UK consults on sustainable development policy

Government aims to increase public involvement, publish revised national strategy

The UK government has started a wide-ranging consultation programme on sustainable development, aimed at enlisting public support for sustainable development policy making.

Based on a general consultation paper launched today by environment minister John Prescott, the government plans to hold a series of public meetings around the country. It will also issue further consultation papers on specific themes, including business, forestry, housing and construction, tourism and biodiversity.

The previous Conservative government published a national sustainable development strategy in 1994. The new Labour government aims to revise the strategy by the end of the year, and looks set to include some new elements.

Chief amongst these is a move to extend the scope of sustainable development to include social as well as environmental and economic elements. "It is not enough to focus on economic and environmental policies if whole groups in society...are excluded," today's consultation paper says.

Meanwhile, the use of the phrase "eco-efficiency" is a new addition to the lexicon of official UK policy on sustainable development. "We have to find ways to get more from less," the consultation paper states. "Production and distribution processes will have to change...[and] new types of products will be important."

Introducing the paper this morning, Mr Prescott stressed that the aim of the consultation process was to "capture the public imagination" concerning the environment and action that individuals could take in order to achieve sustainable development. "It's not just a task for government," he said.

Mr Prescott, who is UK deputy prime minister as well as environment minister, introduced a number of possibilities for policy development, such as what he described as the "carrot and stick" approach of environmental taxation. He stated that the government was committed to the principal of legal environmental targets, which the Kyoto experience had shown to function better than voluntary measures. He also said that environmental indicators developed by the previous government would be overhauled and published at regular intervals.

The government's plans have received a mixed reaction from environmental groups, which welcomed the renewed commitment to sustainable development, but criticised a lack of concrete policy. Friends of the Earth expressed particular disappointment over the absence of specific targets for reducing resource use.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3333.

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