Environmental Audit Committee



Tom Bigg and Sarah Best

Evidence heard in Public HC 1026-i Questions 1 - 17



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 7 September 2011

Members present:

Martin Caton (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Simon Kirby

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Ian Murray

Sheryll Murray

Caroline Nokes

Mr Mark Spencer

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Tom Bigg, Head of Partnerships, International Institute for Environment and Development and Sarah Best, Policy Adviser, Oxfam, gave evidence.

Chair: Good afternoon, welcome to the Environmental Audit Committee. I repeat the apologies I gave to the previous witnesses that we are running behind partly because of a vote in the House earlier on and that Joan Walley, our Chair, is unable to be here because she is moving a new clause in the Health Bill this afternoon. Could you both briefly introduce yourselves?

Tom Bigg: My name is Tom Bigg. I’m with the International Institute for Environment and Development which is an international policy research organisation that looks at environment and development issues in Asia, Africa and Latin America in particular.

Sarah Best: I’m Sarah Best. I’m a policy adviser at the NGO Oxfam GB and developing our thinking around Rio.

Q1 Chair: Thank you. Can I begin by asking what the prospects are for some sort of binding commitment or treaty from Rio? Is there anything that is realistically likely to be of any real value?

Tom Bigg: The prospect of a commitment to an agreement is pretty high just because these processes have an inexorable momentum to them. If you were to ask about the prospect of a meaningful move forward on existing treaties and commitments, I would say the prospects, frankly, are pretty bleak. The contexts in which this summit is happening are not ones in which there is strong commitment to multilateral agreement. If we look back on previous agreements 10 or 20 years ago, the precursors to this summit, the commitments made previously are more honoured in the breach. I think that is the term. There is a significant degree of cynicism as well about the value of these international instruments and commitments that constitute a major backdrop for this summit.

In terms of the negotiated element of the agreement, I think, to be quite honest, that it will be quite a struggle to come up with major moves forward on previous agreements. That is not to say that it is not an extremely important agenda and one which is both timely and essential for the international community to grapple with. For your question specifically about the treaty, that will be my assessment of where we are at the moment.

Sarah Best: The declaration which organised the conference talks about getting a focussed political outcome to the conference, which is quite different, of course, from a binding treaty process. Also, the time available to negotiate anything binding is relatively short. But just to expand on the point that was just made, this is not to say that there cannot be some very decisive and path-turning outcomes at Rio in terms of, for example, governments coming with a set of concrete measures that they are ready to take with a progressive coalition and others in order to unleash a fair, green economy. There are also opportunities to look for where the future deals are going to be needed; looking at the looming resource constraints, the looming crisis, and saying, "What is it in our governance framework that is not fit to deal with these crises?" It has a path-finding role in that respect.

We also have to look as an outcome at what it can do to stimulate those kinds of progressive coalitions between countries across north and south who are ready to move, but also, critically, to engage publics and engage citizens so they are ready to support their governments in doing so.

Q2 Chair: Following on from that, you have identified green economy and sustainable development governance as issues and clearly those are the focus that we know about Rio. Is that too narrow? Should we be hoping for something wider than that?

Sarah Best: These are the two themes, so to an extent we have to go with the themes and there is a lot within them we can get out of them. If we look at the green economy and couch it in terms of a fair and equitable green economy along the lines we have just been hearing, there is a lot of potential to address some absolutely critical issues that we are facing. Key sectors that I would focus on would be around the food sector, where we have fundamental challenges in how we shift to a sustainable food system and ensure that the problem of hunger that we face is addressed. The energy sector is also ripe for focus in the sense of getting transitions to clean energy but also in expanding energy access. Then beyond sectors, looking at some particular measures where there is growing political interest and political support, whether it is around alternates to GDP and new systems of measurement or around the innovative financing mechanisms that will be needed to stimulate this green economy, and getting attention elsewhere and getting additional support at Rio. Those are four areas that I can see would fit within the existing two subject areas that the conference is supposed to look at.

