OECD environment ministers adopt green strategy

Agriculture, energy, transport prioritised in 10-year plan to decouple economic growth from environmental damage

Environment ministers from 30 of the world's wealthiest countries met in Paris yesterday to adopt a 10-year environmental strategy with an overriding aim of breaking the link between economic growth and environmental damage. Three sectors have been picked out for radical reform - agriculture, transport and energy.

Priority will be given to removing environmentally damaging subsidies and tax exemptions in these sectors and replacing them with policies that encourage internalisation of the environmental costs of goods and services, the strategy states.

The work of the Organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD), the strategy is the first of its kind. It was drafted alongside the OECD's recently published environmental outlook to 2020 (ENDS Daily 9 April).

Beyond its broad goal of decoupling wealth creation and environmental damage, the strategy commits OECD member countries to achieving four related objectives by 2010. The first of these is to "maintain the integrity of ecosystems" by improving resource efficiency, with particular emphasis on biodiversity and freshwaters.

Countries will also be obliged to measure environmental progress regularly through the use of indicators and to ensure results are publicly available. Improving quality of life is the strategy's third goal through reductions in the impacts associated with environmental damage, such as exposure to unsafe chemicals.

The strategy's final goal commits countries to reducing the environmental threats posed by globalisation by improving compliance and enforcement of multilateral environmental agreements and greening international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Mention of the latter is particularly timely since finance ministers attending a separate OECD session yesterday called for a new round of WTO free-trade talks to begin this year.

Wording on the politically sensitive issue of climate change had to be revised at the last minute to accommodate the USA's anti-Kyoto stance. The final version manages to be both strongly pro-Kyoto and vague enough to raise questions about whether certain OECD countries may eventually back the USA's position. They also emphasise the use of market-based instruments such as emissions trading as well as greenhouse gas "sinks and reservoirs".

Driving home the message that successful implementation of the strategy will only be possible if its aims are adopted by policy makers in other sectors, a meeting between OECD environment ministers and their finance and industry counterparts was held today. The result was a statement from finance and industry ministers in which they endorsed the strategy and said they recognise the urgent need to make progress toward sustainable development and are "committed to shaping globalisation".

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00, strategy, and joint statement from environment and finance ministers.

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