UK launches revised sustainability strategy

Policies to vary according to annual reviews of key sustainable development indicators

The UK government today launched a revised strategy for achieving sustainable development with the elaboration of a series of "headline indicators" to be used to monitor progress and amend policies accordingly. The launch is to be backed by a public information campaign encouraging reduced resource use and avoidance of pollution.

Presented as a government white paper by deputy prime minister John Prescott and ministers of environment, finance, education, agriculture and industry, the strategy is intended as a guide to the implementation of sustainable development in public and private life and follows an extensive consultation process (ENDS Daily 4 February 1998). Its four main aims are social progress, effective environmental protection, prudent use of natural resources and the maintenance of high levels of economic growth and employment.

The strategy sets out ten guiding principles for consideration in government policymaking, incorporating established concepts such as taking account of both costs and benefits, use of the precautionary principle and respect for environmental limits. It does not set a target date for achieving sustainable development. The government has, however, pledged to amend policies in the light of 150 "quality of life indicators" which were developed from a previous set of similar indicators and will be published annually.

A subset of 14 "headline indicators" will "focus public attention on what sustainable development means" and provide a broad overview of whether it is being achieved. These include levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the number of days when air pollution is moderate or high, size of wild bird populations, and the number of new homes built on previously developed land. The launch of the strategy was also accompanied by the introduction of a high-level media campaign featuring prominent celebrities suggesting ways in which the environmental effects of everyday activities could be lessened.

Although it welcomed the publication of the sustainability indicators and the explicit admission that environmental limits must be observed, environmental group Friends of the Earth expressed overall disappointment with the strategy, pointing out its lack of clear targets for action and the opportunity for the government to "blame" the public for failing to respond if commitments to reduce levels of greenhouse gases are not met.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3333, Friends of the Earth England, {Wales and Northern Ireland}, tel: +44 171 490 1555.

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