the fact that a cabinet committee has not met means that there is not political leadership. Political leadership comes from individual politicians getting together and identifying the key issues to which they are committed. They do not need to have a committee structure to be able to do that. I am quite confident that ministers have been thinking very hard about how to carry this work forward and to make sure that the political commitment is not lost. The message I would leave is that one should not confuse the existence and the meeting of cabinet committees with the existence of a political will to make progress. The second of those is undoubtedly there. A cabinet committee structure is only there to provide a means of ensuring that political will is, in fact, expressed. It is a tool, it is not a thing which itself generates the commitment but the commitment is certainly there.
(Mr Lowson) I think it has. I am talking now as an official because you talked about the environmental area of DEFRA. My perception is that the professionalism and efficiency with which my colleagues - it was not me that did it - in DEFRA co-ordinated our approach to the Johannesburg Summit and the preparation for it led many of our colleagues in Whitehall to recognise us as a department which has got expertise, leadership and efficiency to do this kind of job and it has put us in a strong position, I think, to ensure that the follow-up is properly co-ordinated.
(Mr Lowson) These particular versions of these tables were produced specifically for this meeting because they are living documents, they are amended - I do not know how many of these drafts of documents have happened before - they are designed as working documents which we are sharing with you. We have not identified these documents as something which is specifically designed for this Committee, although it is a version which we did specifically for this meeting because we needed to prepare something on this occasion. They have the status which I described, which is that they are working documents designed to help departments ensure that we have a shared understanding of what came out of Johannesburg and of who is carrying forward the follow-up action. They are definitely designed as working documents and the documents you have got is our attempt to share those working documents with you.
(Mr Lowson) I think that is entirely reasonable and that is just the approach that we will be following. Let us take the 'Sustainable Development Commitments Originated from WSSD Outcomes' note. We will be using this as the basis for checking the extent to which the departments concerned are making progress with each of those elements.
(Mr Lowson) I go back to what I said before, that we regard delivery as a matter for the parts of government responsible for those particular areas, so we want to see this work embedded in their activity and the primary responsibility for delivering outcomes in these areas rests with those departments rather than with DEFRA. We will have an interest nevertheless in being able to demonstrate to ourselves and demonstrate to the world in general that we are making progress in delivering the outcomes of the Conference and the wide sustainable development agenda. How it will be done I do not know. I have not reached any conclusions, and I do not think my colleagues have, about how best to present the steps that we will be going through from now on. I go back to what I said about the Sustainable Development Strategy and also mention the Sustainable Development Report which we produce annually and which will be emerging in January, as I said earlier. We will be ensuring that the outcomes of Johannesburg are properly reflected in what we are reporting on in these annual reports. You have certainly got that as a basis for high level recording of the progress that we are making in delivering sustainable development outcomes. I have mentioned also the indicator process. What we are interested in is moving indicators in the right direction. We have got over 100 sustainable development indicators and we publish progress in relation to those indicators as the information relevant to them becomes available. There is already a process for monitoring and publicising our progress as a government in meeting sustainable development targets. I, and we in DEFRA, need to reflect on whether we need more to build on some of this other documentation that we have shown you today that will provide more of a picture as to how far we are actually bringing home the Johannesburg bacon.
(Mr Lowson) I do not think it is remaining just at the Civil Service level, although there is an enormous amount of work at that Civil Service level going on. Civil servants do what they are doing because ministers have told them to do it or they have invited ministers to tell them to do it and that certainly means that the key ministers are fully engaged in this process. Ministers do not just have to meet in committees to co-ordinate the activities of their departments, they can write to each other, and they have been doing that, they can discuss issues bilaterally, and they have been doing that, they can work through their civil servants, and they have most certainly been doing that. I think it would be quite wrong to give the impression that the fact that particular groups of ministers have not got together does not mean that ministers have not got a firm grip of the process.
(Mr Lowson) We are certainly the lead co-ordinating department for initiating the follow-up action and there are quite a lot of areas here where we are the lead department for actually leading the action.
