Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Seminar at the Royal Institute of International Affairs


    Baroness Finlay of Llandaff,
    Lord Hunt of Chesterton,
    Lord Mitchell (Chairman),
    Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior,
    Lord Wade of Chorlton
    Baroness Hilton of Eggardon,
    Lord McColl of Dulwich,
    Lord Oxburgh,
    Baroness Walmsley,
    Lord Wright of Richmond

They were supported by Rebecca Neal (Clerk), Jonathan Radcliffe (Specialist Assistant) and Professor Philippe Sands QC (Specialist Adviser).

Participants were:
Duncan Brack,Head of Sustainable Development Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Jo Chataway,Senior Lecturer, Open University
John Dudeney,Deputy Director, British Antarctic Survey
Robert Falkner,Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Dougal Goodman,Director, Foundation for Science and Technology
Nicky Grandy,Secretary, International Whaling Commission
Dave Griggs,Head of Hadley Centre, Met Office
Lord Jenkin of Roding,Chairman, Foundation for Science and Technology
Philip Kendall,Select Committee Liaison, FCO
Andrew Levi,Head of Aviation, Maritime and Energy Department, FCO
Alistair McGlone,Head of the Environment International Division, Defra Legal Services Directorate
Doug Parr,Chief Scientist, Greenpeace
Amanda Plimmer,Science Strategy Team, Defra
John Pyle,Professor of Chemistry, Director of Centre for Atmospheric Science, Cambridge University
Mike Richardson,Head of Polar Regions Unit, FCO
Jane Rumble,Deputy Head of Polar Regions Unit, FCO

Duncan Brack, Head of Sustainable Development Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs chaired the seminar.


Professor Philippe Sands QC, specialist adviser to the Committee and Professor of Law at University College London.

  1.  Professor Sands provided an overview about the nature of international agreements and how they are adopted.

  2.  The agreements with which the Committee was concerned were public, binding, and international in nature.

  3.  There were three main types of agreement: the majority were bilateral; some were regional; and some were global.

  4.  Global agreements ranged from those relating to climate change and the ozone layer, to whaling and to biodiversity. There had been at least 120 significant agreements adopted over the previous eight years.

  5.  The manner in which science was incorporated into agreements differed widely depending on the subject matter, the terms of the treaty, the political background to the subject, and the level of involvement by NGOs. At each stage of the process of international agreements, science could play a role.

  6.  The major steps to an agreement were as follows:

    (a)  Deciding on the need for an agreement. Science could inform a decision as to whether a subject needed an agreement. Economic and social considerations could also play a role here.

    (b)  The formal negotiation process. Nation states brought scientific perspectives to bear at the negotiating table. At the table there would be a range of scientific opinions and also a range of views about the relationship between scientific and non-scientific considerations. NGOs would not normally formally participate in these negotiations.

    (c)  Adopting an agreement. First, there was usually a framework agreement, which was not usually very directive in tone. This framework agreement might establish a Committee system with a Secretariat to carry out more detailed work.

    (d)  Agreements subsequent to the framework agreement. Subsequent agreements could take a number of forms, including protocols. These would provide more detail than the framework agreement.

    (e)  Domestic implementation. The nature of agreements meant that there was often scope for different interpretations of what the agreement required of the nation state.

    (f)  Potential disputes about the implementation of international agreements. Some international agreements had dispute settlement bodies.


  7.  Secretariats of agreements had different arrangements for keeping up to date with and integrating science. Professor Sands suggested the following points should be kept in mind throughout the inquiry:

    (a)  the vast majority of international agreements did not have formal methods for integrating science;

    (b)  only a significant minority had scientific committees;

    (c)  only a tiny minority of agreements had access to a scientific body which worked to reach a scientific consensus (for example the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—IPCC);

    (d)  it would not always be possible to reach scientific consensus, particularly in cases where scientific information was lacking.


Professor John Pyle, Director of Centre for Atmospheric Science, Cambridge University.

  8.  Professor Pyle spoke about his involvement in writing reports on the scientific assessment of ozone depletion as requested by the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

  9.  The co-chairs of the scientific group in charge of writing the report developed a report outline and then invited lead authors to assemble writers to produce chapters.

  10.  Lead authors and members of writing teams had been drawn from a wide range of countries. Approximately 50 per cent of the writers had been suggested by nation States; others had been recommended by scientists already involved. Professor Pyle emphasised that the best scientists had been involved.

