Featuring The Right Honorable Margaret Beckett, MP, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

Co-sponsored by The Environmental Change and Security Project, The West European Studies Program, and the Project on America and the Global Economy

By Robert Lalasz

December 5, 2001—Urging the United States to more actively address climate change and other environmental issues, Margaret Beckett, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, outlined on December 5th for a Wilson Center audience the UK's agenda for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, global sustainable development, and free and fair trade. It was Mrs. Beckett's first speech in the United States since becoming the head of this new UK governmental department in June.

Global Problems Need Concerted Action
After offering her condolences to the people of the United States for the death and destruction caused by September's terrorist attacks, Mrs. Beckett called 11 September "a wake-up call to all of us, not just to the dangers of terrorism, but to our mutual interdependence as a world community." Citing climate change, clean water, poverty, migration, and disease as issues of vital importance, Mrs. Beckett said concerted global and practical action would be essential in solving these problems. "We live in a world," said Mrs. Beckett, "where stability and prosperity at home depend crucially on the ability of the international community to act together in pursuit of interests that transcend both national borders and traditional notions of sovereignty."

Climate change, said Mrs. Beckett, is a prime example of such a shared interest. New evidence, she argued, conclusively demonstrates that global warming is both driven by human activity and will accelerate, leading worldwide to more frequent extreme weather, rising sea-levels and devastating floods, the spread of tropical diseases, and biodiversity loss. All countries will suffer from these changes, said Mrs. Beckett, especially the poorest and least capable of adaptation. "No country can solve the problems of climate change on its own," she said, "any more than any individual can buy their own personal ozone layer. The evidence overwhelmingly points to the need for urgent, globally coordinated action."

Mrs. Beckett said that the UK intends to ratify the Kyoto Protocol before the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. And she lauded the compromises each country made in reaching agreement at the recent Climate Change Convention in Marrakech, Morocco. "But it seemed strange in Marrakech," Mrs. Beckett added, "to be pressing ahead on a matter of such vital importance without the United States participating fully beside us." She urged the Bush administration to implement "far-reaching domestic policies, compatible with the Kyoto framework," and she cited UK moves towards low-carbon technology innovation and emission-trading markets as possible models for the United States.

Margaret Beckett

"If the developed world takes positive action, there will be a much greater prospect of engaging developing countries on tackling their own contributions to climate change," Mrs. Beckett concluded. "The U.S. has decided to follow its own path. But I hope in due course that path, along with the one being followed by the rest of the world, will lead us to the same place."

Johannesburg and the "New Global Deal"
Mrs. Beckett also cited poverty and environmental degradation as enormous challenges for global leadership, and said that the Johannesburg Summit presented a critical opportunity "to promote resource efficiency and make sure globalization works to spread prosperity for all." Indeed, she said, one in five people globally lack access to safe drinking water; half lack safe sanitation; and 2 billion lack sustainable energy. "These shocking statistics call for radical new approaches," said Mrs. Beckett. She added that the drive for sustainable development is especially important for Africa, where "civil unrest, grinding poverty, and mass migration" have created "the desperate conditions on which war and even terrorism feed."

Above all, Mrs. Beckett said, the Summit must be about delivery on commitments made at the 1992 Summit in Rio, not a renegotiation of past agreements. Mrs. Beckett said that the UK wants to narrow down the Summit's agenda to three to five practical programs that address such issues as clean water, capacity building, and good governance. "We hope very much that President Bush will attend and take a leading role," she said.

Mrs. Beckett then outlined the UK's new agenda for promoting rising prosperity and social justice on a global scale—the four building blocks for what she called "a new global deal":

* Increasing poor countries' capacity to participate in the global economy;
* Encouraging sustainable development standards for corporations and fostering developing-country investment forums between the private and public sectors;
* Adopting a new trade regime so that developing countries can participate on fair terms in the world economy; and
* Transferring substantially additional resources from the richest to the poorest countries in the form of development investment.

This bold agenda is tantamount to "throwing down the gauntlet for a global campaign against poverty and for social justice," asserted Mrs. Beckett. "The UK government is determined to forge ahead with this agenda—to turn rhetoric into reality—and Tony Blair has set up a new, cross-departmental Cabinet Committee to promote this work." The UK 2000 program, she said, has initiatives across five sectors (finance, tourism, energy, forestry, and water) to demonstrate the benefits of partnership action for sustainable development.

The Promise of Doha
Mrs. Beckett also held up the recent World Trade Organization Summit at Doha, Qatar as an example of strong and concerted global action—on the reduction of agricultural subsidies as well as the environment. European agriculture policy, she said, has already started to shift away from protectionism of farmers to consumer issues such as food safety, environmental benefits, and stability and security for depressed rural areas.

"We hope to see the United States too playing a full part by reducing its own farm subsidies," said Mrs. Beckett. "Let us abandon the argument about whether your subsidies are higher than ours and agree that they are all too high and too damaging." She added that the outcome of congressional debate on the new U.S. Farm Bill "will be taken as a signal in the rest of the world on how serious the U.S. really is about opening agricultural markets to competition."

Doha, Mrs. Beckett, said, was also a large advance on the interface between trade and environment: a chance to clarify the murky relationship between multilateral environmental agreements and WTO rules, and a liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services. She argued that protecting the environment and maintaining open and fair-trading systems are "not only compatible, but can be mutually reinforcing." "We will not use negotiations in the WTO," Mrs. Beckett vowed, "to introduce illegitimate barriers to trade. We will use them to deliver concrete outcomes which are good for both trade and the environment."

Finally, in response to audience questions, Mrs. Beckett admitted that the UK agenda was intentionally bold. "We are not unhopeful that we may get countries buying into our agenda," she concluded. "It is ambitious—but if it is not ambitious, world leaders won't be interested."