Tom Bigg: To refer back to the session you have just had, if you take a comprehensive approach to green economy you are not just talking about tinkering with efficiency measures and ways we measure progress, you are also looking at pretty fundamental drivers of the way our society functions and, if you take that to the international level, the way we co-operate with other states and the international norms and rules that are established that determine the ways that countries and businesses interact with each other. That is a pretty huge agenda and I would like to think of the green economy as, if it has value, setting out the route by which we get from where we are now towards what constitutes sustainable development. In essence, what we are talking about with the summit, I think, is as Sarah was saying earlier, identifying priorities both now and for the future in order to make that transition possible and make it happen in the most timely way possible.

To answer your question, that is a pretty broad agenda. We are essentially talking about getting moving on realising sustainable development, and what can be done at the international level that makes that more feasible.

Q3 Sheryll Murray: I would like to talk about the need for action now. The Rio Conference comes on the 20th anniversary of the first Rio Summit but aside from the anniversary, is there anything else that makes 2012 an urgent deadline for change?

Tom Bigg: Sarah will come on to talk about this, I’m sure. This summit is addressing absolutely the critical issues, from our perspective, that the world is facing at the moment. Rapidly increasing evidence of resource scarcity and conflict, the relevance of looking at planetary boundaries and the ways in which collectively we can address those way beyond carbon. We are also talking about the impacts of biodiversity loss; we are looking at impacts of exceeding the nitrogen cycle. We are already looking at some of the major challenges that the world has to find ways, collectively, to address. In that sense this summit is hugely timely and the need for action in all of those areas is urgent. The challenge is to set a framework that countries will endorse and buy into and which also recognises the significance of action taken by subsets of countries, by companies working with civil society actors, within a framework. We are not waiting for a signal to act from governments reaching universal agreement. I think there is also a need for an international event that stimulates and supports, puts a spotlight on lessons learned from success that can be replicated elsewhere.

All of those things warrant a global event that brings together a diverse range of practitioners, policy makers, private sectors, civil society, in order to share lessons and think about some of these issues. I think it is also important to say this isn’t about a management fix. We are also looking at real political challenges. There are very strong reasons why the world is the way that it is and they are about the exercise of power, about the influence of actors who benefit from the economy the way that it is, benefit from the way that society functions as it is. I think the main message for Rio is that ultimately even the well-being of the rich will suffer through hitting some of the limits that we can see coming now, and that the sooner there’s a way in which those issues can be addressed collectively the better, in order to avoid the kinds of system collapse that could well happen in many contexts if we carry on as we are now.

Sarah Best: I would really like to support that. Why now? It is about the crisis that we are currently facing and that will increase. In 2008 and 2011 we have seen two food price crises caused by a range of factors related to increasing demand, energy price spikes and so on. But the resource constraints are fundamental to that and the types of volatility and the constraints we are seeing are having a huge impact on our efforts to address poverty reduction. In 2008 we saw about 100 million more people falling into poverty. Hunger levels are rising. We have a drought in east Africa and a famine in Somalia. I think all this shows the intense urgency of using Rio as an opportunity to open up political space in areas where we have had challenges addressing them in the past.

The fact that it is an anniversary is also quite compelling because we have a new generation of young people who are starting to campaign in Brazil and around the world, who are looking for a new future, a new paradigm of growth and development which Rio can set us on the path towards. Alongside the new generation of youth, of course, you have quite a different world in terms of geopolitics, the emerging economies have emerged. Rio obviously will be held in one of those economies. This is also an opportunity for those countries to be coming forward and looking at a future development path. This is why 2012 really matters.

Q4 Sheryll Murray: On climate change, people are now reasonably aware of where the red lines are, and keeping emissions down to stop temperatures rising above or below the 2% rise. But what are the other boundaries or tipping points? What really is the urgency of taking action on other fronts, and how do we get that sense of urgency across to sceptical governments?

Tom Bigg: I touched on one of the other most useful overviews of this assessment of the range of ecological limits that currently exist, which was published in Nature a couple of years ago and produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute. That identifies nine planetary boundaries. Carbon in the atmosphere is obviously the most well known and most acted upon. The others are, as I said, the nitrogen cycles-we are currently significantly exceeding ecological limits-biodiversity, biological resources and the rate of species extinction. Severe strain on particular species is having a major impact. Interestingly, of the other six, I think there are two where information does not currently exist in order to give an accurate picture but that is not to say that those are not also areas where there is major strain, and one of those is marine ecology and systems.

