Chairman's Summary

G7 Environment Ministers Meeting, May 9-10, 1996, Cabourg, France

• Introduction
• Health and Environment
• International Institutional Arrangements for the Environment and Sustainable Development
• Trade and Environment


1. The Ministers for the Environment of seven major industrialized nations met in Cabourg on May 9 and 10, 1996. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Commission were represented, as were observers for some sessions, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, and the Global Environment Facility.

2. The non governmental community was invited to provide input into the reflections of this meeting. A parallel meeting was held by representatives of respective G7 national commissions on sustainable development, whose conclusions were forwarded to the G7 Ministers.

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

4. At the Cabourg meeting, the Ministers confirmed that the G7 countries were determined to fulfill their commitments in the field of the environment and sustainable development, and they reiterated the importance they attach to regular and intensive contacts. For the fourth time, such informal G7 meetings have served as an occasion to air topics of common interest in a series of friendly and open discussions.

In our capacity as environment ministers in the governments of seven major industrialized countries, it is our duty to ensure that issues relating to the environment and sustainable development are given their rightful place in public policy-making and in the international organizations, and to inform our leaders on key environmental issues in their preparation for the annual G7 Summit.

5. Our discussions centered upon three themes:

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Health and Environment

6. We decided to include this issue for the first time in our agenda to emphasize that the protection of public health has been and remains a fundamental objective of environmental policies. Furthermore there is increasing evidence and concern that pollution at levels or concentrations below existing "alert thresholds" can cause or contribute to chronic public health problems, particularly for children and other vulnerable members of our communities. We agreed that health is a privileged area where policies must be based on sound science and the precautionary principle.

7. A more precise knowledge of the effects on health of environmental degradation will make possible to assess and better take into account the economic and financial costs for the society of damage to the environment, in particular the costs for social security systems. Knowing these costs will enable us to make a better assessments of the benefits for public health of environmental policies. There is therefore a need for developing and deepening scientific studies in order to fill the gaps which still exist in this area.

8. Citizens should become full-fledged partners in the dialogue on environment related health hazards, through enhanced transparency of expertise and thanks to information and active participation in research and the containment of sources of pollution. Such a participation should be particularly reflected in the establishment of national plans on health including environmental aspects.

9. There is a need for taking into account, in public health and environmental policies, pollution from diffuse sources or indirect pollutions, below the generally admitted alert-thresholds. Similarly, at the international level, there is a need for taking into account risks for health in to the negotiations in progress, for instance about toxic chemicals issue in the UN agenda (PICs and POPs) and welcomed the work of UNEP in this respect.

10. We agreed on the necessity to coordinate the efforts made by various international institutions on research, risk analysis and certification in order to try and find immediate answers to the sanitary consequences of environmental degradations and beyond, to try and forecast the long term consequences of our policies and external environmental and sanitary trends so that we can anticipate them. In order to meet these objectives we agreed it was important to act as international and national levels.

11. To get on deepening this issue the government of France proposed to convene a meeting jointly with the four international institutions working on this issue (WHO, UNEP, CSD and GEF) and with the participation of representatives from developing countries and NGOs.

12. We further agree that the early identification of future challenges and problems would lead to more effective management of environment and health issues. We committed to coordinate to anticipate and respond to environmental change to go on deepening this issue and looked forward to progress in this area by the time of the Environment Future Forecasting Forum to be hosted by US prior to the 1997 special session of the UNGA.

13. We also emphasized the importance of national plans on health and environment, with a view to join and better coordinate our sectoral policies and welcomed the development of this in preparation of WHO conference to be held in London in 1999.

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International Institutional Arrangements for the Environment and Sustainable Development

14. Sustainable development is the conceptual framework which should underpin all our policies. We reconfirmed the views we had expressed at Hamilton last year on the distinct yet complementary roles of the main international institutions involved in the environment and sustainable development, and in particular the United Nations Commission on sustainable Development (CSD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). These should form the basis of the institutional framework for the environment and sustainable development to emerge from the special session, taking into account the conclusions reached by the MANGARATIBA meeting (Brazil, March 1996) and those of the 4th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), notably its high level session, and the meeting organized by UNEP in New York on May 4, 1996. We will work with other interested countries to help these two institutions support each other in responding to the challenges of effectively implementing the Agenda for the 21st Century.

