ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE

25 July 2006 NEW INQUIRY


25 July 2006 NEW INQUIRY

The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) set up a Sub-committee on 26 January 2006 to conduct a series of inquiries into trade, development and the environment. As the latest of these, the Sub-committee is today launching a short inquiry into the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) which was published March 2005. This was the first attempt to provide a detailed inventory of the state of all ecosystems and to quantify the effect that human activities are having on them. The report focused on the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems and how changes in such ecosystem services have and will affect human wellbeing. It provided options for responding at all levels to the challenges identified in order to improve ecosystem management and contribute to poverty eradication and human wellbeing.

The MA came to a number of disturbing conclusions about the state of the global environment:

€ Some 60 per cent of the planet's ecosystem services are currently being degraded by human activities. This has led to the loss of 20 per cent of the world's coral reefs, the fragmentation of 40 per cent of the planet's rivers and the disruption of the climate.

€ Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last 50 years than in any other period, leading to a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

€ 10 to 30 per cent of all mammal, bird and amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction.

€ Changes to ecosystems influence the abundance of human pathogens such as malaria and cholera, as well as increase the risk that new diseases will emerge.

€ Ecosystem services like food, clear water and disease control, are crucial for the poorest people on earth and their degradation is a major barrier to Millennium Development Goals

Although the findings of the MA are alarming, it did stress that ecosystems are not so damaged that they could not be repaired. The report concluded that this would require a significant change in policies, institutions and practices and described a number of response options on how this could be achieved. A review of the MA's initial impact, released March 2006, found that uptake of these recommendations had been very patchy.

The Committee intends to assess the impact of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment on decision-making in the UK and the international community, and to identify how its wider use can be promoted. It invites organisations and members of the public to submit memoranda setting out their views on this inquiry. The specific issues on which the Committee would welcome comments are set out overleaf, though respondents are free to comment on any other issues which they consider relevant.

Written evidence should be sent to the Committee in Word format by Monday 2 October by e-mail to [email protected] A brief guidance note on the preparation and submission of evidence is available on the Committee's web pages. Following the submission of evidence, the Committee intends to take oral evidence from a limited number of organisations in the Autumn and to publish a report thereafter. For further information on this inquiry, please telephone Oliver Bennett on 020-7219-4102.

Inquiry Issues

1. How successful has the MA been in influencing decision making at UK, EU and international levels? How can we encourage adoption of the MA response options in countries that have been slow to do so such as the US, Brazil and India?

2. To what extent have MA findings and processes been incorporated into UK departments? How aware are departments of the importance of the MA? What steps are being taken to ensure that the findings of the MA are being considered and, where relevant, acted upon in the departments? Is there any evidence of real change in government as an outcome of the MA?

3. How has the MA been used to ensure that there is adequate policy coherence, placing adequate weight on non-financial impacts and environmental limits in policies? Are the issues raised in the MA adequately addressed by UK policy appraisal through Regulatory Impact Assessments? Can departments document examples where the MA has resulted in a change in the preferred policy option to one which is more sustainable?

4. Should the UK develop its own assessment report and would it be relevant to include external UK impacts?

5. How have international institutions adopted the findings and processes of the MA? Why has the World Bank been slow to respond to the MA? How should the findings of the MA be incorporated into the World Bank's work?

6. Are NGOs acting on the MA's recommendations, particularly those involved in development and poverty reduction?

7. How has business risen to the challenges identified in the MA? Has the MA been used in strategic business planning?

8. How useful was the MA in addressing the assessment needs of a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity?

9. Were there any gaps or weaknesses in the MA? How should the MA be followed up? Are the mechanisms and expertise which were developed to create the MA now being lost due to a lack of confirmation of a formal follow up procedure?

Notes for Editors

1. The Sub-committee will be reporting on its two previous inquiries on the Department for International Development and the World Trade Organisation before the end of the 2006.

The Environmental Audit Committee

Under the terms of the Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to Aconsider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House. The Committee was set up on 14 July 2005.