There are comprehensive assessments that will go into the summit process and form part of the backdrop to discussion. I know that there is a discussion within UK organisations and growing interest in some focus on planetary boundaries as a set-something where there should be clearer global understanding and commitment to action. Recognising the potential not for sequential change, which you can anticipate and plan for before you reach some major point, but the reality that with many ecological systems change happens in leaps. You will certainly reach a point where you tip over into rapid species extinction; you tip over into rapid degradation of the resource and by that time it is too late to act. If that is applied at planetary level, we simply do not have anywhere else to go in order to have a viable marine system or viable biological resource system.

Q5 Sheryll Murray: Is there any progress in looking at the marine ecosystem with regard to what you have just mentioned about degradation?

Tom Bigg: In the context of Rio or in the context of research?

Sheryll Murray: In the context of research, because fishery science is never going to be a precise science; it is very difficult. But I would be interested to know whether there is any progress worldwide.

Tom Bigg: I can point you towards the research that would be relevant for that. There is certainly a huge body and it’s not my area, so I am not in a position to give you the nuts and bolts of that in detail. But certainly there is a wide body of research which would demonstrate analysis of particular marine systems and also of global trends and drivers. But, as I say, it is interesting that at the macro level the assessment from the Stockholm Environment Institute is that there is not sufficient information on which to provide an accurate assessment of sustainability of the entire system. There is significant lack of knowledge and lack of information to inform policy on that issue in particular.

Sarah Best: You asked about how we communicate the sense of urgency to sceptical governments. In a country like the UK, I think the issues that really have traction with individuals and citizens are, of course, around the impacts of resource constraints and resource scarcity; the impact on food prices, for example, the impact on energy prices. Chatham House recently did a survey on this which rated these issues very highly in terms of what they saw as important for the Government’s foreign policy, so this is one way to communicate with publics in the UK.

Of course, in terms of communicating a sense of urgency with citizens of developing countries, livelihoods are so dependent on access or lack of access to resources that that conviction job is not required to the same extent. If you have a billion without access to fresh water, 1.5 billion without access to energy, 1 billion living in hunger, it is very immediate and clear. I think that the point there is to frame this also in the context of opportunity. The idea of limits is something that has to be communicated, but also we need to use the language and examples of opportunity. For example, a very salient one is the possibility of an expansion of renewable energy to increase energy access in developing countries. That would be one way to help leaders engage publics, but would also help convince leaders of the importance of Rio.

Q6 Sheryll Murray: Sarah, in your submission you suggested that if developed countries do not build their prosperity on the basis of a smaller ecological footprint, they risk sliding backwards to lower levels of human development. I could see how such a prospect would compel action to be taken, but how soon might that scenario come into play? Can you give us an example of how this might play out in practice?

Sarah Best: Could I ask for clarification? Do you mean in respect of developed or developing countries? I think the submission talked about developed.

Sheryll Murray: Developed.

Sarah Best: Thank you. There is a figure in the submission that plots ecological footprints or carrying capacity against human development, and at the bottom right-hand corner of that figure you see the goal that we’re trying to hit, which is a high level of human development and a low level of ecological footprint. Developed countries are clearly high in human development and way over a per capita fair share limit, if you like, of their ecological footprint. There is an option to keep going as we are but that seems intensely, morally unjust as that limits the space available for low income countries who desperately need to increase their resources and to increase their human development. The prospect of slipping back, in terms of human development-that is what could happen-it doesn’t apply just to developed countries but to economies overall. If we bust these limits then our very prosperity will be undermined. We have endless reports from OECD, UNEP and Stern showing why that might affect growth and incomes. In terms of a particular example, one which was mentioned to me by a colleague yesterday is that in 2009 in relation to both the debt and, no doubt, the food crisis, levels of people without access to sustained, adequate food in America reached its highest point ever of about 45 million people. Now, when you get to those kinds of crunches you can see a situation where human development might be constrained in developed countries as well.

Q7 Peter Aldous: Can I ask each of you a straightforward question-are you a fundamentalist or an incrementalist? By that, I mean, with your view on the move towards a green economy, do you think it needs a fundamentally different economic model to what we have at the moment or is it more a question of more modest incremental changes in products, businesses that produce, the way they go about the processes to get there?

