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Letter to President Chirac
from the Chairman of the Meeting of the
G7 Environment Ministers Held in Cabourg, France, May 9-10, 1996

Mr. President,

As part of the preparations for the Lyon Summit on development, the G7 environment ministers met in Cabourg and Caen on May 9 and 10, 1996. For the first time, the NGOs of the different countries were invited to a working session with the ministers that proved very constructive. The ministers also had a working session with the national commission on sustainable development which produced very interesting exchanges of views.

In line with the Hamilton meeting in 1995, we welcomed the quality of cooperation that has grown up in the environmental sphere, as also reflected by progress within the OECD in the assessment of environmental policies and the definition of economic instruments.

Following the recent meeting in New York of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) we have reaffirmed that the only conceivable development is sustainable development. The G7 countries have a special responsibility to respond to the hopes aroused in men and women the world over, for themselves and their descendants, of a gentler, more harmonious life on a planet with an assured future. Although noticeable progress has been accomplished, the important and urgent environmental challenges and the modest concrete results obtained since the Rio Conference led the environment ministers to give a warning signal. One year before the special session of UNGA, a major date in the follow-up of Rio, there is an urgency and a political opportunity to change the nature of the answers to the challenges that you have to face. Our political credibility is at stake.

To achieve this, the Cabourg meeting discussed three themes. The first concerns the links between health and environment.

Today human health, including in developing countries, is being jeopardized by the deterioration of the environment which stems in particular from unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Numerous examples may be found of the costs for the society of products harmful to health and detrimental to the environment. At our meeting in Cabourg, we noted public opinion's concern on this subject and wished to draw attention to health issues in the management of environmental problems. We believe that sound science and the precautionary principle are the most likely to lead to adequate solutions. For this reason, we would like the G7 Summit in Lyon to entrust the G7 environment ministers with the task of reporting on ways of giving practical effect to this principle.

The second theme concerns institutions. We must seek both greater efficiency and to mobilize civil society.

Greater efficiency implies the political importance of the CSD among UN institutions. This strengthening should, in the first place, create the conditions for closer working between the CSD and the UN's economic agencies and the Bretton Woods financial institutions. Furthermore, it should serve to entrust it with the task of addressing gaps in the implementation of Agenda 21, ensuring the coordination of the aims and means of the various conventions (climate, biodiversity, desertification, ozone) or programmes (oceans) and of promoting progress toward sustainable development. This reorganization would entail a more precise distribution of roles between the CSD, as a high-level political forum for sustainable development, and UNEP, as the agency responsible for policy development and scientific monitoring assessments in the field of environment. For this, presumably, the CSD could be opened up more frequently to other ministers with an interest in sustainable development as well as to other representatives of society at large.

This reorganization should create the conditions for a genuine mobilization of everyone involved in society and the economy. Not only does it meet a need, since business must be consulted if it is to commit itself to the process, but it also answers a demand emanating from society as expressed by non-profit organizations, trade unions, and so forth. After Habitat II, local government, particularly those responsible for local Agendas 21, could be mobilized also.

The third theme discussed was that of the relationship between trade and the environment.

The globalization of trade and a high level of environmental protection should be mutually supportive in favour of sustainable development. We should seek to avoid conflict between the international trade system and international environmental law. The WTO must give practical expression to the objectives of sustainable development and environmental protection as contained in the Rio Declaration and in the preamble to the agreement instituting the WTO, and it should serve as a framework for the assessment of trade agreements.

Over and beyond this, the environment is an asset to growth and employment through the development of controls on environmentally-harmful production processes and methods, through genuine internalization of environmental costs and the promotion of more environmentally- friendly management.

Similarly, social and environmental considerations should, for economic, moral and ethical reasons, serve as a permanent counterweight to globalization. Development is meant to be for people, not against them.

In conclusion, we believe it to be extremely important that the G7 Summit in Lyon takes account of the necessary conditions for sustainable development, and that it sends out to public opinion a message of hope by making environmental protection considerations an integral part of public policy-making.

We were unanimous in recognizing the need to recapture the sense of urgency for the environment which we all embraced at Rio. The issues are huge and are growing to the extent that the important successes we have achieved since Rio are in danger of being outpaced. They are a threat to the well-being of people, not only in major industrialized countries, but perhaps more so in the developing countries, whose interests will be the focus of your discussion at Lyon. Climate change, fresh water shortages and food security pose a threat to them which it is our common responsibility to address. By means of technology transfer and redistributive policies, we should set accommodating policies for the developing countries.

Next year provides the ideal opportunity to recreate that necessary sense of urgency as the United Nations General Assembly hosts a Special Session to review progress since Rio. In the run-up to that we hope to achieve important agreements on forests and chemicals and should be poised for a further step forward on climate change.

We all agreed that your involvement in the Special Session will be crucial to its success. Only you as leaders can bring about the integration of the environment into the crucial policy areas we have been discussing in Cabourg, and create the fresh momentum that would bring about the step ... change that is needed.

We firmly believe that the personal commitment of you and your colleagues at Lyon to attend the Special Session would signal to our developed and developing country colleagues the G7's commitment to our common future.

Please be assured, Mr. President, of my high and respectful consideration.

Source: Released at the meeting of the G7 Environment Ministers in Cabourg, France, May 10, 1996.

Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy G7 Information Centre
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