  11.  The report was produced in little over a year. The second draft of the report had been sent out to 133 reviewers. There was then a week-long panel review which involved further reviewers.

  12.  No one had been paid to be involved.

  13.  In order to maintain credibility the following had been adhered to:

    —  participants should be scientific experts,

    —  there should be no policy statements in the report,

    —  there should be no pushing of particular research agendas,

    —  all sources for the report were peer reviewed, published or "in press". Dr Dave Griggs, Head of the Hadley Centre.

  14.  Dr Griggs spoke about his involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

  15.  The IPCC provided objective core policy relevant information. This was used by parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to inform subsequent decisions. The IPCC secretariat consisted of four staff members. It was funded by governments, but this funding was not secured by the UNFCCC.

  16.  The IPCC produced regular assessment reports with input from its three working groups. The Reports from each of the three working groups included a short summary for policy makers along with a longer technical summary and then chapters underlying both those summaries.

  17.  The most recent report had been prepared by 122 lead authors, 515 contributing authors, 21 review editors and 420 expert reviewers 99 countries had been represented.

  18.  The summary for policy makers had been agreed line by line at a plenary inter-governmental meeting in January 2001. If there were significant concerns expressed about the scientific evidence put forward in the report, it would be possible to acknowledge this deviation in footnotes. This had not occurred.


  19.  Dr Robert Falkner, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs

  20.  Dr Falkner explained that multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) were inherently precautionary: most MEAs were adopted on the basis of limited scientific understanding: for example, the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol and the Cartagena Protocol.

  21.  There were two main ways to dealing with questions of scientific uncertainty and precaution in MEAs:


    risk assessment could be centralised and an institution could be asked to provide regular scientific reviews (the IPCC performed this function for the Kyoto Protocol). The implication behind this was that the scientific consensus could be reached and that decisions on risk should be taken at an international level;


    risk assessment and decision making could be decentralised (Cartagena Protocol). Differences in risk perception would persist and so decisions should be taken at the level of the nation State.

  22.  The precautionary principle was increasingly informing MEAs. Precautionary action should:

    (a)  be prudent in order to protect the environment and interest of future generations;

    (b)  be based on sufficient evidence but in advance of scientific proof;

    (c)  be justified on the basis of reasonable judgements of cost effectiveness; and

    (d)  place the burden of proof on those seeking a change from the status quo.

  23.  A sharp distinction between value driven and science driven international agreements could not be drawn.

Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace.

  24.  Dr Parr spoke about those international agreements which particularly involved the precautionary principle (see below).

  25.  Science could not act as a universal language or prevent values playing a key role. However, sometimes science had encouraged political forces over the need for an agreement. For example, science relating to ozone depletion had encouraged politicians to take action and develop an agreement.

  26.  Scientists also played a role in appraising and developing technology in order to develop alternative methods of taking action, such as by producing CFC-free products to facilitate action to prevent growth of the ozone hole.

Dr Nicky Grandy of the International Whaling Commission.

  27.  Dr Grandy pointed out that any views she expressed were those of the IWC secretariat and not necessarily of member countries.

  28.  The impact of whaling on human groups had now been included as part of the scientific assessment relating to whaling.

  29.  Values were probably the most important factor in international agreements. Values relating to whaling had changed over time, with now a significant number of countries opposed to any degree of whaling.

  30.  Taking a precautionary approach relating to whaling agreements could help and should be employed.

  31.  There was need for a consistent approach about how to cope with scientific uncertainty.

Dr Joanna Chataway of the Open University.

  32.  Dr Chataway suggested that science was traditionally viewed as an independent source of objective knowledge, which could bridge gaps between different political and cultural positions in order to reach consensus in international agreements.

  33.  When the primary aim of an international agreement was to increase economic integration, there would not be so many concerns about acknowledging scientific uncertainty, and there would be a firmer consensus. Scientific uncertainty was much more likely to be acknowledged in agreements which had primarily social aims. Nation States would then have the opportunity to take up a scientific position which supported the interests of their country. This could be prevent a strong consensus and might lead to a broader, less directive agreement being reached.


  34.  The Government Chief Scientist and departmental Chief Scientific Advisers should, and did, play an important role in keeping Ministers and officials informed of scientific developments in areas relevant to international agreements.

  35.  Coordination relating to international agreements between government departments could be improved.

  36.  In some cases communication between Government and the scientific community could be enhanced. In relation to some international agreements officials felt well served by the scientific community.