Tom Bigg: I suppose I would advocate incremental change in order to get to a fundamentally different economy-maybe that is having my cake and eating it. I don’t think we can dream up utopian visions of a green economy and arrive at them tomorrow. Equally, I do think if we establish the necessity for change and the benefits of change over a sustained period and then think what the steps by which you can move in that direction are, then that is the best combination.

For both Sarah and I, our work principally focuses on lower income countries, but there are fundamental barriers in all countries to moves in this direction. There are powerful arguments for thinking seriously about what is wrong with the current system and what is better about a system that takes better account of natural resources, focuses more on wellbeing and aspiration over time, rather than over a very short period. I think I would say fundamental change in an incremental way would be my short answer to that.

Sarah Best: Oxfam has definitely put itself forward as looking for a paradigm shift; a new model of growth and development. In terms of the green economy, I suppose the definition put forward by UNEP is the type of economy that we would be looking for, which is one that prioritises social equity and wellbeing, while also addressing ecological scarcity and environmental constraints. We are definitely looking for a paradigm shift. Certainly if you look at the food system, for example, what that means in practice is a whole series of changes at all levels. It means looking at subsidies. It means looking at R&D and where the investment flows are going. It means expanding extension services in developing countries. It means more efficient water resource use. In that sense that is a whole agenda for changes that on their own may look small and incremental, but if delivered can deliver that paradigm shift.

Q8 Peter Aldous: I think the move towards a green economy so far is very much focused on sustainability and addressing natural capital restraints. What role do you think the green economy can play, say, in poverty reduction?

Tom Bigg: That is a big area for us to move on to. I think you have to start in answering that question by looking at what is unsustainable about the current prevailing economic model, in which resources are hugely unequally distributed, in which there is huge inefficiency in economic operations and in which we have a growing disparity between the rich and the poor, both within and between countries. That is a characterisation of our economic model in many contexts. For the work that we are doing on the green economy, a fundamental prerequisite is that that level of inequality is not part of the green economy and that we have to move towards a more equitable share of resources. So applying the logic that Nicholas Stern developed in his work on the economics of climate change, we have to move towards greater equity in that resource use. Not just for reasons of social wellbeing and equity, but also to be viable in the use of a limited resource. We have to move more towards greater equity and access. That logic applies to other natural resources as well, so if we are looking at access to food or water, currently we are heading towards major problems with scarcity and unpredictability in access to those resources. Unless we find a way in which to address that unpredictability and scarcity we will have major problems. That is going to hit rich countries as well as poor ones. It is integral to the green economy to address and to prioritise a focus on poverty reduction and a focus on bringing greater stability and security to the livelihoods of all people. That’s it in a nutshell. I can give more examples to substantiate that if useful, but that’s essentially the position we must take.

Sarah Best: Just to add to that, I think it is important to have a mind to the politics of these discussions around the green economy. There have been some perceptions by some governments and civil society organisations that green economy is a northern agenda that is about commodification of natural resources that they depend upon. In order to get political buy-in for this new term, clearly we have to have a very strong focus on how and why this can deliver for reducing poverty, for increasing people’s access to resources, for protecting their rights. I think it is very important to keep an eye on that political dimension as the UK Government prepares its position. One way that it can overcome these perceptions is to use the language of a fair and equitable green economy. That would help a lot.

In terms of the substance, what does that mean in practice? The whole agenda around a fairer way to share resources, which Tom has talked about, is one aspect of it. If we talk about this in the most simple terms, it is about developing countries-which is where a lot of the destruction of natural resources is happening, partly to serve consumption in the developed world. Given that, you cannot talk about the green economy unless you talk about it in the terms that are important to developing countries. We also have to think about it at a community level. The role of women, for example, as smallholder farmers, intensely dependent on access to land, on access to water; spending long portions of the day going to collect firewood, from ever further distances, to use to cook; and then suffering the health effects of inhaling that smoke. The green economy must have an agenda that is about expanding access, protecting rights and delivering benefits for those communities who are so dependent on natural resources and so vulnerable to the shocks, where we are hitting the resource constraints that we are hitting.

Q9 Peter Aldous: Finally, are you optimistic that from Rio a consensus might emerge, whether incrementally or fundamentally, about the model we need to embrace the green economy?

