Within 20 years we could see one billion people lifted out of abject poverty, every child in the world in primary education, basic health care and reproductive health care available to all and sustainable development plans beginning to reverse the loss of environmental resources in every country.

I’m pleased to have this opportunity to address this important conference and to set out the latest thinking of my Department – The Department for International Development – on poverty eradication and the environment.

I should start by saying a word about DFID and WWF. We have a strong relationship which I think we both value. We obviously have different roles and priorities but the fact that WWF have organised this conference on Poverty Elimination and the Environment shows that we share crucial objectives. I hope we can build on this.

The background paper for this conference notes that, “All governments have a responsibility to address the environmental aspects of poverty, and it is time to move on from the politics of blame to the politics of solutions.”

I strongly agree. I believe that people are not inspired by doom and gloom and endless denunciations. They need information which underlines the urgent need for change, but which also points to the way forward. It is when people know a solution is possible that they demand action.

I would add that all of us – civil society and the private sector, as much as governments – have a responsibility to play our part in this, moving on from passing the buck to finding the solutions.

Of course, when we talk about responsibilities, we should acknowledge that it’s the world’s richest countries that are the biggest polluters and the biggest consumers of resources. Too often this simple truth is ignored because the consequences of environmental degradation are felt most keenly in the developing world.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 1998 suggests that a third of the natural world has been destroyed since 1970. The rapid degradation of forests demonstrates this continuing trend. This is deeply alarming and obviously unsustainable. The vast majority of this resource depletion is of course accounted for by consumption patterns in the north. The inequalities in global consumption and resource use are enormous. This year’s UNDP report notes that, “Globally, the 20 per cent of the world’s people in the highest income countries account for 86 per cent of total private consumption – the poorest 20 per cent a minuscule 1.3 per cent.”

Ever expanding consumption amongst some in the richer countries proceeds side by side with falling levels of consumption amongst many of the world’s poor. There are, for example, 70 countries where consumption levels today are lower than they were 25 years ago.

These figures are stark. They underscore the overriding need to promote greater global equity and more efficient use of the world’s resources, not just as a moral imperative – powerful as that is – but as an essential part of the transition to a world that is both environmentally sustainable and politically stable.

Clearly there will have to be major adjustments to our lifestyles in industrialised countries in order to halt the constant erosion of the resources of the planet. Britain’s sustainable development strategy will be published in early 1999. John Prescott and Michael Meacher have just published a consultation paper on headline indicators for sustainable development in Britain. These include international aspects of Britain’s role in sustainable development. I hope that you will all contribute to the consultation on these indicators.

We also need international agreements so that all countries can play their part in reversing the damage we are inflicting on the planet. But here there is a real clash of interest. Many developing countries are deeply suspicious that having extracted all that we needed to secure our economic development, we are trying to pull the ladder up after us. We are the major polluters of the planet and now we are demanding that the developing world does not add to the pollution. Many fear that we are trying to sentence them to endless poverty. Clearly, endless poverty for the developing world is unacceptable.

Thus the only basis on which we can secure crucial international agreement is with a commitment to support poverty eradication, sustainable development and an equitable world order. Such promises were made at Rio. But they have to be implemented. And progress since Rio has not been good enough.

One obvious example of the need for international progress is the issue of the rapid growth of population – which will itself put more pressure on the global environment. The conditions that lead to reduced population growth are clear – education of all children but particularly girls, improved income for the poor so that their children survive and access to basic health care including reproductive health care. The only way to stabilise population growth is to promote development for the poor of the world. There is no other way.

The Government’s new development agenda is based around this core commitment to greater global social justice. Both because it is right and vital if there is to be a safer future for all of us. Whether on trade, debt or investment, our approach is about strengthening the rights and abilities of poor people to get a fairer share of the world’s resources and the opportunity to work their way out of poverty.

Our overriding objective is to help lift the 1.3 billion people in the world – one in four of all human beings – living on less than $1 a day out of abject poverty.

We are often criticised about quoting such figures, but we need to have these figures in order to mobilise international activity. We in DFID will not be deflected from that objective.

But we understand that conservation is one of the keys to this. We need to sustain environmental resources if poor people are to have more income and more secure livelihoods.