  37.  Measures needed to be taken to increase awareness in the scientific community about international agreements and the role they should play in communicating with governments.

  38.  Countries carried out negotiations in different ways:

    (a)  In the UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would generally take the lead. The lead official would not usually have a legal background. There would be co-ordination with relevant Government departments prior to negotiation but there would be scope to change position at the table.

    (b)  In the USA, the State Department always led. They would have extensive briefings with all relevant departments in Washington DC and a position would be agreed prior to the negotiations. The State Department would have to return to Washington DC to consult with other departments before deviating from the agreed position.

    (c)  Germany often had a large delegation with representatives from all different departments at the negotiating table.

  39.  In the UK, Cabinet Committees would be appointed for very significant agreements.

  40.  Industry could have a significant presence at negotiations. They would not have representatives at the table, but could sit in the room and would be there to inform Government representatives. On occasion there could be more industry representatives than delegates.

  41.  Many MEAs required commitment from developing countries (such as the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Kyoto Protocol). Therefore, it was very important to ensure that scientists of developing countries were involved in scientific assessments. The IPCC covered expenses of participants from developing countries in order to enable them to attend meetings.

  42.  Issues of funding for scientists to be involved in scientific assessment should be considered when negotiating agreements.

  43.  Scientists needed to "sell" their success stories of how international agreements could lead to change; the ozone hole and the Montreal Protocol was a particularly good example.

  44.  Agreements should be responsive to changes in scientific understanding. This could be achieved by having regular scientific meetings to feed into Conference of the Parties.

Visit to Antarctica

  1.  The Committee visited a British Antarctic Survey base on the Antarctic Peninsula and the Falkland Islands. Lord Mitchell (Chair), Lord Oxburgh and Baroness Walmsley represented the Committee and Rebecca Neal, Clerk of the Committee, accompanied them. Professor John Lawton, Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Dr Tim Moffat, Assistant to the Director of BAS, Professor Chris Rapley, Director of BAS and Dr Andrew Tyler were also present throughout the visit.

  2.  The Antarctic comprises seven claimant territories, one of which is the British Antarctic Territory (the others are territories of Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway. The Antarctic Treaty entered into force in 1961, with the objectives to:

    —  keep Antarctica demilitarised, to establish it as a nuclear-free zone, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;

    —  promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica; and

    —  set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

  3.  There are five further agreements which govern activities in the Antarctic and, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System, namely:

    —  Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (adopted June 1964).

    —  Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (adopted December 1972, entered into force March 1978).

    —  Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) (adopted May 1980, entered into force April 1982).

    —  Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA) (adopted June 1988, but superseded by the Environmental Protocol (see below) and unlikely to enter into force).

    —  Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (adopted October 1991, entered into force January 1998).

  4.  The British Antarctic Survey aims to carry out world-class science in the Antarctic and related regions and to maintain "an active and influential regional presence" in the Antarctic. BAS has two research stations on the Antarctic, one at Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula.

  5.  The Committee visited Rothera from 9 January to 14 January. The aims for the visit were:

    —  To visit a scientific enterprise whose boundaries and framework are entirely regulated by binding international agreements;

    —  To inquire about and observe the ways in which scientists from the countries which are party to these agreements interpret them and how they work together;

    —  To learn from those involved in implementing the agreements whether the scientific assumptions and technical information which underpinned the agreements have, in the light of experience, turned out to be adequate and accurate; and

    —  To establish what lessons may be learned that are relevant to the drafting of future agreements which have scientific implications.


  6.  The Committee heard that Rothera was BAS's largest base and was occupied both in winter and in summer. It contributed to earth systems science, looking at connections between the atmosphere, the biosphere, geospheres, fresh water and the oceans. BAS conducted research into marine and terrestrial biology, the ice sheet and climate, the oceans and atmosphere and geology.

Marine and terrestrial biology

  7.  There were a number of ecologically simple communities of organisms and plants which had evolved in the Antarctic to be able to survive prolonged freezing. In contrast the marine environment was one of the most thermally stable environments at the Earth's surface. Scientific projects aimed to develop understanding of how species cope with environmental change.

Ice sheet and climate

  8.  The Antarctic ice sheet played a key role in climate and provided a record of climate extending back half a million years.

