Already committed to embracing Earth Summit's principles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 January, 1993, 12:00am

ON January 4, in these columns, I responded to a South China Morning Post editorial of December 3, which criticised the Government's environmental policy.

In this second letter, I would like to comment on the Earth Summit.

One of the questions you posed in your editorial was whether the Government has the will to embrace the principles of the Earth Summit. Of course it has.

Whilst many governments say that it will take them at least until the end of 1993 to articulate a comprehensive response to the many complex issues discussed at the summit, we are already committed to addressing these major issues in the next review of the White Paper on the Environment, which is expected to be published in mid-1993. This is a challenging target. The Earth Summit produced five principal summit documents: two conventions - the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention on Climate Change- and three non-binding agreements.

The conventions are extensive documents acknowledging that the adverse effects of climate change and the need to conserve and sustain biological diversity, are common concerns of humankind. The Administration shares these concerns. Basically, the Biodiversity Convention requires an inventory of plants and wildlife together with plans to protect them, and the Convention on Climate Change requires the stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries at their pre-1990 levels by the year 2000.

The Administration has already taken several positive steps to meet the environmental objectives under the conventions. For example, and regarding the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Government's activities on environmental conservation are integrated into the provision of country parks and other conservation measures. Regarding the Convention on Climate Change, our efforts to stabilise the production of greenhouse gases, include the preparation of a greenhouse gas inventory by the Environmental Protection Department, the establishment of a Co-ordinating Group on Global Climate Change under the Director of the Royal Observatory, and the formation of an Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary for Planning, Environment, and Lands.

The three non-binding agreements were, firstly, Agenda 21, a 900-page blueprint for action to protect the environment while encouraging development; secondly, a non-binding statement on the protection of forests (that is, the Forest Principles), and thirdly, a non-binding statement of 27 broad principles to guide environmental policy. This latter agreement is usually known as the Rio Declaration. Agenda 21 is now being studied, as is the statement on Forest Principles. The aims of both have our general support.

The third non-binding statement is the Rio Declaration which includes 27 environmental principles for adoption by signatory countries. One of these is the Polluter Pays Principle. An example of how we are already seeking to apply this principle is the measures that we propose - and upon which the public will be consulted shortly - to pay for a programme of urgently needed sewerage.

The Government can, therefore, endorse these major principles and we will be saying more about them in the next White Paper review.

A. G. COOPER for Secretary for Planning Environment and Lands