Tom Bigg: As I was saying at the beginning, I am not that optimistic about a strong negotiated consensus on what a green economy constitutes and how collectively countries should act on it. I wanted to draw an analogy with the politics that have gone on with the climate change COPs, and obviously everyone on this Committee will be aware of the failure of the COP15 in Copenhagen. I think one of the major impacts that that had was a huge increase in awareness of climate change, and the challenge of energy policy in practice in many countries around the world. Pre-2009, many of my colleagues working on climate change had a major challenge getting beyond the officials directly responsible for the negotiations to engage with Government officials responsible for energy policy, responsible for key planning decisions that had major impacts on energy use, and responsible for some of the key aspects of adaptation-which obviously is a critical challenge in many contexts. They simply were not aware of the relevance of climate change debates at an international level to domestic policy and practice. That has changed dramatically over that period. Now, what we see much more in a country like India is that even though India has a total aversion to entering into an international commitment, domestically we have seen a major shift in terms of investment in alternative energy; of long-term planning for energy scenarios in which they won’t have access to the fossil fuels that they currently rely on; and an understanding of population trajectories and the implications those have for future energy planning.

Just to use that as an example, at the next climate change COP, although the official negotiations didn’t come up with any huge progress on Copenhagen, what happened around the margins were some very significant discussions, interactions, sharing of practical experience, identification of potential for partnership and collaboration, which is a key element of an international meeting. If you draw that analogy for Rio, I think that is the way in which significant progress can be achieved in Rio next year, not just in the kernel at the middle that is increasingly looking a bit dead.

Sarah Best: I would say that a multilateral consensus on text, on a new model and all the ways to get there, is probably unlikely. But what we can and should be doing is raising awareness, using the opportunity to raise awareness and bring these discussions forward and, critically-building on what Tom was saying-building coalitions of like-minded countries who are coming to similar views about things to change, so they are able to move forward and demonstrate leadership to others. I do think in some particularly salient sectors and issues, you could start to get real change in the terms and debate. I referenced these at the beginning but, to underline them again, some of the ripe areas are around food, energy, alternate measures of GDP, and potentially looking at some of these innovative financing mechanisms that have been discussed elsewhere.

Where there isn’t consensus, we should look at this as a pathfinder summit in saying, "What is it in our international system of governance that is lacking and how can we get a pathway to change over the long term?" We definitely need to see Rio as a start of a process rather than an end.

Q10 Katy Clark: Global population expansion is obviously making both the sustainable development agenda more difficult but also impacts on all of the green economy issues and green agenda that we have been talking about. It is also a very sensitive subject. Do you think this is something that can be dealt with on an international level, and do you think it is something that should be part of the discussions at Rio?

Sarah Best: Population is obviously a key challenge and the countries where it is most challenging are in some of the poorest countries where population growth will be fastest, but also the resource constraints are most severe. A country like Niger would be a good example.

In fact, we know what we need to do to address these challenges and it has been said for many years-which is investing in women’s education, in health, in reproductive rights, so that they are able to make choices about the size of their family. It is also critically-and this is an issue for Rio-about the consumption patterns of the small number of people around the world who are consuming the most and, therefore, having the biggest impact on our environment. That is how the population question should be addressed. I think it would be a mistake politically to try and raise this up the agenda in Rio by looking at other types of means where there is no consensus. The discussion of population controls is morally very dubious and politically will have no attraction whatsoever, so the approach is much better focused on investing in education and health for women and looking at the consumption footprints of the richer few countries and elites.

Tom Bigg: Just to add to that, the estimates of net population growth over the next 10 or 20 years suggest that around 90% to 95% of that will be in urban centres in low and middle income countries. If you are looking at population growth, one of the major focuses for this summit would be on urban issues, on ways in which cities are able to make a transition to operating in ways that are more sustainable, that better meet the needs of their people. But also, we need to learn the lessons from cities where we can already see comparatively efficient uses of land space, efficient placement of different factors of the city. There are existing lessons that can be learnt and population growth will dramatically change many cities, but planning for that change and understanding where an urban development wants to go presents a major opportunity as well.

Again, I come back to the example of India, because I took part in a dialogue on green economy in India this time last year. This was one of the major things that was seen as an opportunity. Urban growth within India is one of the major processes of change that will happen over this period, so addressing many of these challenges seems possible in a way that in some other more intractable areas it is hard to envisage.

