HC Deb 27 February 1996 vol 272 cc456-8W
Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the outcome of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environment Ministers' meeting in Paris on 19 and 20 February; and if he will make a statement. [17924]

Mr. Gummer

I was elected to chair the meeting of OECD Environment Ministers in Paris on 19 and 20 February. This was in recognition of the UK's international environmental leadership, including our key role in last year's Berlin conference on climate change and Vienna conference on the ozone layer, and further acknowledged by the invitation to me from the Secretary-General of the United Nations to join the international advisory group of eminent persons preparing for this year's habitat II conference in Istanbul.

The meeting marked the 25th anniversary of the setting up of the OECD's environment policy committee and the first occasion that a British Minister had taken the chair. The meeting provided an opportunity both to review past performance and to decide the priorities for future action, particularly in the context of the 1997 special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations to follow up the 1992 Rio earth summit.

There was acceptance at the meeting of the need for OECD countries to show leadership in resolving global environmental problems both through domestic action and by assisting developing and transition economies to take action themselves.

The meeting endorsed OECD acts on the "greening" of Governments and the OECD itself, and on pollutant release and transfer registers. Ministers also adopted a declaration on lead risk reduction and supported the principle of opening up OECD instruments on the mutual acceptance of chemicals data to non-OECD countries.

Ministers called for reports from the OECD, to be prepared over the next one to two years, on the relationship between globalisation and environmental policies, on the environmental effects of subsidies and tax disincentives, and on green tax reform.

I was able to draw upon the UK's strong environmental performance. I pressed the importance of the annual environmental audit contained in the White Paper which we have published every year since the first comprehensive environmental strategy "This Common Inheritance" in 1990.

The whole government machine is brought into process, not least through the Green Ministers machinery. This experience enabled the United Kingdom to be the first country to publish all the action plans called for at the 1992 Rio earth summit—a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development and action programmes for climate change, biodiversity and forests.

This strategy included the setting up of the Government panel and the UK round table on sustainable development and the "Going for Green" campaign. We have now produced detailed strategies for waste and air quality, thus setting for the first time clear targets and providing effective monitoring. This radical approach has been carried through to our preparation of the world's first set of indicators of sustainable development and pioneering work on recommendations for costed biodiversity targets.

The Environment Act 1995 set up environment agencies for England and Wales and for Scotland. The Government's commitment to work with the market to achieve environmental progress has been shown by various economic instruments such as the 1994 Budget introduction of a new landfill tax which shifts the burden of taxation to discourage harmful activities; our pledge to increase the duty on road fuels on average by at least 5 per cent. each year in real terms in future budgets; and the 15 per cent. reduction in the duty on road fuel gases made in the 1995 budget, bringing their price broadly into line with that of petrol and diesel. These are all examples of fiscal measures taken for environmental purposes.

Our strategy also includes voluntary measures such as the EC eco-management and audit scheme, where the UK has become the first country to register sites. A major review of radioactive waste management policy was completed last year and later this year we shall become one of the first countries in Europe to publish an Environmental health action plan. The environment White Paper to be published at the end of March will highlight major achievements in 1995 and identify key new initiatives for the coming year.

By combining effective government machinery, detailed targets and monitoring, and clear strategies covering the whole environmental agenda, the United Kingdom is now widely recognised as one of the global leaders on sustainable development.