(Mr Lowson) It is rather like asking who is the lead department for financial regularity. All departments have to do financial regularity even though you would say that perhaps the Treasury is the lead department on that issue and has the job of suggesting to other departments how they should undertake that role. The whole philosophy that we are following, as I have said on a number of occasions, is one that is designed to identify responsibility and ensure that the departments that are responsible for delivery in a particular area take that responsibility seriously.
(Mr Lowson) I have already mentioned in answer to the previous question the existing structure of annual reports on sustainable development, sustainable development indicators, etc. I am quite sure that we in DEFRA, prodded I have no doubt by the Sustainable Development Commission in its role as critical friend, will be maintaining an overview of the extent to which the government's commitments on sustainable development as a whole are being fulfilled. We have to do that because we are responsible for producing the Sustainable Development Report every year, for example. There is not an individual minister or an individual department who has the job of overruling what other individual ministers or departments might do to say "you are not doing the sustainable development job properly, you must do this rather that", it is something which is to be integrated in the activities of the range of government departments. That is quite in line with the way that a whole range of government policies operate.
(Mr Lowson) It is ever so friendly.
(Mr Lowson) There is a lot of food for thought in what you say. There are quite a lot of elements to that question. Certainly, as I said before, we intend to review the Sustainable Development Strategy and hence, therefore, the indicators in the light of the outcome of Johannesburg. I doubt whether we will be looking for indicators that, for example, government department x has done a particular job that is attributed to it in this sort of grid of activity. What we are interested in, what everybody is interested in, is whether the sustainability outcomes are being delivered in terms of environmental improvement, social development, economic progress. We are certainly very ready to consider your idea of bench marks without any commitment at all because I do not know how it would work. It certainly would chime in with our approach to implementing sustainable development commitments, particularly post-Johannesburg, if the delivery by individual departments, which is the only way I think we can do it, is matched by individual departments measuring the extent to which they are, in fact, promoting the sustainability agenda. Not all government departments have got sustainability strategies, for example, but it is certainly wholly consistent with an approach that says that it is for the whole government to deliver this agenda for individual departments to be able to assess the extent to which they are doing their bits and for that to be auditable. It is certainly an approach which is well worth thinking about.
(Mr Lowson) Yes.
(Mr Lowson) Most of that happened before I arrived in my job so in a moment I will turn to Andrew Randall in particular to see if there are specific examples he can quote of the way that stakeholder dialogue might have made an impact. We certainly attached a lot of importance to ensuring that not just stakeholders knew what was going on but were closely involved in the negotiating process, and not just in the negotiating process but also in delivering specific outcomes. That was the significance of the Prime Minister's involvement in the five UK initiatives, for example, which led to specific partnerships, some of which are actually working now. It was not just a matter of conditioning our approach to the negotiation, it also led to agreement on particular outcomes.
(Mr Lowson) I will turn to Andrew, who has now had a few seconds to think about it, to see if he can provide some more detail on that.
(Mr Randall) To start off, obviously Johannesburg was a sustainable development conference, it was not just an environmental one, and our effort was very much focused at getting something that covered the range of activities and integrated them. In some ways the dynamics of the negotiation were such as to push us in the direction of looking at "southern" issues, developmental issues. In many ways the involvement of stakeholders was useful because it reminded us, as the environment department, not to undervalue environmental issues but to keep them on the agenda, to avoid those being marginalised. That was obviously a useful reminder for us to have although at the same time as part of trying to take a balanced approach we were very careful to engage a wide range of constituencies so, for example, with the NGO community we involved development NGOs as well as environment ones. I think if there was one particular topic that came through maybe it would be the whole issue of corporate social responsibility and accountability where, of course, Friends of the Earth and others did mount quite extensive campaigns. While we did not necessarily agree with the final objective that they were setting out, which was some kind of mandatory international convention, nonetheless we found it very useful that they were raising the profile of the issue. That was useful for dialogue within government in formulating a position and I think it was instrumental in pushing towards the kind of result that we did get in the plan of implementation at Johannesburg, which was a very useful one that has certainly strengthened the hand of those who want to promote this. I think that is probably one good example.
(Mr Randall) Disbenefits from stakeholder involvement? Lots of time and energy needed of course.
(Mr Lowson) I will turn to Andrew in a moment.
