G8 Environment Heads Focus on Water, Energy, Africa

PARIS, France, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - The environment ministers of the G8, the eight major industrialized countries plus the European Union, met in Paris over the weekend and issued a communique that sets the stage for the full G8 heads of government meeting scheduled for Evian-les-Bains in France from June 1 to 3.

The G8 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Commission is represented at the environment ministers meeting by Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.


Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin is the French Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development. (Photo courtesy Assemblee Nationale)
French Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin chaired the meeting of the G8 environment ministers who referred often to the commitments made eight months ago at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and in March at the Third World Water Forum, which they said "guided" their work.

The discussions focused on least developed regions and countries, particularly in Africa, water security, sustainable production and consumption, strengthening environmental governance and cooperation, as well as oceans and maritime safety.

The environment ministers said that "the universal provision of safe drinking water is a complex global challenge requiring our ongoing attention."

They paid specific attention to the issues of transboundary river basin management and integrated water resource management in Africa, water efficiency, governance principles for access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and disaster prevention and mitigation.

The ministers stated that they consider access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, access to energy, reducing air and water pollution, combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation, desertification and deforestation, as well as biodiversity conservation to be "priority fields for action."

Commissioner Wallstrom said, "We are fully committed to turning words into deeds."


European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
In advance of the G8 environment ministers meeting, the European Commission April 24 proposed to commit €1 billion to a new EU Water Fund for partner countries in the Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP) regions. As a first priority, Wallstrom said, the fund would be orientated towards achieving the WSSD targets of halving, by 2015, the number of people across the world without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, within the framework of integrated water resources management.

But the ministers remained silent on the top divisive issues at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan - water as a human right and the role of the private sector.

Despite no open endorsement of the Camdessus report "Financing Water for All," which advocates privatization of water supplies, France is expected to include support for this document within the Global Water Plan President Jacques Chirac will present to the G8 leaders at Evian. The plan, written by former International Monetary Fund chairman Michel Camdessus of France, aims to achieve the WSSD target to halve the proportion of people without access to safe water and sanitation by 2015.

The environment ministers continued their support for sustainable development in Africa begun at the G8 meeting in Canada last year.

In their 2003 communique, the ministers stated their support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) adopted last year which defines a framework for sustainable development on the African continent. They particularly welcomed NEPAD's recognition of the close relationship between environmental management issues and poverty reduction efforts, and the need to integrate these issues into economic development through the action plan implementation.

Encouraging cooperation between African riparian states on transboundary and/or boundary watercourses, the environment ministers said, "Particular attention should be paid to transboundary river basin management in African river basins including the Niger, Senegal, Nile, Okavango and Congo."


The Dja River is located in a transition zone between the forests of southern Nigeria and southwest Cameroon and the forests of the Congo Basin. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The ministers said they are focusing on sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin and will "work with developing countries to help them fight illegal logging."

The ministers pledged to "take action to improve access to energy services." At the same time they stated their intention to promote the deployment of renewable energy sources and cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels, in a way that is compatible with sustainable development. "We will work in accordance with NEPAD and, among others, through WSSD partnerships to deliver this and promote innovative market mechanisms," they stated.

The wording of their communique reflects the opposition of the United States and the OPEC countries at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to moves by the European Union and others to set targets and timetables for renewable energy. The proposed targets and timetables were not retained in the final WSSD Action Plan.

The G8 Renewable Energy Task Force was not mentioned at all. Its ambitious targets and timetables to provide two billion of the world's poor people with energy within 20 years were not endorsed at the G8 Genoa summit in 2001 - mainly due to U.S. opposition. The future of this group, headed by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chair of mining giant Anglo American and a former Shell CEO who chaired the Business Action for Sustainable Development group at the WSSD, is still unclear.

Germany firmed up Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's offer at the WSSD for a world conference on renewable energy, announcing it for Bonn in June 2004. It will be preceded by a series of regional multi-stakeholder conferences on renewable energy.