Atmospheric science

  9.  Research aimed to facilitate understanding of what the links are between the ice, ocean and atmosphere to develop climate models, to be able to predict climate change over the next 100 years.


  10.  The Antarctic had a geological history going back more than 2,000 million years. Research into the rocks here helped to understand environmental and continental change and how life had evolved over time.


  11.  The science carried out by BAS contributed to understanding the ozone hole, climate change, ecosystem science and could continue to provide deeper knowledge about the physical world.

  12.  A significant amount of infrastructure and support was required to carry out this science. The Committee visited all areas of the base, from the kitchens to the desalination plant. Of particular importance was the need to maintain a communications tower, planes and a runway. Accurate weather forecasting was essential as the weather was key to field trips and long distances were flown across a number of weather systems. This was made clear to the Committee when they flew about 200 miles south of Rothera to visit field sites at Coal Nunatak and Fossil Bluff.

  13.  About half of the number of staff present at Rothera were support staff, there to facilitate scientists to be able to survive in as safe as an environment as possible.

  14.  Much research was carried out in the field and when scientists go off base they are allocated a field assistant, an expert in surviving safely in one of the most hostile environments in the world, with temperatures way below freezing, high winds, high ultra-violet radiation and a very dry atmosphere. The Committee experienced the difficulties of living in the field, of setting up and living in camp and of the dangers of very quick weather changes from sunny and dry to very low visibility. They also saw the importance of in-depth understanding of the terrain, of always having to be aware of the possibility of crevasses.


  15.  In order to be able to continue to carry out high quality science, it was important that the pristine environment of the Antarctic is protected as much as possible. To this end, science and politics interacted on a daily basis, with the scientists' activities both facilitated and constrained by the treaties.

  16.  The treaties relied on scientific information provided by the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) (via its Standing Committee on the Antarctic Treaty System), a Committee of the International Council for Science (ICSU). In particular SCAR provided the scientific basis for all environmental decisions relating to the Antarctic.

  17.  From 1961 representatives from the Antarctic Treaty System were able to visit any other national station on the Antarctic to view the facilities and to ensure that there is compliance with the treaties. Rothera had been visited in January 1999 and as a result had built a sewerage treatment plant.

  18.  Various environmental decisions had been taken by the ATS without full and comprehensive scientific data. These included:


    Banning all dogs from the Antarctic. This was decided on the basis that dogs introduced distemper into the seal population, which had since been realised was not correct.


    Introducing sewerage plants. It was still uncertain that this was the best way to carry out waste disposal. Rothera was carrying out a project to examine the impact of their sewerage system.

  19.  On-going debates included:

    (a)  The impact of humans on the pristine fragile environment—did they introduce viruses for example? There was currently some pressure to introduce legislation about this, yet this would be based on sketchy data from research on one penguin population. It had been surmised that humans eating chicken had introduced Newcastle's disease. However, lawyers had now referred to the need to examine chicken carcasses for signs of this disease, yet Newcastle's disease could not be identified by visual checks. In addition it was not clear that humans were the most likely source of alien viruses: there were migratory species, such as skewers, which were known to spend time in South America and had much closer contact with penguin and seal populations than humans.

    (b)  Impact of tourism. Tourism at present was mostly confined to ocean voyages with very few tourists landing. However, this industry was only likely to increase and it was not established what the likely impacts of this would be. Of greater concern was that many tourist vessels did not have double-strengthened hulls and often travelled through unchartered waters. There was a risk of accidents through colliding with icebergs, which could lead to a large number of deaths and injuries and would place a large responsibility on the scientific bases to launch rescue operations and to shelter survivors —which bases were not equipped to deal with.


  20.  The Committee met John Barton, Director of Fisheries of the Falkland Islands Government, Paul Brickle, Fisheries Scientist, Sasha Arkhipkan, Senior Fisheries Scientist, Phyllis Rendall, Head of Mineral Resource, Falkland Islands Government, Howard Pearce, Governor of Falkland Islands, Harriet Hall, Deputy Governor, Gordon Liddle and Richard McGee, Andy Douse, Conservation Manager of the Falklands, Drew Irvine, General Manager of Argos Limited. PLUS names of all present at meal at Howard Pearce's—I am not sure I have.

Falkland Islands Fisheries

  21.  South Georgia fishing territory was covered by CCAMLR, the Falklands was not.

  22.  There were a number of conservation zones in the Falkland Islands fisheries. Fishing needed to be carefully managed and required international cooperation and good relationships with industry to be able to do so.