(Mr Lowson) We had a particular concern to have them deliver a process of stakeholder consultation which ended with the Conference. We have not had a formal after the event review but in thinking about how we consult stakeholders in the future we will certainly take account of what has come out of the process so far. In general the impression that I drew from this was that they did an immensely difficult job, which was to ensure that the whole range of stakeholders that might be interested all got a reasonable crack of the whip. There is always a danger, and I suspect our process fell into it too and it was not UNED's fault, that you consult all the usual suspects rather than trying to get at groups that are inherently difficult to consult, so you do tend to consult effective organisations rather than groups of people who for whatever reason are not effectively represented but there were, nevertheless, NGOs who would claim to represent the problems that these harder to reach groups suffer from.
(Mr Lowson) We are certainly thinking very hard, and we have not reached conclusions yet, about how we will involve stakeholders in, if you like, central DEFRA sustainable activity. Throughout DEFRA, throughout government, there are a whole kaleidoscope of ways of involving stakeholders. You rightly point to fisheries and as a department we have got very close relationships with interested organisations there and I cannot imagine that what came out of Johannesburg will change the framework for interaction with those organisations. As far as carrying forward the big themes of sustainable development is concerned, we are still thinking about how best to do it. We are quite committed to doing it. How far has the process gone of stakeholder involvement just in the next few months or so?
(Ms Leggett) We are looking to run some kind of stakeholder engagement event and are looking at people to do that work for us but we have not agreed on that just yet. On 9 October there was a meeting with stakeholders to discuss some of the key issues coming out of Johannesburg at which Margaret Beckett and Michael Meacher met key stakeholders. We definitely want to build on that initial work.
(Mr Lowson) That was a good example of the approach we want to try and pursue. Although Michael Meacher and Margaret Beckett both participated it was actually chaired by Jonathan Porritt, and one does not need to be wholly DEFRA-centric here, we can invite other people to do the job for us and that is a very good way of involving the stakeholders.
(Mr Lowson) I confess that we had not thought that there was a job to be done in the way of central co-ordination here. A much better way of doing it is to look for good practice and to try and spread messages of good practice rather than messages about rules and trying to impose views on other departments. We would like to think that we are towards the front of the good practice pack.
(Ms Leggett) I cannot say at this stage whether it would be in there or not.
(Mr Lowson) It is certainly something worth thinking about because it was a key feature of Johannesburg and the preparation for it that stakeholders were involved. It would be strange to forget that in our reporting of what happened.
(Mr Lowson) I think I agree that there was a sense of momentum and involvement and it was easy to have that in Johannesburg because we met every day and there was something very concrete going on right next door. The meeting that Helen Leggett mentioned on 9 October with stakeholders was an attempt to capitalise on that kind of mood, and I think it was quite successful. The event was fresh in people's minds and they were beginning to think through what the implications were when they got back home. That is what we are going to try and do through the autumn as well. It is not just for us. It is encouraging that quite a lot of other organisations have had similar events over the past few weeks. The whole tone of the discussion has raised what I would recognise as a real issue, which is that we have come back. If you like, until we finished the Conference in Johannesburg it was easy, we made it easy for ourselves, we got a well co-ordinated negotiating position in which we were able to take some pretty forward positions, be quite ambitious, and we got what I would regard as more than five out of ten results as an outcome. Then the hard work starts, which is coming back to the whole government machine and saying "This is what we have signed up to, how are we going to carry the principles of sustainability into our operations as a government rather than our operations as a negotiating team?" We have got to recognise that it is a different atmosphere. The Government departments with all their numerous priorities are not going to be fired up by a particular strand of activity that flows from a particular event, it is hard grind, and that is what lies behind the process we have launched, which is to embed sustainable principles and what came out of Johannesburg in the hard grind of regular government life. You are quite right, the atmosphere is not like it was when we were actually negotiating in Johannesburg but I do not think I would expect it to be. The atmosphere now is different, it is one where we have got to proceed with a lot of rather unflashy continuing effort and that is the process that we have tried to launch.
Chairman: I appreciate we have pushed you rather hard, Mr Lowson, on one or two areas where you have not got direct responsibility but you will understand the concerns of the Committee to see that this process is carried out at all levels of government. Thank you very much for your patient answers.