Russia promised to make every effort to enable President Vladimir Putin to tell the G8 Summit in June when Russia would ratify the Kyoto climate protocol, which would bring it into force. But the Kyoto Protocol was not mentioned in the Paris communique, in view of continued U.S. opposition to the pact to limit the emission by industrialized nations of six greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The environment ministers said they will take the lead at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development now underway in New York on encouraging countries to adopt 10 year framework programs in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns.


Sustainable recreation in Cheshire County, England (Photo courtesy Groundwork UK)
"We will encourage sustainable local production and consumption patterns which can help preserve landscape diversity and biological diversity, and contribute to poverty eradication. Tourism, sport, recreation and leisure activities, if consistent with environmental protection and social development, can also be engines for local sustainable development," the ministers said.

The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to "actively promote corporate environmental responsibility and accountability and support continuing improvement in corporate practices in all countries."

They "strongly support" the successful completion of the World Trade Organization negotiations, the ministers stated, and noted specific opportunities in the negotiations on environmental goods and services.

"The greening of government at all levels is imperative," they said, and pledged to work towards public procurement policies that encourage development and diffusion of environmentally sound goods and services; and "where appropriate, on a voluntary basis, effective, transparent, verifiable, non-misleading and nondiscriminatory consumer information tools to provide information relating to sustainable consumption and production, including human health and safety aspects, bearing in mind that they should not be used as disguised trade barriers."

The ministers underlined their support for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and advocated strengthening the scientific base of UNEP by improving its ability to monitor and assess global environmental change; as well as the current efforts to strengthen compliance with and enforcement of multilateral environmental agreements.

The ministers noted that UNEP remains hampered by insufficient and unpredictable resources, and said they are seeking ways of providing it with more predictable funding, a broadened base of contributions, more efficient and effective use of available resources, and greater mobilization of resources from the private sector and other major groups.

France failed to win support for its three year old proposal for a World Environment Organization (WEO), as a balance to the World Trade Organization.

France proposes to build a WEO on UNEP. It would centralize environmental activities of numerous international agencies and programs and manage the dozens of multilateral environment agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, now served by separate secretariats.

Other G8 industrial nations, which would have to contribute most of the WEO budget, are still against any new international organizations, as they were at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and they have enforced budget cuts in a number of UN bodies and programs.

"Life on our planet is dependent upon the oceans," the environment ministers stated, and said they will continue their efforts in ocean and coastal protection, including sustainable fisheries, the conservation of biodiversity, the strengthening of marine science, the reduction of marine pollution, control of invasive alien species, and greater maritime safety.

"Despite the measures taken during the last years, the serious accident of the oil tanker Prestige has again demonstrated that the existing rules on tanker safety and pollution prevention need to be further improved. The damage to the marine and socio-economic environment and the threat to the livelihood of thousands of persons are of serious concern," the ministers said.


Altero Matteoli is Italy's environment minister. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"A premeditated flop and abdication of responsibility," is how Italy's leading environmental group, Legambiente, described the G8 environment ministers' meeting in Paris.

In a statement, Legambiente's spokesperson Roberto della Seta assailed the G8 group for dodging difficult issues, ending up with "no concrete result, no targets, no commitments."

"They passed the buck to the G8 Summit in Evian, and the WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico," said della Seta. The WTO meeting is scheduled for September 10 to 16.

"Prospects for sustainable development are dim," della Seta concluded, reflecting the beliefs of many environmentalists in G8 nations.

Extensive demonstrations and alternative conferences are planned in French and Swiss towns near the G8 Summit venue by dozens of Europe's environment and anti-globalization groups.

Key points of the communique will be reviewed by senior officials for inclusion in the draft for the final declaration of the heads of state and government meeting at the G8 Summit at Evian.

Meanwhile, the communique is under review by participants at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development now meeting in New York to hammer out a work program and to carry out recommendations of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The meeting of the 53 member Commission opened Monday and will continue through May 9. It will follow up decisions from Johannesburg to agree upon its new methods and organization of work and renew the focus on practical implementation of sustainable development.

{Journalist Vanya Walker-Leigh contributed to this report.}