  23.  The value of fisheries to the Falkland Islands was about £200 million, with squid providing 70 per cent of the catch.

  24.  There was cooperation with Argentina on fishing because of the proximity of their waters. There was a bilateral Commission (South Atlantic Fisheries Commission). This had a Scientific sub-committee which discussed straddling stocks, addressed conservation issues, shared licensing lists. Their recommendations were not binding.

  25.  Research tasks carried out in relation to fisheries included examining diet, parsites, environmental issues, fecundity and oceanography. The Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department collaborated closely with the University of Hull and Imperial College.

  26.  Researchers played a very important role (many of whom were affiliated with Imperial College), as independent observers present on ships to calculate catches. They had also carried out research about the impact on birds of longline fishing and various steps had been taken to reduce the numbers of birds dying as a result of being caught up in fishing lines.

South Georgia Fisheries

  27.  South Georgia was an unpopulated island (about 30 people were there, most of whom were British Antarctic staff). Revenue generated from South Georgia was spent on conservation, advice and research—it did not provide income for the Falkland Islands. Allowing fishing to be conducted in that area meant that it was controlled rather than allowing over-fishing and provided opportunities for research.

  28.  CCAMLR set the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each species in South Georgia waters following reports from its Scientific Committee.

Control of the High Seas

  29.  The High Seas were very unprotected as there was no multilateral agreement about fishing there. This would be significant to controlling poaching.

  30.  It was important that the UK ratified the Convention of Petrels and Albatrosses, to help reduce bird mortality. It would also be a big step to managing fishing fleets in international waters. However, the EU had not yet adopted this and it could be difficult for the UK to ratify without EU doing so.

Fishing Industry

  31.  Industry was mostly very happy with the observers present on board as it is in industry's interest to address changes to be able to continue fishing.

  32.  There were joint venture projects between industry and treaties—Argos Fishing for example advised on compliance with CCAMLR.

  33.  Industry, such as Argos, carried out research into new fishing methods which would have less of a negative impact on the environment and minimise bird deaths. Argos, in conjunction with Imperial College, were also looking to develop a tamperproof ship monitoring system and of more efficient and accurate ways of recording catch.

  34.  The UK did not at present have an industry representative at CCAMLR. There needed to be an over-arching industry body which could send a representative but this had not yet proved forthcoming. However, the FCO did work closely with Argos and others.

Falkland Islands and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

  35.  There were some major conventions that Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom had not ratified, such as the CBD.

  36.  The UK had set up the National Biodiversity Network as a result of the CBD and it could be helpful to conservation of species in the Falklands to expand this to cover there too.


  37.  The Committee met a large number of people on this visit all of whom were extremely welcoming and helpful. We would like to thank them all and, in particular, Professor Chris Rapley for providing us with this opportunity, the Base Commander of Rothera, Steve Marshall, and the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Howard Pearce for facilitating an extremely useful and interesting visit.

Visit to Geneva

  1.  The Sub-Committee visited Geneva on 4 and 5 March 2004 and met representatives of a variety of agencies of the United Nations and other international bodies. Members present were Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Baroness Hilton, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Lord Mitchell (Chairman), Lord Oxburgh and Lord Wright of Richmond. They were supported by Rebecca Neal and Michael Collon, Committee Clerks, and Jonathan Radcliffe, Specialist Assistant. They were accompanied by Bob Fairweather from the Office of the United Kingdom Permanent Representative.


  2.  The Committee met Mr Nick Thorne, the United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and were given an overview of the work of the different United Nations agencies in Geneva.

  3.  The Committee heard that the United Kingdom generally enjoyed excellent relations with these bodies, and on a personal level with members of their staff.

  4.  The FCO played an important coordinating role when different UK government departments were working with UN agencies. There was no Cabinet Office unit responsible for coordinating work on international agreements, though there was such a unit for European Union matters.

  5.  In many cases the work of the different UN agencies overlapped. There were some excellent contacts between individuals based in different agencies, and the work of UN agencies could be further improved through more formal meetings. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) had the advantage that the different secretariats worked in the same building.

  6.  The United Kingdom played a disproportionate role in providing high quality scientific, medical and technical advice.


UNEP Regional Office for Europe

  7.  The Committee met Mr Frits Schlingemann, Director, UNEP Regional Office for Europe, and Mr Michael Williams from the UNEP Information Office for Conventions.