So the challenge that the world faces – and we need to give much higher priority to these questions in the mainstream political agenda – is to manage the environment in a way that both conserves resources and gives higher incomes to the poor. We need to bring together the energy and force of both the development and environmental lobbies to strengthen both. We cannot care for the planet without caring better for its people. Our agendas are intermixed. I hope that we can increasingly unite our forces so that we can have a bigger and more urgent impact.

As I have said it is the rich countries that are doing most damage to the environment. But it is the world’s poor who bear the brunt of many of today’s environmental problems.

As we’ve seen in Bangladesh and Central America, it’s poor people who are the most vulnerable to environmental disasters, such as floods or hurricanes. And it’s poor people who often have no alternative but to over exploit, and by so-doing degrade, the local eco-system on which they depend in order to survive.

This includes the people who must chop down trees for firewood to heat water and to cook food, with the result that their land can then more easily wash away. Or those with no land forced to migrate to forest areas where they clear trees to grow food. This poverty often leads them to migrate to urban areas.

By the early part of the next century, over half the world’s population will be living in towns and cities. For many poor people, urban environmental problems – such as air pollution, poor sanitation and contaminated water – will be major concerns. We are therefore promoting urban development policies that focus on improving employment, shelter, education, health, water and sanitation for poor people.

Without real progress, the consequences for conflict and stability, human health and welfare will be quite horrific. Existing figures on the link between environment and health are shocking. As migration increases these issues are going to be more important.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that as much as a quarter of the global burden of death and disease can be associated with poor environmental conditions.

Lack of adequate water and sanitation cause around 3 million children to die needlessly each year from waterborne diseases. Smoky indoor air or industrial and traffic fumes contribute to respiratory infections that kill over 4 million a year.

Lack of food, lack of income, ill-health and early death are what degraded environments mean to literally millions of people across the developing world.

And that’s why, for us, better environmental management is not an afterthought or an optional add-on, but a cornerstone of our approach to development.

Just over a year ago we published a White Paper on international development: Eliminating World Poverty, A Challenge for the 21st Century.

Our overarching objective, set out in the White Paper, is the elimination of abject poverty from the world during the next century. We have committed ourselves to working to mobilise the global system to implement the international poverty eradication targets – a set of goals which derive from the great United Nations conferences of the past decade.

The key goal is the reduction by one half of the proportion of the world’s population living in abject poverty by 2015. You may ask ‘why only half?’

Because this is an affordable and achievable aim. If we can achieve this, then we can set ourselves another target. Additional goals include universal primary education and basic health care for all, and the implementation of national strategies for sustainable development in all countries.

A commitment to sustainable development built around the needs of the poor of the world is at the heart of our new approach. Today we are publishing our new policy statement on the environment, “Why the environment matters, which sets out in more detail how the principles of environmental sustainability are being integrated into all of our work.

During this talk I want to give some examples of that work so that those who are concerned for the environment can see how development for the poorest is essential to environmental sustainability.

A key priority for us is supporting sustainable livelihoods. Most rural people – and the poor and are still overwhelmingly rural – depend directly on the natural resource base for their livelihoods: on land, fisheries and forests. Our efforts are focused on working with small producers to help boost productivity and diversify income sources. Many of them are subsistence farmers who cannot grow enough food to adequately nourish their families.

I have just returned from Nepal. There it is the women who carry all the water, the women who do most of the farming work, and the women who eat last at the table. Small wonder that 80 per cent of them are anaemic, and 40 per cent are malnourished.

There is never one simple solution – ways forward may include better seeds, rural roads so that extra produce can be got to market, micro credit to purchase animals, clean water so that hours of carrying time is saved. The answers have to be built around the knowledge and wisdom of the rural poor whose resilience and strength should humble all of us. And this approach to sustainable livelihoods has to be based on working with local people – supporting bottom-up initiatives, rather than top-down solutions.

In Nepal, which is a very beautiful but desperately poor country, we are supporting a national forestry policy which hands over management of the forest to local user groups which are made up overwhelmingly of poor people. They are sharing the resources of the forest fairly for the first time and also managing them responsibly because they now have a stake in the future of the forest. Deforestation and landslides have done enormous damage in Nepal, but the damage is being reversed. What we have learned in our forestry work in Nepal and elsewhere is that giving poor people who live in the forest control over its use and future is the key to sustainable forestry.

