Select Committee on Environmental Audit Fifth Report

International environmental strategy

53. As the Government's overarching Sustainable Development Strategy, Securing the Future, identified, there is the need to develop a "clear vision and coherent approach for the UK to the protection and enhancement of natural resources". The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has identified that the existing framework for environmental protection is overly complex and fragmented, and was "developed through individual policies rather than by taking a strategic overview of the whole of the natural environment". DEFRA recognised that as a result of this policy situation:

We are unable to deal effectively with cross-cutting issues such as environmental limits, the effects of cumulative pressures, and how to value ecosystem services and environmental assets.

We do not have a strategic vision for the natural environment, which makes it difficult for us to communicate our policy agenda, to prioritise effectively and to influence other Government Departments.[77]

54. A review commissioned by DEFRA concluded that "it is clear that a paradigm shift is required to put ecosystem services at the centre of development management. The current incremental approach provides a second best approach".[78] DEFRA has since been working to develop a new strategy for publication by the end of 2007. It published a draft vision for the new policy framework in December 2006, drawing heavily on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concept of ecosystem services and conceptual frameworks, which we welcome greatly. The vision has a primary focus on the domestic terrestrial environment, although it also seeks to set a strategic direction to "provide a stronger basis for the UK's engagement in the European Union and in other international fora, ensuring that we have a clear and consistent voice in negotiations".[79] The need for a more holistic approach to international environmental issues is apparent even in the draft vision document itself. For example, the document fails to discuss the World Trade Organisation's Committee on Trade and Environment, the importance of which was highlighted in an earlier report by this Committee.[80]

55. The need for a new international strategic vision for the natural environment is discussed in a report by Nick Mabey of E3G. This states that the Government has "improved its coordination and effectiveness on the environment" and that it has "positioned itself as a leader on the environment and innovative forms of foreign policy" since 1997, but that this had not been backed up by sufficient financing or appropriate environmental mainstreaming by DFID. He argued for the UK to adopt an international strategy that includes the need to press the EU into becoming "the environmental leader within the international community", to focus much more on the need to tackle the "environmental roots of poverty and conflict", and for it to press for more effective international environmental governance.[81] He called for the Government to become:

… better at making the case for preventive investment of political, financial and organisational capital to reduce the risk of irreversible and catastrophic environmental losses. The UK has led the world on building the moral and economic case for poverty reduction. The Stern Review has provided part of the case on climate change, but similar rigour needs to be applied to a range of environmental problems.[82]

56. The development of an international environmental strategy would provide "greater democratic accountability and oversight over the UK's international policy on environmental issues". Reforms, he argued, "must encompass… foreign policy, development, trade and defence and integrate elements of environment, energy, industry and law enforcement".[83] He felt that the absence of such a strategy is "skewing the UK towards a focus on climate change mitigation policy, while ignoring that successful and peaceful adaptation to the inevitable changes in the climate will require far more effective and resilient governance of natural resources and ecosystems in the short to medium term - especially given the proximate stresses of population growth and economic development".[84] A new international strategy must improve coordination between departments. Witnesses stressed to the Sub-committee that currently departments are failing to work together on these issues. IFAW gave whaling as an example of this:

…DEFRA do a good job when they [attend] meetings of the International Whaling Commission. They have appropriate expertise, they prepare for the meeting and they achieve what can be achieved at the meeting. Where the disconnect lies is… outside the meeting[.] [There does] not appear to be very much in the way of lobbying efforts beforehand and information-gathering and all the work that you would expect FCO to do… [T]here is not… joined-up thinking between the FCO and DEFRA.[85]

57. We are concerned to see that this alleged disconnect between the FCO and DEFRA on biodiversity issues is reflected in the FCO's Action Plan. In the section of the plan that describes how the FCO will work with other government departments though cross-government structures, it makes no mention of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Biodiversity.[86] The benefits of better coordination between departments was highlighted by the FCO itself. It told us that there was "considerable evidence" that the development of the International Energy Strategy, which was the first Whitehall document to bring together the Government's international objectives on energy security and climate change in an integrated fashion, signed by FCO, DTI and DEFRA, had led to more integrated policy making.[87] The JNCC asserted that the FCO will be essential in developing such a strategy due to its unique talents and knowledge. It argued that "it can act, for example, as the face of the UK Government abroad; it can help to provide an understanding of the social, political and cultural context of environmental policies in other countries; and it can also—and I think that this is particularly important—provide leadership across government for international issues."[88]

58. Failures in the Government-wide Sustainable Development Strategy, Securing the Future, might explain the lack of consideration given to a number of international environmental issues in FCO sustainable development documents, which are based upon it. However, although it has its shortcomings, we were surprised to notice that the 2006 White Paper, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World, also a Government-wide strategy, does not refer to or explain its links with Securing the Future. This is a considerable oversight, and demonstrates the continuing lack of coordination on sustainable development issues across Government.

59. Securing the Future highlighted the fragmented state of natural resource protection policy, and the negative impact that this has on the UK's ability to meet environmental challenges. DEFRA has stated that it will seek to address this through the development of a coherent approach to the natural environment, which will also take into account the UK's international impact. However, we are concerned that the international dimension will not receive the focus it requires in this domestic strategy, and might fail to incorporate issues including security, foreign policy, trade and development. Therefore, a new international environmental strategy must be developed, owned and delivered by a number of departments, including FCO, DEFRA, DFID and DTI.

77   "Natural environment policy; Rationale and vision", DEFRA website, 21 March 2006, Back

78   ADAS UK Ltd, NR0105 - Natural Resource Policy Framework Analysis, April 2006, p51,  Back

79   "Natural environment policy; Rationale and vision", DEFRA website, 21 March 2006, Back

80   Environmental Audit Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2005-2006, Outflanked: The World Trade Organisation, International Trade and Sustainable Development, HC 1455 Back

81   Nick Mabey, E3G working paper, Sustainability and foreign policy (2007), p6, Back

82   ibid Back

83   ibid Back

84   Ev 77 Back

85   Qu 12 [Mr Papastavrou] Back

86   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK International Priorities: The FCO Sustainable Development Action Plan, January 2007, p19 Back

87   Ev 46 Back

88   Ev 28 Back

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