  8.  The Committee were told that each of the Conventions negotiated under the auspices of UNEP had a legally separate secretariat. This could be unsatisfactory, especially as they were not all located in the same place. Sometimes a government was prepared to fund a secretariat on condition that it was located in that country.

  9.  Most of these secretariats had their own scientific advisory panels. On some topics, such as hazardous wastes, scientific expertise was scarce. In general, governments nominated scientists to serve the secretariats in an individual capacity on a part-time and unpaid basis. Most were happy to come to Geneva for a few days, even though this involved taking time off work.

  10.  It was felt that the approach of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could work in other areas, such as tackling water issues. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC, based in Cambridge), which acted as UNEP scientific assessment centre, was another good example.

  11.  The coordination between the different networks of scientists left something to be desired. However at the Seventh Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) at Kuala Lampur in February 2004 the WCMC, with its extensive network of expert sources, had been asked to support the work of the CBD Secretariat, which was felt to be a breakthrough.

  12.  The momentum for new initiatives came not from scientists, nor from the UN, but from the governments of the states party to agreements. It would be difficult for the UN to take the initiative unless mandated by governments. Agreements on chemicals, for example, had effects on employment as well as on health and the environment, and it was for governments to coordinate these.

  13.  The Member States of the European Union almost always spoke with one voice, the position being coordinated in advance of the meeting. Since the previous year this had included the new Member States.

  14.  Funding was always a problem, especially when different bodies with overlapping interests competed for funds. UNEP's budget of $60 million a year, less than that of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), was made up of voluntary contributions from governments, and so could be vulnerable. Some major States were not prepared to provide funding if environmental conventions touched on sensitive issues such as nuclear testing or chemical warfare. Others took the view that the liberalisation of trade always made money, while environmental agreements always cost money. The truth was more complex.

  15.  International organisations could find it difficult to criticise countries openly—UNEP reports would not pin blame on one in particular. However, there were ways of identifying culprits, as some of the information collected was in the public domain. NGOs were therefore able to pick this up and use it more directly to put pressure on governments.

  16.  The precautionary principle was found to be a helpful input to the decision making process, although care had to be taken when incorporating it into agreements. The language used to express it differed between trade and environmental agreements. Essentially it was thought to be an extension of an Environmental Impact Assessment, which was an accepted instrument.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

  17.  The Committee met Mr Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and Mr David Morgan, Chief of the CITES Scientific Support Unit.

  18.  The Committee learned that CITES regulated the trade in some 5,000 endangered animal and 28,000 plant species. This did not include all the world's endangered species since many were not traded. There were 165 signatory States. Each country designated authorities for liaison with the CITES Secretariat. In the United Kingdom the designated authorities were the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for administrative matters and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Kew Gardens for scientific issues.

  19.  The Secretariat had three full-time scientists, and could buy in external specialised scientific advice. NGOs were sometimes able to provide that advice. UNEP WCMC was used to manage the CITES trade database on behalf of the secretariat. A Memorandum of Understanding had been signed with the World Customs Organization and ICPO-Interpol which allowed for an exchange of information and set out a joint work programme.

  20.  At a Conference of the Parties, any party could suggest adding a new species to those covered by the Convention. Such a proposal had to be backed by peer reviewed evidence of the threat to that species, with each proposal judged against a set of strict criteria. Additionally, other organisations, such as the International Whaling Commission or the Food and Agriculture Organization, would be asked for their opinion.

  21.  CITES had adopted the precautionary principle in relation to listing species; the benefit of the doubt was given to conservation of the species. However, the decisions were ultimately taken by a two-thirds majority of the States present and voting. The voting was not always in accordance with the scientific evidence; sometimes the political importance of an issue transcended the scientific importance.

The Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

  22.  The Committee met Mr James Willis, Director of Chemicals and Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (the Rotterdam Convention), and of the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (the Stockholm Convention), together with Mr Bo Wahlstrom, Senior Scientific Advisor, Chemicals.

  23.  The Rotterdam Convention, which had entered into force on 24 February 2004, aimed to promote shared responsibility in the international trade in hazardous chemicals in order to protect health and the environment.

