BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Breakfast with Frost  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Breakfast with Frost
Sir Jonathon Porritt
Sir Jonathon Porritt

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST
HOSTED BY GAVIN ESLER
INTERVIEW:
JONATHON PORRITT, CHAIRMAN, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION
AND
JOHN GUMMER, MP, FORMER ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY AUGUST 25TH, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

GAVIN ESLER:
I'm now joined in the studio by Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission which advises the government, and from Norwich by the former Conservative environment secretary, John Gummer. Good morning to you both. Jonathon Porritt, first of all, you're not going to this. Is it a waste of time?

JONATHON PORRITT:
No it's not. Margaret Beckett's absolutely right. This is a very important event and it's involving people from all the different sectors. There are opportunities to take things forward in terms of a practical action plan and you do have to do quite a lot of talking to get to the point where action is going to make a difference.

GAVIN ESLER:
But you've been attacking the government this morning for its "na´ve adulation of big business," what do you mean?

JONATHON PORRITT:
I think that one of the things that we've really learnt since Rio is that everybody has a role to play in this, not just governments but the private sector, the voluntary sector, local authorities - everybody needs to be involved in delivering the on the ground solutions to these things. And business is one of those sectors. So I've got no problem about business people being in the UK delegation, as far as I'm, fine, as far as I'm concerned. But what I'm worried about is the government tends to listen disproportionately to business and to disparage the advice that it gets from other sectors - particularly from the NGOs - and that's foolish too, because we need the contribution of business but we need it, not on their terms, but on the terms of what is required to deliver genuinely sustainable development both in the rich and the poor world. And that's different from what they're offering at the moment.

GAVIN ESLER:
And you've told them this - you've told the government his, have you?

JONATHON PORRITT:
Indeed.

GAVIN ESLER:
And their response?

JONATHON PORRITT:
The response is that these things ought to be kept separate. That our concern about the environment is one thing and our concern about the shape of the global economy is another. Well, they're not. They're intricately linked.

GAVIN ESLER:
Let's bring in John Gummer on this. Mr Gummer, I suppose all governments, all chancellors always talk about growth and that's the kind of national virility symbol. Is there a conflict between growth and big business and the environment?

JOHN GUMMER:
No I don't think so and I do think we won't get the growth we need if we think there is a conflict. I mean either we grow sustainably or we shan't grow at all. Or we will grow at such a cost that future generations - and by that I mean in ten years time - will find it very hard to do what they could otherwise have done. So I find with very large businesses they recognise that. They know that if you use fewer resources that saves money, you have a better profit. If you don't waste water, don't waste energy, you find new ways of doing things - all of which contribute to the environment - that that actually is helpful to the business. But of course they have the narrow focus of their own businesses trying to operate in a global environment. What governments have to do is to lift that focus and to insist that business works with NGOs and with governments to solve the problems, the solution to which each has got part but they have to do it together. And this conference is one of the ways in which we can make that work throughout the world.

GAVIN ESLER:
Isn't the problem though, Jonathon, that businesses can often be bigger and more important than countries, so therefore it's very difficult for any government, any government - even of a rich nation like ours - to tell them what to do?

JONATHON PORRITT:
It's harder than it used to be, that's true. But that doesn't quite explain the cowardice of governments as they set about that particular challenge. Why, for instance, do we not hear anything about reforming big, multilateral organisations, like the World Trade Organisations and the IMF, who play a huge role in shaping the global economy? Why don't we have a more sympathetic approach towards the proper and effective regulation of large multinational companies, as they operate around the world, instead of leaving everything up to the voluntary approach. So I'm not saying this is easy but I am very concerned at the paralysis in government which says ┐ this is the global economy, there's not much we can do to touch that. That's simply not true.

GAVIN ESLER:
John Gummer, a bit of cowardice there, not just from the British government but from the American government too, saying, you know, free markets, free business, let them get on with it.

JOHN GUMMER:
I don't think it's cowardice as far as the American government's concerned - they actually don't believe that businesses should be treated in this way. I mean the truth of the matter is that in Europe we've got a different view of this, we do think that business should play a very big part, but a proper part, within the world, and that there are many other things that should be brought in and that the World Trade Organisation, for example, should take proper cognisance of the real issues of sustainable development of the environment and the like. And that isn't a view which yet the American government shares and one of our jobs is to try to help the Americans to see that their view, the view of Exon, Mobil, that kind of view, is actually out of touch with the way in which the world is really working and that if they want to play the central part, which the biggest and most powerful economy has to play, then these issues have got to become much more important to them.