I would go along entirely with everything Sarah has said and add that population per se tends to come down to a very divisive issue, which is seen as one that cannot be mentioned in these processes. It can be quite stultifying to introduce. Ten years ago in Johannesburg there was an effort to introduce population issues into the agenda, which essentially just led to a standoff between two blocks of countries that were never going to change their positions. I would say, looking at the implications of population, there are lots of things that can be done but they do not necessarily translate into an effective multinational negotiation.

Q11 Katy Clark: We are obviously here scrutinising what the British Government do. Do you think the British Government have it about right on this issue? Do you think they should be doing more?

Tom Bigg: I think we would push them to focus exactly on the kinds of issues we are saying are key, both in encouraging population growth that can be sustained, and also in addressing the implications of population growth where we can predict that it’s inevitably going to happen. That should be the approach that is a priority for the UK Government in its international policy.

Q12 Katy Clark: They say they do that. They say that this is one of their priorities. Do you see that in the work that you do? Do you think they should be doing more, or do you think they have it about right?

Sarah Best: Around the specific issue of population?

Katy Clark: Yes.

Sarah Best: It is not something that I personally have been working on but can certainly get back to you on that.

Katy Clark: That’s okay, thank you.

Chair: We are running out of time, so can I ask the Committee members and witnesses to be as succinct as they can?

Q13 Dr Whitehead: We talked earlier about the discussion at the moment about moving away from GDP as an appropriate measure of development and discussing alternative measures that might monitor or might drive changes. You, Tom, said in your submissions, "The very language that the world uses to discuss the economy would change in order to break away and move beyond the neoliberal paradigm that has served a few well but has served our planet and too much of society so poorly." Isn’t that a bit mealy mouthed? What I am trying to grasp at in a number of these discussions is the reason that GDP is the appropriate measure of development in many people’s eyes is because that is what drives countries to making large sums of money across the world. Standard & Poor’s credit ratings are an indicator of where and how those investments might take place. The question, I think, is if we do change these paradigms and we change these measures of development, how conceivably would that work in practice, in terms of the extent of that paradigm being used at the moment as a way of measuring apparently how countries are doing, but in practice measuring who can make money out of what country where?

Tom Bigg: As our colleagues were saying earlier, there is a diverse range of different focuses on ways in which to move beyond GDP, primarily because it simply has not worked as an adequate measure of growth and stability. That is the driver behind the Sarkozy Commission, which has come up with some very interesting work looking at broader ways of assessing economic health and value, and the OECD work on measuring growth that was also referred to. At the macro level, first, there is a pretty wide breadth of opinion that GDP is insufficient as a measure of economic wealth and stability and, secondly, that there are ways in which to broaden a definition and a set of metrics that you use in order to assess wealth that provide a better point of assessment.

To give a very specific example that would draw on our work, we have done quite a bit of work in Namibia over the last few years, and the Namibian Government incorporate within their economic models an assessment of natural resources, so the value, the economic return from natural resources is explicitly based on the fact that Namibia would say, "We benefit heavily from tourism and we benefit heavily from natural resource extraction." Those values are not incorporated within the model of GDP and the costs of losing those assets also are not incorporated, so they build that into their economic model. Not because they have some alternative world view, but because it gives them a better basis for decision making. That, I think, is fundamentally the direction that we would want to move in.

Q14 Dr Whitehead: A not entirely unserious rejoinder is do you therefore need a Standard & Poor’s ecological limits credit rating in order to underline investment in countries?

Tom Bigg: That might well be the kind of measure that you would end up with, because it is a significant factor in assessing that country’s economic strength and stability.

Sarah Best: I would only add that the question of measurement and indicators seems to be getting political interest for Rio. What governments can do there is support the development and usage of these. Essentially it is a compass to guide the economy. It is necessary but not sufficient. What is going to be needed is all the policies and legislation and so on to enact change overall.

What we would emphasise from Oxfam’s perspective is that, in looking at these alternate indicators we need to look both at ecological assets and factoring in of all these unpaid goods and services, like ecosystem services, but we need to give a higher profile to the social dimension as well. For example, the role of the care economy would be one example of that. Questions of inequality we would also emphasise. In the discussion around alternate indicators, it is both the environmental and the social dimension that we need to be looking at.

