Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question 39)



  Q39 Chairman: Welcome to this afternoon's session. It is good to see you both here. I wonder if you could introduce yourselves and briefly outline your perspectives on where the environment and sustainable development fit within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK priorities.

  Mr Yeo: I am Marcus Yeo, Director of Resources and External Affairs of JNCC.

  Dr Fleming: I am Vincent Fleming. I am Head of the International Unit and I have responsibility for our Global and Overseas Territories Programmes.

  Mr Yeo: I will start by giving you our general perspectives on the FCO and also say a little about the JNCC's involvement in international work. We are, as you know, the statutory adviser to the Government on UK and international nature conservation. Our international work is broadly divided into four programmes. First, we have a global advice programme, which includes advice and support we give to government on the development and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity. Secondly, we have a global impacts programme. This is a new area of work for us and this is concerned with evaluating the impacts the UK has on biodiversity globally—for example, from trade and tourism—and advising government on mechanisms to mitigate any adverse effects. Thirdly, and of particular interest to this sub-committee, we have a programme concerned with advice on biodiversity conservation in the Overseas Territories. Fourthly, we have a European advice programme, which is concerned with advising on the development and implementation of policies for or affecting the environment, principally within the European Union. We therefore work very closely with the UK Government on all aspects of our international work, and it is government ministers and officials who are our main customers for advice. The principal government stakeholders we work with are FCO, Defra and DfID. We have experience of working with FCO on a fairly wide range of environmental issues. The UK, we believe, is a key player on the world stage in terms of the environment. It has shown very strong leadership on some issues, notably global climate change, and we believe that the FCO has a crucial role in helping to implement the UK's international objectives in relation to the environment. 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. The FCO does undertake some very valuable work currently on the environment. Notable examples would be work on climate change; supporting biodiversity conservation in the Overseas Territories; measures to reduce illegal logging; and pressing for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. However, the impression one gets when one reads documents such as the 2006 White Paper is that global environmental issues could have a rather higher profile within the FCO. For example, only two of the ten international priorities contained in the White Paper explicitly mention the environment. Those are the priorities to do with sustainable development and climate change. So, despite the global importance of the Overseas Territories for biodiversity for example, the priority associated with the territories only refers to ensuring security and good governance; it does not mention the environment at all. It is only when you drill down into the specific responsibilities of the FCO that you find some reference to biodiversity conservation. It is certainly true that most of those international priorities are solely concerned with social or economic issues. We believe that it is really important that government and FCO do not treat environmental issues in isolation; they are intimately entwined with social and economic issues. That, after all, is at the heart of the concept of sustainable development. We would therefore recommend that the environment does need to have a higher profile within the FCO and that environmental issues need to be better integrated with other concerns. We also believe that such an approach would be much more in tune with what has come out of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which stresses that ecosystem services underpin economic growth and social equity. It is no surprise therefore that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment states that, for example, environmental degradation is likely to hinder attempts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Another key message from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is that reversing environmental degradation so that the flow of ecosystem services is maintained will require us to address the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss; these are social, cultural and political factors. It will not be enough just to deal with the proximate causes of biodiversity loss; we need to delve deeper and address the more intractable issues that are the root cause of environmental degradation. I am sure that these are messages which are very familiar to you from your recent inquiry into the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. I also believe, or at least hope, that they are messages that are beginning to have a greater political resonance. We believe that the FCO has a critical role to play in taking forward the UK's responsibilities for the environment internationally, but clearly it cannot do that on its own. It must be supported by other government departments, in particular Defra and DfID, and also by bodies such as ourselves, who are well placed to give the Government scientific and technical advice on specific issues, and so ensure that policies are based on sound evidence. We therefore believe very strongly that government needs to put in place appropriate mechanisms and processes to ensure that there is effective collaboration between departments. Coherence between different policies, we believe, is essential; and we need strong cross-departmental leadership on international environmental issues. The Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Biodiversity, which as you all know comprises ministers from FCO, Defra, DfID and the Chairman of JNCC, we believe offers an important mechanism for achieving this. We also recommend that shared targets, for example in departmental Public Service Agreements, may help with this process. That gives you a brief overview of where JNCC is coming from, what our role is and also our perspective on the work that the FCO does in relation to the environment. We would of course be very happy to talk in more depth about some of these issues.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 23 May 2007