GAVIN ESLER:
But John I'd just suggest to you that the problem here is that they too are going for growth and they see, they're worried about their economy, and the one thing they will say when you say sustainable growth or sustainable development, is that those are buzz phrases for low growth and poor development.

JOHN GUMMER:
Well that's just nonsense. I mean America is wasting huge opportunities - as are we in Europe - by not using our energy more sensibly. We're spending money we don't need to spend. We're wasting the opportunities of creating wealth much, much more effectively. And it's this blindness, the failure to see that if only you take a sustainable route, you actually make more money, not less. And that's why, for example, some oil companies have got it right and others haven't and one day we shall be able to convince them all. But it's the, it's because I believe that sustainable development means better results, producing more from less and therefore making better profits, that I find it very difficult to understand why the Americans don't recognise that there is a straightforward capitalist advantage in all this.

GAVIN ESLER:
Jonathon, what do you - in practical terms - what do you want the government to do, to big business, or with big business perhaps I should say, to get this partnership working, to move forward in the direction you're talking about?

JONATHON PORRITT:
I think they need to work much harder at making it easier, not just for the pioneer companies that John is talking about but for the whole of the business community to do this. For instance, this government spends something like 40 billion pounds a year in the UK economy - why isn't it directing that money in such a way as to promote the best practice of the good companies and leave the companies that doing bad on the margins? Why isn't it doing more, for instance, to encourage better corporate social responsibility through changing the company law more purposefully than it's currently inclined to do.

GAVIN ESLER:
But what its priority is is productivity, productivity, productivity, getting more money.

JONATHON PORRITT:
But you see, Gavin, what's so intriguing is what do they mean by productivity? Do they mean output per person employed in the economy or do they mean output per unit of energy or raw materials going through the economy? The Treasury is very interested in the former - it couldn't give a stuff about the latter. So when you talk about productivity, why can't they get their heads around what productivity really means - which is efficiency across the piece, not just output per person but output per unit of raw material and energy going into any production process.

GAVIN ESLER:
Are you being a bit disloyal here, because you advise the government and now on their big day, or their big week on this, you are saying they've got it wrong?

JONATHON PORRITT:
I'm saying that they haven't got it right, which is slightly different from saying they've got it completely wrong.

GAVIN ESLER:
Well it's an interesting distinction - it may be lost on ministers.

JONATHON PORRITT:
Well it may be, and I'll probably pick up that a bit later. I've tried to point out that they are doing some things right - and I've commented on, in my article in The Observer, that there are a lot of things they're getting right. But it's piecemeal. It's patchy, it's incremental, it is not done at a strategic level and it is not done with the quality of leadership that we really seek now, both from Number 10 and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And if you compare that leadership, on sustainable development, with the kind of leadership that we've seen from this government on Northern Ireland, on health issues, on public services in general, we're talking about a different league of leadership - and that's where the change has got to come.

GAVIN ESLER:
John Gummer, let me bring you in there on this different league of leadership. But what it may suggest to me though is that many of us really would like a better environment but we're not really prepared to make sacrifices so the government doesn't see, perhaps, any real votes in causing us real pain.

JOHN GUMMER:
Well first of all, it doesn't need to cause us real pain. There are many things the government could do before it gets to the pain threshold. And I agree that the two fundamental problems are that this government is not joined up in as far as sustainable development is concerned, there are many areas - for example government procurement, this government doesn't buy on the basis of sustainable development, it still hasn't got what it claims to want at the centre down through to the actual people who do the purchasing. If it did that, it would change British industry entirely. This government doesn't think in the same way in the Ministry of Defence and in the Department of Transport and in the way in which local government is operated as it is supposed to think when it says that sustainable development is at the heart of its policy. That is the real trouble and we need to pressurise the government to do it.

GAVIN ESLER:
John - we're going to have to leave it there - John Gummer in Norwich, Jonathon Porritt here in the studio, thanks very much.

INTERVIEW ENDS

 WATCH/LISTEN
 NEWS BULLETINS
Launch console for latest Audio/Video











E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Breakfast with Frost stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes