HL Deb 28 February 2002 vol 631 cc1529-32

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What issues they raised at the PrepCom session in New York earlier this month which was called to discuss the agenda for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in September 2002 in Johannesburg.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Government's view is that the Johannesburg Summit should focus on action to make globalisation work for sustainable development, especially for the poorest. Our priorities for the summit were well reflected in the comments made at the recent PrepCom by the European Union, speaking through the Spanish presidency. These priorities are: poverty eradication and sustainable livelihoods, emphasising capacity building and education; the opportunities presented by resource productivity, including the application of science and technology; energy; freshwater and oceans; and sustainable development initiatives for Africa.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree, though, that there is a huge challenge for the Government, the EU and the world summit in that the earth summit builds on the good principles established at Rio, of which the Minister has outlined some, but these principles, including the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle—which I believe the Government have signed up to; at least according to their website for the earth summit—are often ignored, challenged or ruled out of order by the World Trade Organisation? What are the Government doing to try to bring into a focused aim the two parallel universes that are dwelt in by these different organisations?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not agree that they are parallel universes. There is a clear overlap between the objectives that will be pursued in Johannesburg and the Doha process which was regarded as a development round. It is important to recognise that the sustainable development summit will deal not only with the kind of environmental issues to which the noble Baroness referred, which were dealt with in Rio and followed up in Kyoto, but also with sustainability on an economic and a social basis. Therefore, there is a wider agenda which is, given certain conditions, fully compatible with the WTO process.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, will the Minister help to ensure—some groups have pressed for this—that the agenda of the summit enables serious consideration to be given to the subject of reproductive health? Does he accept that the subject of sustainability provides a genuine context in which to try to meet a declared target; that is, the provision of comprehensive reproductive health services for all individuals of appropriate age as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015? Does he also accept that that is in the context of a generally accepted figure of about 350 million couples world-wide who would be prepared, or would like, to use contraceptive services but do not have access to them?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as far as the agenda is concerned, I have indicated the broad range of items which the EU has suggested to the various preparation committees should comprise the agenda for the summit. Reproductive health is not one of those priorities. I recognise the importance of the noble Viscount's comments. He will know that some developments have taken place on this issue. There have been more such developments in the OECD area than in the UN area. The agenda is not yet closed and there is not a single input into it. However, at the moment reproductive health is not one of the items we are pursuing although the noble Viscount may have noticed that a separate section in the chair's report from the latest PrepCom meeting deals with health in general.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, we on these Benches are glad that the Prime Minister has indicated his intention to be present at the summit in Johannesburg. However, does the Minister appreciate that the way to realise the eminently worthy ideals expressed at the PrepCom session, with which no one could possibly disagree, is to concentrate upon what can be done locally so that efforts in sustainable development are led by individuals and local communities? Is the Minister aware of what is already being done by Churches and local groups under the Agenda 21 umbrella to transform environmental awareness and introduce good practice? Will he do what he can to ensure that the summit meeting does not simply deal with abstraction but enables the sharing of stories of good local practice round the world which can be so inspiring for individuals and groups who are trying to do their bit?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I certainly share the right reverend Prelate's view that this matter will not become a reality unless we build from the bottom up and make sure that local groups, local initiatives, local business and local public authorities take on board the sustainability messages. That is an important dimension of what we see as the priorities for Johannesburg. For that to work properly a framework needs to be established by the heads of government. I am grateful for the right reverend Prelate's recognition of the role that the Prime Minister has played here. He was the first head of government to indicate that he would attend the summit.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, as part of the Government's sustainable development policy, and following a change of direction of the Bush Administration in the United States with regard to new power sources, what are the Government doing to support research into fuel cell technology? Are they currently co-operating with the Americans in that?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Government have long supported alternative transport fuels in a number of research and economic studies. Of course, major research is being carried out across the world by motor companies and others into the issue of fuel cell technology. The Government believe that that could provide a carbon-free future for a large proportion of transport. If I may say so, in my previous capacity I very much encouraged the Government to move down that road. That is the Government's position.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is an element of incompatibility between the priorities that the European Union has announced for the G8 Summit and its own aid programme? What measures are the Government taking to persuade the European Union to realign its aid programme so that it fits in particular with the objective of poverty eradication by diverting aid from richer countries in the third world to the poorest?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as is well known to the House, the Government have some reservations about the balance of the EU aid programme and, indeed, the efficiency of its delivery. I and my colleagues both in this House and in another place have emphasised that over time. I refer in particular to the dimension of focusing on building capacity and initiatives at the local level. Therefore, I largely agree with what the noble Lord said.

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