Another area of our work involves support for coastal and marine development. In parts of West Africa fish provides 65% of animal protein in the local diet.

The subsistence fisheries communities in Africa are often among the poorest of the poor. We are working to find ways to help these communities benefit from the rich marine resources on their doorstep.

A regional approach is essential for the management of these resources. So we need to build partnerships between national governments, international organisations and local governments.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN is a key partner. They have developed a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which was unanimously approved by FAO members. The Code sets out principles and international standards for fisheries conservation. It rightly promotes equity as well as sustainability. This Code could be very powerful, but it needs to be implemented otherwise it is no more than good intentions.

I am pleased to announce that we will today be informing the FAO that DFID will support implementation of the Code in West Africa. We will provide up to £20 million in support of a region-wide programme adoption and application of the Code. The outcome should be real benefits to thousands of poor fishing communities across West Africa and better protection of the marine environment.

Another key component of our new approach is our support for National Strategies for Sustainable Development. One of the international poverty eradication goals is that all countries should have such strategies under implementation by 2005 “to ensure that current trends in the loss of environmental resources are effectively reversed at both global and national levels by 2015”.

At Rio all countries agreed to develop national strategies for sustainable development. These are potentially a major instrument to secure sustainable development worldwide. Some countries have already drawn up strategies. Others need assistance in developing or implementing their strategies. My Department has been working hard so that we are able to offer help to countries that need it to put in place such a plan. It is important that these plans are not blueprints but frameworks for action that can be implemented flexibly and involve local communities in their implementation.

As well as supporting individual countries such as Uganda, the UK is leading an international Task Force on national strategies. We hosted an international workshop in Sunningdale last month where many developing countries were represented and will hold a larger, follow-up meeting in 1999 that will plan support for developing countries to implement the strategies.

But it is clear that to make these strategies work we need to support broader development objectives. In particular, poor countries need accountable governments, efficient administration and an understanding that improved environmental management will bring benefits, not costs. We must not forget how difficult it is for governments with so few resources to take these programmes forward. In Mozambique, the per capita income is only $100. Imagine how difficult it must be to govern. We must not hector developing countries, but rather think of their lack of resources, and encourage them in their efforts to make improvements.

The 1998 UNDP Human Development Report points out the strategic choice that developing countries face. They can follow the damaging pattern of western industrial growth. Or they can leapfrog straight to pro-environment and pro-poor growth. National strategies must help them make that choice. It is enormously important that we help to generate more energy and creative thinking around the development of national sustainable development strategies so that developing countries do not feel condemned to imitate our destructive route to development.

Our new approach also means active involvement on the issue of climate change, which is one of the greatest environmental challenges that we face. John Prescott and I both believe that the success of the negotiations depends on tackling those issues that most concern developing countries. The action plan agreed in Buenos Aires addresses many of these points.

New agreements were reached to assist developing countries introduce environmentally sound technologies, to provide funds to update assessments of their emissions and to improve research and observation systems. We will be taking these issues forward over the coming months.

Much of DFID’s work to bring energy resources to the poorest communities will also help tackle global warming. Many of our programmes help increase the efficiency with which countries use energy from fossil fuels and give greater emphasis to renewable sources of energy, such as hydropower, biomass and solar power. This can bring direct benefit to the poor. In many countries, energy systems are grossly inefficient and heavily subsidised. Thus the poor lack access to energy and money that should be spent on education and health care is often spent subsidising energy costs for middle income groups.

We’ve been active, too, on trade and investment issues – where I know WWF is taking a growing interest.

Trade and investment, when well managed, lead to growth, which in turn creates the resources for poorer countries to reduce poverty. But the linkages between trade, investment, environment and development are complex, with some patterns of growth causing environmental degradation, particularly in the countries whose environmental policies are weak or unenforced.

But we must understand that many developing countries are concerned that environmental policies could be used as a protectionist tool. More progress clearly needs to be made in recognising and reconciling these different interests. The timing is critical. We need to address the concerns of developing countries if the next Trade Round is to take place in 2000. The environment is likely to be one of the important issues on the agenda for this round and we need to build new alliances if it is to succeed.

