The White Paper, known as ‘A Better Quality of Life – A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the UK,’ was launched on 17 May 1999. The White Paper includes:

  • measures designed to place the environment, social progress and the economy at the heart of policy making;
  • a streamlined Sustainable Development Commission
  • a call for businesses to ‘do their bit’ by improving competitiveness while reducing pressures on the environment and resources;
  • a ‘quality of life barometer’, with indicators to measure progress; and
  • a £7m per annum ‘Are You DoingYour Bit?’ advertising campaign explaining how people can save money and reduce waste. The advertising campaign will focus on four areas to encourage people to save energy by switching off lights; conserve water by sprinkling the lawn less; reduce air borne pollution by car sharing; and reduce waste by recycling bottles
  • sustainable development frameworks for each English region to complement the local authorities strategies;
  • a pledge to ensure that Government annually reports the headline indicators and adjusting policies where a trend is seen to be unsustainable.

The Strategy identifies seven priorities:

  • more investment in people and equipment
  • reducing social exclusion;
  • integrated transport: promoting transport choice, while tackling pollution and congestion;
  • livable’ towns and cities: making our larger towns and cities better places to live and work;
  • a living, working countryside: promoting appropriate rural development and agricultural practices which protect the countryside and wildlife;
  • saving energy: improving energy efficiency and cutting waste;
  • working with others to achieve sustainable development internationally.

“To improve the quality of life we need to act across Government in an integrated way,” said Prescott, launching the package. “To tackle problems such as air pollution we need to take an integrated approach – embracing the environment, transport, tax and health issues.

“We in Government have got to ‘do our bit’ but we cannot do it alone. Business and local authorities also need to ‘do their bit’ and, as individuals, we can all help. Our advertising campaign shows that small actions really do count and that simple measures, which can help the environment and save people money, are easy.”

England’s conservation agency, English Nature, welcomed The Sustainable Development Strategy White Paper and urged business to recognise and adopt sustainability as a guiding principle.

The Agency said it recognises the efforts already made in areas such as energy and waste management, but businesses must change those aspects of their behaviour which have a direct impact on biodiversity.

English Nature’s manager for sustainable development, James Marsden said, “There are some good examples of companies leading the way. The return of aquatic life to Norfolk’s Broadland owes a lot to the removal of phosphorus from relevant sewage works. We want to work with all business sectors to remove threats to SSSIs and maintain their special interest. This is just the beginning, all companies can do their bit and make a contribution to natural assets and achieving UK BAP targets”.
Managing their land during and after development to support priority habitats and species and participating in Local Agenda 21 initiatives are just two examples.

“We want to recognise and reward those who do well, but will continue to oppose proposals that will significantly reduce the nature conservation interest of SSSIs,” Marsden concluded.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) gave a cautious welcome to The White Paper, but said it would have little significance if the Labour Government fails to deliver on its manifesto economic and environment promises. The group welcomed the White Paper’s ‘indicators’ of sustainability, but pointed out that it has few clear targets for action, linked to defined environmental limits.

FoE said the Government has repeated its pledge to cut CO2 by 20% over 1990 levels by 2010 in the White Paper but, has yet to produce any convincing action plan to achieve it. The Government, FoE says, needs to make the right tax and economic decisions to give both industry and consumers incentives for change.

FoE also criticised the Government for failing to set clear national targets on cutting road traffic levels, while the White Paper’s promise to install energy efficiency measures in 1 million buildings by 2002 was described as inadequate by the group.

“The Department of Environment clearly understands sustainable development, ” said FOE Executive Director Charles Secrett, “but has failed a key test with this White Paper – fighting shy of national targets to improve environmental resource efficiency ten-fold over the coming decades.

For all his authority John Prescott can’t deliver sustainable development without the enthusiastic backing of Tony Blair. Now the Prime Minister must follow up on its warm words and take action on Labour’s election promises. It’s no use just lecturing the public about the need to do better. Government must ‘do its bit’ too – in fact it should be leading the way. The White Paper is full of exhortation but the Government has not yet given the public the means to go green.”

A Better Quality of Life – A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the UK (Cm 4345) is available from The Stationary Office, price £11.80, ISDN 0 10 143452 9.

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