Working with NGOs
60. Witnesses to this inquiry highlighted the importance
of international collaboration on environmental projects, and
the FCO's role in facilitating this. The Royal Botanic Garden
Edinburgh (RBGE) told us that in many of the countries in which
it works around the world, FCO representatives have "played
a hugely important role" in helping to establish important
relationships with in-country institutions.
RBGE gave the example of China, where successive UK Ambassadors
have taken an active interest in a partnership between RBGE and
the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which has led to the establishment
of projects connected to plant conservation in line with the Chinese
national biodiversity strategy. RBGE told us that "such campaigns
serve as an excellent way of promoting scientific collaboration
and public engagement with scientific issues".
IFAW also pointed to FCO in-country staff being "instrumental"
in obtaining research permits for their international whale research
vessel, "sometimes in difficult countries, and providing
excellent support for the boat through its embassies".
This vessel is mainly engaged in using non-lethal techniques to
study whales as part of the NGO's global campaign to resist attempts
to resume commercial whaling, which is also an aim of the Government.
the support given by FCO staff to conservation and environmental
projects and NGOs internationally, both financially and diplomatically,
where such cooperation is in line with our international environmental
objectives. Such support also sends a strong message to host countries
that these issues are a priority for the UK Government.
61. The 2006 White Paper recognised the need for
the FCO to deepen its working relationships with NGOs to "build
a future based on shared values and interests".
The White Paper said that "as the links between domestic
and international issues grow, co-operation between Departments
of Government and with the private sector, NGOs and the public
In written evidence to the Sub-committee, the FCO described how
it is seeking to establish strategic partnerships and networks
with NGOs in the UK and overseas in order to strengthen relationships,
and to work towards common goals.
This will be facilitated through the development of "strategies
for engagement with businesses, trade unions, NGOs, and faith
groups, which recognise the achievement they can make to help
achieve the Government's international environmental objectives".
62. The Sub-committee asked the NGO witnesses what
they would wish to see from such a strategy. IFAW stated that
without the environment being an explicit foreign policy objective
the development of a strategy would not necessarily improve links
between them. It argued that where a common objective exists,
"interactions form naturally".
The RSPB agreed but also argued that any strategy developed should
emphasise the need to maintain long-term relationships with NGOs.
Mr Buckley from RSPB told us that the RSPB feels very strongly
about this due to the value that they have seen from themselves
supporting NGOs for long periods of time, which can lead to such
organisations becoming "very effective and relatively sustainable".
Failure to maintain relationships with NGOs, in terms of funding
or partnership, often leads to "boom and bust affairs where
something happens for two or three years and then vanishes".
Mr Buckley clearly thought that this was not the best use of resources.
63. Iain Orr, from BioDiplomacy, told us that the
FCO had worked quite well with NGOs on various occasions, although
it could do "considerably more" to work with non-state
actors. He thought
that the FCO often works successfully with NGOs at large international
meetings, but that these relationships were not maintained on
a day-to-day basis.
In addition he told us that, from his own experience within the
FCO, NGOs and other stakeholders were not consulted early enough
in the policy formation process.
IFAW agreed that the current relationship that it has with the
FCO is unsatisfactory. Mr Papastavrou of IFAW described the relationship
as "very haphazard and variable".
He thought that this variability was largely due to the development
of personal relationships with individuals in the FCO, which enabled
the NGO to benefit from the FCO and vice versa, but that
the development of these contacts was not being led by any overall
64. The Sub-committee put these criticisms to the
Minister, who said that he was not aware of a lack of interaction
with NGOs. He argued that he spends "a great proportion"
of his time engaging with NGOs, and said "[I could not]
achieve what I need to achieve
unless I have a proactive
working relationship" with them.
He said that before visiting a country:
I sit down with the NGOs and talk through what the
priorities of the visit should be across all of the issues that
the NGOs might have and we then agree priorities for that visit.
Then, when I come back, I set out what we have achieved and what
we have not achieved, and the next thing I would do is set a work
programme out for future visits or contacts, so I am very keen
to work with NGOs and I am sorry if people feel that they have
not received that kind of contact. I will take it in the way
it should be taken and we will go back and look at it and see
what more we can do.
The Minister was asked what issues will be addressed
by the NGO engagement strategy that is currently being developed,
and he responded by saying:
For example, we will be engaging with them in terms
of any new action plans [
]. I think that the NGOs, the
business representatives, the trade unions, all the alliances
that need to be there are going to be included, so it is not just
consulting them about what we want to do, but we want to consult
them about what they think we should be doing. We want to fit
them with the hat of actually developing the policy itself so
that it is more than just a consultation, I would say it is a
consultation plus where they have the capacity actually to influence
at the start of the policy development the actual outcome of what
that policy should look like, and I am keen for that to happen.
There is a lot of skill, knowledge and commitment out there and
it would be folly not to utilise it. That does not mean we will
be able to agree everything, that will never happen, the NGOs
always have their case to put and they put it vociferously and
that is to be welcomed, it helps people like me to focus, but
I give you an absolute assurance that, on all of the work we are
doing now and in future work, they will be involved and invited
to the table.
welcome the Minister's strong statement on the need to work closely
with NGOs in order better to make progress on mutual objectives,
and to engage with NGOs at an earlier stage in the policy formation
process. Nevertheless, on the basis of the evidence that we have
received, a disconnect between the FCO and environmental NGOs
still remains. We anticipate that the strategy for engagement
with NGOs currently being developed will go someway to address
this, but we are not convinced that without a re-evaluation of
overall FCO priorities to have a more explicit environmental focus
the necessary changes will occur to ensure that this happens at
all levels. Through such a re-evaluation, and the changes that
we recommend in this report regarding, inter alia,
the provision of specialist environmental expertise from outside
the FCO and the development of FCO civil servants with a career
focus on the environment, we believe that longer term, more beneficial,
relationships will develop between the FCO and environmental NGOs.
Promoting sustainable development
through FCO corporate activities
66. Iain Orr of BioDiplomacy argued to us that strong
sustainable development messages can also be sent through the
adoption of robust environmental estate and transport policies
overseas, especially those that use the "best UK and local
standards of energy and resource efficiency, recycling and design".
He went on:
This is particularly important for new buildings
and renovations; and is not just a task for estate and transport
budget managers. Whatever technologies are used (local will sometimes
be best), commercial and public diplomacy sections should use
this in their work, reporting back to UK industry and investors
on innovations abroad from which we can learn and perhaps develop
for wider use. Travel should be carbon balanced, with input on
the value of different offset schemes being provided by the FCO
climate change team (in consultation with Defra). Posts should
be given flexibility in choosing schemes that suit local circumstances.
67. The Sustainable Development Commission's review
of the FCO SDS found that overall it was "impressed with
the initiatives that the FCO is undertaking in relation to developing
a more systematic approach to environmental management across
the FCO estate, as well as incentives, support and encouragement
towards more sustainable practices". The Action Plan expanded
on the action that the FCO is taking to improve the environmental
operation of its overseas estate. This included using feedback
from an environmental management pilot project to model a system
for the wider network, initially for 20 posts, and that major
refurbishments and new builds on the overseas estate would be
undertaken to a bespoke environmental assessment method developed
by the Building Research Establishment from April 2007. In written
evidence to us the FCO also said that it was "currently extending
the coverage of [its] property management database to all [its]
properties overseas, owned and rented alike. When complete the
system will give [it] the information [it needs] to measure the
full environmental impact of the overseas estate, and hence, the
tools to mitigate this".
We applaud the FCO's demonstrated commitment to improving environmental
management across its overseas estate. The promotion of sustainable
practices through their application in the overseas estate is
also essential in building support for, and exhibiting, the UK's
commitment to best practice in sustainable development.
68. The FCO, in written evidence, told the Sub-committee
that it was "working with REEEP (the Renewable Energy and
Energy Efficiency Partnership) to offset the emissions generated
by the air travel of UK based staff and Ministers". It also
encouraged staff in Posts "to make a voluntary contribution
from their travel budgets to an airline or other organisation
to offset the carbon emissions from their air travel.".
The FCO offsetting scheme was set up before the creation of the
Government's Carbon Offset Fund (GCOF), which offsets the greenhouse
gas emissions produced by the majority of central government official
and ministerial flights. The FCO chose to continue its offsetting
arrangements with REEEP, rather than transferring to GCOF.
69. The voluntary
nature of carbon offsets from overseas posts' flights is an anomaly
that needs removing. It runs contrary to domestic Government policy
and leaves the UK Government open to criticism that it is failing
to address the climate change impact of its own operations. The
implications of this irregularity are particularly serious, and
incongruous, given the FCO's diplomatic role in negotiating international
agreements on climate change.
70. Although it is important that the UK set a good
example though overseas posts, Iain Orr, of BioDiplomacy, told
the Sub-committee that "above all the UK's national housekeeping
will determine posts' influence on environmental issues".
He went on:
Embassies will be listened to with more interest
and respect overseas when the UK has domestic success stories
on recycling, good design, energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse
gas emissions, access to environmental information, management
of environmental risks and mitigation measures to tackle the unavoidable
effects of climate change that are already in the pipeline.
71. The Sub-committee asked an FCO official whether
it was important to succeed domestically on environmental issues
to provide the required diplomatic leadership to encourage international
movement, specifically in relation to our domestic target for
greenhouse gas emission reduction. He agreed that it was:
the ability for the UK to sustain the leadership
that it has shown internationally and given internationally, I
think, is dependent on how people perceive actions which have
been taken by the Government domestically to pursue its own domestic
targets and to pursue the general policies in relation to emissions
and reductions, so I think, as a general principle, you are right
UK must succeed domestically on the same issues that we wish to
succeed internationally, to provide the political leadership required
to encourage more sustainable action by other countries. This
includes meeting our international commitments in areas such as
the prevention of biodiversity loss and domestic commitments on
greenhouse gas emissions. Although the UK will meet its international
commitments under Kyoto, we argue that this only represents a
step in the right direction and does not necessarily reflect the
scale of effort required to meet the challenge of climate change.
We are therefore concerned that the UK might fail to reach its
more demanding domestic target, and that this failure also will
result in the loss of the political leadership demonstrated by
the UK through the adoption of the target.
89 Ev 71 Back
Ev 5 Back
Ev 50 Back
Ev 50 Back
Qu 17 [Mr Papastavrou] Back
Qu 17 [Mr Buckley] Back
Ev 15 Back
Qu 29 Back
Qu 16 Back
Qu 75 Back
Qu 74 Back
Qu 75 Back
Ev 15 Back
Ev 51 Back
Ev 51 Back
National Audit Office, Government Carbon Offset Fund, Note
shortly to be published with the Environmental Audit Committee
report on carbon offsetting. Back
Ev 15 Back
Qu 78 [Mr Wightman] Back