In terms of companies and how companies make decisions, I suppose a company has its profit and loss account and it has a balance sheet that looks at its underlying assets, and that is what investors look at. That is what we need for our economies as well. We need to have compasses and indicators that look at our underlying assets, whether financial, human, physical or social. All those assets need to be measured and used as the basis for decision making.

Chair: Thank you. We have come to our last question of the afternoon, but we are up against the wire now so, again, if I can ask the questioner to be brief and the answer to be brief.

Q15 Simon Wright: What more, if anything, does the UK need to do to make Rio a success?

Sarah Best: Okay. To be very succinct, the UK Government is starting to develop its position but visibility is fairly low, so what we need to see is a very concerted effort for coherence across Government in building a position towards Rio. UK NGOs wrote to the Prime Minister a few months ago emphasising this point and saying that appointing a special envoy on Rio to achieve that buy-in of coherence internally would be a good option, but also to play that outreach role externally. We think there is a lot in Rio for the UK Government. The UK has a good record internationally in climate change, and on aid, and it has this marvellous Foresight report on the Future of Food and Farming, so it has something to offer. What the UK Government can and should be doing is a very concerted outreach to allies to find those progressive coalitions who are looking for an outcome at Rio.

Particular processes we would highlight of course would be the EU, which is always a critical player, and there are some key decision-making moments in the EU at the moment, but also of course the G8/G20 and so on. We want to see greater internal and high level buy-in at the top level of Government to make Rio a key focus and drawing on areas where the UK is strong to do external outreach to allies.

Tom Bigg: I endorse all of that. If I were to add something particularly, I think it is a sort of habitual thing for NGOs in these kinds of events on sustainable developments at global level to say, "This is the last chance to save the earth." That was the slogan used 10 years ago and 20 years ago. I think our message is that is not the way to approach this event. The key challenge for this summit is there are difficult intractable issues that, not least, have come about because of the rapidity of change in the world; the rapid rise of the BRIC countries, as Sarah was saying; and the combination of different stresses on different systems, which we don’t have simple answers to.

One of the challenges for the UK Government is to be serious about what some of those pressing challenges are and not to try and come up with a quick policy approach that means you can sign it off, but essentially say, "We want to engage in real dialogue about how, globally, we can best address these issues." Just to give you an example, climate finance will, over the next 10 or 15 years dwarf official development aid going from rich countries to poor countries. There is a very inadequate system for ensuring that that provides development benefits. In this context of looking at the green economy, potentially that is one of the major tools that could be steered towards better meeting the needs of poor people in developing economies, but we don’t have an adequate system for addressing that. The debate going on at the moment within the climate change community doesn’t, as far as I am concerned, learn sufficiently from development experience; learn sufficiently from practical experience of what works in particular countries. This summit could be an opportunity to say, "These kinds of issues are hugely important"; we need to find the right way of working them through so that, not in Rio but subsequently, we have set in train the momentum for coming up with something that does move us forward in some of these key areas.

Q16 Dr Whitehead: Oxfam has said in evidence that it is very concerned that the Government’s response to Rio is not stuck in a particular departmental silo. Can I ask whether you have seen evidence that there is a departmental cost-cutting approach emerging?

Sarah Best: Certainly, we know that a cross-departmental group has been set up and that departments such as DFID have started to look at this. The level of engagement appears to be relatively low from other departments. Those that we would see as having a particular interest and relevance for Rio would obviously be DFID, but also Business, Treasury, DEFRA- of course-who is in the lead. So some evidence but I think we need to see a lot more engagement and we need to see top Prime Ministerial level endorsement and support for Government to get together its position and strategy towards Rio.

Tom Bigg: If I could throw a question back to you on that, I presume it is within the EAC’s mandate to ask different departments to clarify what their ambitions are for the summit, given their own specific agenda. It would be particularly interesting to know from DFID, let’s say, what their ambition is, given their focus on development for the summit, as opposed to just being subsumed within a single position that is led by DEFRA.

Q17 Dr Whitehead: To be clear, do both of you feel that DFID is one of those departments from which we need to see more engagement in this process?

Tom Bigg: I would say for me DFID and DECC would be two in particular.

Dr Whitehead: Yes, okay.

Chair: We can certainly seek answers to the sort of questions you suggested there, Mr Bigg. Can I conclude this afternoon by thanking you both for the excellent evidence that you have provided. It will be useful when we come to producing our report.

Prepared 13th October 2011