We therefore need strong links between trade, environment and development ministries. DFID is working closely with colleagues in Whitehall, particularly DTI and DETR. We need to encourage others to develop and maintain such links.

I believe that we now have one of the strongest development departments in the world. In most countries, the departments of trade only look after their own countries’ interests. We are able to address development issues across the whole of Whitehall. Now we need to spread that analytical capacity through other international systems.

The Government’s White Paper on International Development identified three main strategies for integrating a development perspective into trade and environment policy making:

• working to ensure trade rules do not impose unfair standards on developing countries or discriminate unfairly against their goods – a point emphasised by the Prime Minister speaking at the WTO Ministerial Conference in May;

• working with producers and importers to increase trade in sustainably produced products and services from developing countries

• working with developing countries to support their efforts to raise their domestic environment standards – and to support their efforts to tackle global environmental problems.

We are also working through UNCTAD to help developing countries increase their capacity to negotiate their trade interests. A majority of the member states of the World Trade Organisation are developing countries. They have enormous potential influence in future negotiations. And progress on integrating environmental concerns into international trade rules depends significantly on convincing developing countries that this will enhance and not damage their economic interests.

On the OECD’s Multilateral Agreement on Investment – where I know that WWF took a keen interest – Britain stressed from May 1997 onwards that we would not sign the agreement without clear commitments to protect labour and environmental standards. I believe that much of the campaigning against the MAI which often claimed to be seeking to protect the interests of developing countries took little account of their real interests.

I continue to believe that a multilateral investment agreement can bring benefits to developing countries. The greatest danger to the poorest countries is that they remain locked out of the growing flows of international investment. We want developing countries to be able to participate actively in discussions on any future investment agreement.

And we will continue to insist that any agreement fully upholds labour and environmental standards and provides developing countries with the opportunity to attract inward investment without lowering environmental regulations and labour rights. Many of them have already lowered these in a desperate effort to attract investment.

My Department is also working increasingly closely with the private sector where there is a growing understanding that development for the poorest and environmental sustainability are essential to prevent the growth of massive systemic risk to business interests. This is beyond altruism.

Many companies have already published codes of practice. While the ethical consumer movements, which are constantly growing in strength, have led the way in demanding that goods sold in Britain should be sourced only where environmental and labour standards are respected.

The Ethical Trading Initiative is bringing retailers together with the fair trade movement to get ethically sourced products into mainstream shops in Britain. My Department is supporting this and I hope you will too. It is an enormously powerful movement which will be very important in the future.

There are other partnerships between the private sector and NGOs to set standards for sustainable forestry – the Forest Stewardship Council – and sustainable fisheries – the Marine Stewardship Council.

An area with great potential for future business involvement is the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. This will provide the means for companies to invest in projects that abate emissions from developing countries in return for carbon emissions permits. DFID is working hard to ensure that the regulations governing these projects act in the best interests of developing countries.

Before I finish I would like to say a few words about my Department’s review of our relationship with NGOs and civil society.

Some of you will know that DFID has been conducting a major consultation of its relationship with civil society. And we are due to produce a strategy paper on this early in the new year.

As this consultation has gone on, I’ve become more than ever convinced of the importance of a strong civil society – particularly in developing countries where the voices of the poor are often inadequately respected.

I believe it is a real challenge to our NGOs to look for ways to strengthen complementary voices from the South. NGOs have played a very important role in putting environmental issues on the international political agenda. I hope very much that we can increasingly unite the voices of the environmental and development lobbies to strengthen both. And I also hope that we will increasingly move to a positive agenda so that in future we argue about which is the best way forward rather than whose fault it is that we are in the mess we are in.

That is our common challenge. If we fail to make progress, the world of the next century will be a world riven with huge environmental problems, conflict, poverty, instability and disease. But we hold in our hands the possibility of making one of the greatest advances that has ever been made in human history. Within 20 years we could see one billion people lifted out of abject poverty, every child in the world in primary education, basic health care and reproductive health care available to all and sustainable development plans beginning to reverse the loss of environmental resources in every country. We are at one of those points in history where we can either take a large step forward or lose a great historical opportunity and leave the next generation to pick up the massively destructive consequences. I very much hope that we can work to build a stronger alliance in order to increase the will of the international community to implement the poverty eradication strategy to which we are all in theory signed up.

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