Industrialized Nations Commit to Eco-Friendly Financial Practices

PARIS, France, May 17, 2001 (ENS) - Environmentally damaging subsidies and tax exemptions to agriculture and energy are on their way out in the world's most developed nations.

Environmental ministers or their representatives from the 30 industrialized countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development adopted an environmental strategy for the next decade at the annual OECD ministerial meeting in Paris Wednesday that pledged to eliminate or phase out these financial perks by 2010.

In a strategy closely paralleling that released by the European Union Tuesday, the OECD countries committed themselves to specific national actions over the next 10 years to tackle the worst environmental problems, including climate change. They will work together towards environmental sustainability, the ministers said in a statement following the meeting.

The main focus of the strategy is to ensure that continued economic growth is not accompanied by continued damage to the environment, the ministers said.

The strategy addresses specific environmental issues identified as "red light" concerns to 2020 in the recently released OECD Environmental Outlook. These problems include climate change, loss of biodiversity, over-fishing, groundwater pollution, pollution related health effects, worsening urban air quality, and the overuse of renewable resources.


French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet (Photo courtesy government of France)
The OECD Environment Policy Committee Meeting at Ministerial Level was chaired by French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, assisted by vice-chairs - Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, Greek Environment Minister Ilias Efthymiopoulos, and Environment Minister for the Slovak Republic László Miklós.

The day started with a ministerial conference with stakeholders during which representatives from business, trade unions and environmental groups shared their views and concerns with the ministers.

The OECD strategy outlines specific, time-bound targets to achieve five main policy objectives:

  1. Maintaining the integrity of ecosystems through the efficient management of natural resources

  2. De-coupling environmental pressures from economic growth

  3. Improving information for decision-making: measuring progress through indicators

  4. The social and environmental interface: enhancing the quality of life

  5. Global environmental interdependence: improving governance and co-operation

As part of the strategy, OECD Environment Ministers agreed to phase out or reform environmentally damaging subsidies and tax exemptions to agriculture and energy by 2010, to work towards getting the prices right for environmental goods and services, for example in road transport pricing, and to integrate biodiversity concerns into physical planning activities, and economic, sectoral and fiscal policies.

To tackle climate change, the challenge will be to meet all obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and work through international processes to take forward its objectives.

For a large majority of OECD countries, this means seeking entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002, with timely ratification processes, and with broadest possible support of the international community, the ministers said. The United States is the one prominent exception to this position as President George W. Bush announced in March that his government would not ratify the protocol which requires specific limits on six greenhouse gases.

OECD countries committed to develop and implement policies to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, giving priority to market-based instruments such as subsidy removal and green tax reform, tradable emissions permits or quotas, and international offset projects, as well as policies focussing on particular economic sectors.

At the international level, the ministers agreed to promote coherence among multilateral environmental agreements, to enhance bilateral and multi-lateral co-operation with non-member countries, and to improve management of the environmental effects of globalization.

They committed to expanding opportunities for foreign investment and trade to contribute to environmental policy objectives, and encouraged the adoption of a recommendation on common approaches to environment and export credits with a strong environmental content.

Ministers not only agreed to specific national actions to tackle environmental problems, but also agreed on the ways to measure progress with implementation of this strategy and what they think OECD can do to contribute to this.

They endorsed the regular use of Key Environmental Indicators to communicate trends, in an internationally consistent manner, in the main environmental problems facing OECD countries. They also endorsed OECD Guidelines for Environmentally Sustainable Transport, 10 key steps OECD countries can take to realize environmentally sustainable transport in the future.

The original 20 members of the OECD are located in Western countries of Europe and North America. Next came Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Finland. More recently, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Korea and the Slovak Republic have joined.