  24.  A chemical which was banned or severely restricted by parties from two different regions would be considered for listing as subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure. Alternatively, a single developing country could propose a "severely hazardous pesticide formulation" for consideration. Such a proposal had to be scientifically based, but the scientific evidence could come from any relevant source. It would be evaluated by the Chemical Review Committee, a committee of government-designated experts, which would make a recommendation to the Conference of the Parties. The recommendation would be made after the proposal had been judged against a set of criteria, one of which was whether the listing of the chemical would lead to a reduction of risk for human health or the environment of the party that submitted the proposal.

  25.  The Stockholm Convention would enter into force on 17 May 2004. It would eliminate the production, use and environmental release of a number of categories of man-made persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and limit their import and export to permitted uses, or to what was necessary for environmentally sound disposal. Production and use of DDT would be permitted only for those States which still relied on it for health purposes. The Convention also required States to reduce releases of unintentionally produced pollutants, especially dioxins and furans. Demand for this Convention came largely from the OECD countries. The scientific evidence that POPs were harmful had been built up over many years and was well established.

  26.  In order for a chemical to be listed as a POP, it was necessary for governments to carry out scientific assessment to establish whether the Convention criteria on the toxicity of a chemical or its adverse effect on the environment as well as the potential for bioaccumulation, persistence and long-range environmental transport had been satisfied. The precautionary approach applied; lack of full scientific certainty did not prevent a proposal for listing a chemical from proceeding.

  27.  Scientific assessment often required resources for measurement of levels of the chemical in human tissue samples, such as the concentration of a POP in breast-milk or in blood. This raised ethical issues. The contribution of the United Kingdom in scientific matters was consistently outstanding.


  28.  The Committee met Ms Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (the Basel Convention), and Mr Pierre Portas from the Secretariat.

  29.  The Basel Convention had entered into force in 1992. It now had 159 parties. It established a regulatory system for the control of transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes, and for their management. The technical annexes to the Convention, which could be amended to take into account new scientific or technological developments, included categories and lists of wastes and their hazardous properties. Amendments to annexes were adopted by the Conference of Parties and entered into force for all Parties six months after being circulated, unless one or more parties opted out. Amendment to the text of the Convention itself was a more protracted process.

  30.  There was increasing traffic of, for example, computers and used cars from developed to developing countries, where they would ultimately become waste products with hazardous components. The precious metals in computers could be recovered by developed countries, but developing countries rarely had the technological resources.

  31.  There were four scientists on the staff of the secretariat, who relied on scientists from the States and from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for much of the expertise. Scientific data were however often interpreted differently by scientists from NGOs and those from industry.

  32.  The subject matter of the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions was similar to that of the Basel Convention. This had raised the question whether the Stockholm Convention should have been a Protocol to the Basel Convention, which would have led to the Conventions having a common secretariat This initiative could not have come from the secretariat; it would have had to come from the parties.

  33.  The Basel secretariat had close relations with the Rotterdam and Stockholm secretariats, and also with the World Health Organization (WHO) (though they did not always agree on their approaches), with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on pesticides, with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and with regional organisations such as the EU and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Working with so many organisations could create problems. Additionally, in some countries (though not the UK) the policies for the different Conventions were dealt with by different ministries, which could lead to conflicting approaches.

  34.  Individual UK scientists had contributed significantly to the Convention; however the UK Government could perhaps be more proactive. In particular, on the issue of dismantling "ghost ships", the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ILO and Basel Convention secretariat were developing joint guidelines, but the UK had not been at the forefront of these discussions.


  35.  The Committee met Dr Douglas Bettcher, Coordinator of the WHO Framework Convention Team for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

  36.  The Committee heard that in the last 50 years the accumulated scientific evidence had established unequivocally the scientific case for the harm caused by tobacco when legally used in precisely the way intended by the manufacturer. This evidence was virtually uncontested. There was evidence of over 20 diseases linked to tobacco smoking, which had killed an estimated 4.9 million people in 2000. This was projected to double by the 2020s unless action was taken; by 2020 developing countries would account for 70 per cent of deaths. Moreover, it was noted that over 35 million pages of documentary evidence from the tobacco industry was released as part of litigation of the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield against the tobacco industry in the 1990s. These documents demonstrated that the tobacco industry knew that smoking caused cancer as far back as the 1950s, and that the industry systematically denied and covered up these facts. Moreover these documents provided a window into the thinking and activities of the transnational tobacco companies over a period of almost half a century, and had proved to be an asset for planning public health strategies to curb the tobacco epidemic.

  37.  In addition, the evidence for the harm caused by passive smoking was unequivocal. However, the industry contested it. The argument that smoking was economically beneficial did not stand up. Spending on health and other costs outweighed economic benefits from tobacco production and sales, and an estimated 355 billion cigarettes (one third of the world market) were smuggled annually to evade tax, and were not subject to health warnings and other tobacco regulations. Moreover, the links between tobacco and poverty were convincing and disturbing: high rates of tobacco use were witnessed in poorer and less educated populations both in developed and developing countries, and it had also been demonstrated that tobacco use in poor families displaced scarce family income that could be used to purchase essential commodities, health and education.

  38.  The WHO FCTC followed from a resolution at the 1994 World Conference on Tobacco and Health in Paris which had been supported by the EU. This led to an initial resolution to be adopted by the World Health Assembly of WHO in 1996, in which the member states of WHO undertook to develop an international convention on tobacco control. The Convention was opened for signature on 16 June 2003. So far it had received only nine ratifications (11 as at 26 April 2004), and it needed 40 for entry into force. A United Nations Task Force on Tobacco Control, chaired by WHO, was established in 1999 by the Secretary General to take forward technical collaboration on tobacco control across the United Nations system. WHO worked actively with other UN organisations, including the WTO, ILO, FAO, IMF and the World Bank.

  39.  WHO and the World Bank had found that the most effective strategies were those which controlled tobacco demand, such as price increases and non-price measures such as strong health warnings and complete bans on direct and indirect tobacco advertising and sponsorship. Attempts to control supply, such as youth access restrictions or crop substitution, were less effective. The WHO FCTC built on this knowledge. There were a few provisions dealing with supply, but the majority (articles 6 to 14) required or encouraged States to increase prices and taxes, to regulate the contents, packaging and labelling of tobacco products, to ban tobacco advertising, and to increase public awareness of the dangers. Uniquely, article 19 encouraged the parties to strengthen their national laws on criminal and civil liability with respect to tobacco.

  40.  The WHO had a Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation which advised States on scientifically based methods of regulation. There was seen to be a need to develop further the science behind the effects of smoking and other forms of tobacco use before more comprehensive global product regulation measures (of for example the design and manufacturing of cigarettes) could be put in place, possibly as a protocol to the Convention. However, the machines and ISO standards, which had largely been informed by tobacco industry interests, used to model smokers, had been found to be far from perfect. All work was done by States; within the global intergovernmental body established by the World Health Assembly to negotiate the Convention there had been no direct discussion with the tobacco industry on the content of the WHO FCTC.

  41.  The United Kingdom had been one of the locomotives for change, and very active and supportive. However it had yet to ratify the Convention.


  42.  The Committee met Ms Gretchen Stanton, Senior Counsellor, Agriculture and Commodities Division, and Secretary of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

  43.  The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) entered into force in 1995. All parties to the WTO were parties to the SPS. It allowed states to adopt measures for the protection of human, animal and plant life notwithstanding that they hindered trade. The Agreement was negotiated in the context of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and administered by the WTO. It was aimed primarily at avoiding trade restrictions, rather than protecting health or the environment.

  44.  Measures adopted under the SPS Agreement had to be scientifically based, and it was open to a State to complain about trade restrictions which did not have a scientific basis. When a complaint was made the WTO established a panel to look at the scientific evidence. Panels consisted of experts on international trade rather than scientists, but they were able to appoint scientific advisers from a list of experts provided by the standard-setting body in the relevant area. A panel had recently been set up to consider the dispute between the EU and the US on GMOs.

  45.  The Agreement adopted a precautionary approach, so that where scientific evidence of possible harm to human, animal or plant life was insufficient, a State might adopt sanitary or phytosanitary measures to restrict trade. However the Agreement allowed only provisional measures to be taken, whilst additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk was sought. In the case of the EU ban on US beef because of the use of hormones in cattle, the precautionary approach could not be justified since the measure was not provisional.

  46.  The SPS secretariat had close relationships with those at the WHO responsible for food safety and health hazards, who sat on the SPS committee as observers. The WTO did not have any in-house scientific expertise, so encouraged governments to use internationally developed standards—"safe harbours" such as the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius or the FAO Plant Protection Convention.

  47.  The EU acted on behalf of its Member States. If the UK wished to lodge a formal complaint, this had to be done through the EU. The UK could not act independently, though the UK delegation (normally from Defra) did have a high profile at meetings and was thought of very positively.

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