15. The CSD should, in our view, continue to be the high level global forum at which broad policy directions for sustainable development are set, and long-term strategic goals for sustainable development are identified and agreed upon. It should draw on appropriate UN and other international bodies to carry out its work and should not duplicate the work of the conventions.

16. In the context of the debate on reform of the United Nations system, the CSD needs to work closely with other functional commissions of ECOSOC within the framework of follow-up to the major international conferences (Copenhagen, Cairo, Beijing, and Istanbul shortly), ensuring that the principle of sustainable development underpins their work. ECOSOC has an important role in coordinating the work at these commissions and in ensuring duplication is avoided. The CSD also needs to work with other international and regional organizations, including the international financial institutions, encouraging them to greater weight to sustainable development. Moreover, we consider that the CSD should continue to stimulate the exchange of national experiences between countries, and involving national commissions on sustainable development, NGOs and others. We welcome the national presentations which have been introduced in the last two CSD sessions.

17. We consider that, until now, the CSD has performed this coordinating and stimulating role satisfactory. However, the learning phase of the past four years is now over. We must draw the appropriate lessons and propose the necessary reforms in its working methods, so that there is no weakening of the dynamic created at Rio, and so that the CSD does not lapse into routine. Accordingly, we believe it would be more effective if the CSD were to focus its annual programme of work on a limited number of truly urgent themes, which require political direction and on which it alone could really add some value. We further think that, to play its role to the full, the CSD should be attended by Ministers other than those of environment. Beyond that, all sectors of the economy (non-governmental, private sector and local government) ought to be fully involved. In particular, we encourage the involvement of the private sector.

18. Concerning the role of UNEP, we believe it important that it should be clearly confirmed in its catalytic role as the environmental voice of the United Nations, responsible for acting as a policy forum on environmental issues and bringing the environmental perspective to broader sustainable development fora. It must focus on sound science to underpin its work, monitoring and assessing the state of the world's environment, catalysing regional and global responses to common environmental problems, and promoting the development of international environmental law. This should enable UNEP to be both the conscience and policy leader on environment within the UN system and beyond. We appreciate the efforts of UNEP at the regional level to provide responses to environmental problems, and hope it will continue to strengthen its regional offices.

19. With regards to UNEP's present efforts to restructure its governing bodies, we welcome the clear message from the meeting held in New York on 4th may that reform is urgently needed. It needs to provide representative political influence to UNEP to restore its rightful place within the UN bodies. We will work with the executive director and all countries to achieve a satisfactory solution to this at the governing council in January 1997.

20. We consider, moreover, that the international financial institutions should continue their efforts to make the environment and sustainable development an integral part of their strategies and policies. The World Bank in particular has made significant progress in this direction and we encourage it to make even greater efforts to improve transparency, monitor projects systematically and carry out ex-ante and ex-post assessments of their environmental impact. On that point, we consider it important that our respective representatives within these international and regional financial institutions echo our concerns.

21. We reaffirm our strong support for the GEF, by virtue of its original method of operation and the quality of the projects it funds. We call for the convention on climate change and the convention on biological diversity to agree at their next meetings to designate it as their permanent financial mechanism. Negotiations on the replenishment of its resources are due to begin in early 1997, and we stress the importance of the successful replenishment commensurate with the GEF's role in the issues at stake for the developing countries.

22. Agenda 21 recognises that its implementation will be financed from national public and private funds. As to external finance, we note that private funding and innovative funding mechanisms will represent an increasing important component of the funding of sustainable development in the coming years. However, we reaffirm our commitment to official development aid (ODA), particularly for the less-developed countries. Finally, in looking forward to the special session we intend to build on the helpful agreements reached at Mangaratiba and at the fourth session of the CSD. In particular, we emphasize that the special session should not renegotiate Agenda 21, which we remain fully committed to, that it should concentrate on setting clear priorities for the years ahead, and on the pragmatic implementation of Agenda 21.

The environment and sustainable development must be properly catered for the in the reform of the UN.

23. We recognised the essential contribution and role of "grass roots" efforts - communities, business, individuals and NGOs - in the field of sustainable development and in this regard requested international institutions to work more closely with NGOs from all nations and encourage greater public participation, towards the development of a global approach to "environmental citizenship."

24. We also agreed on the importance of regional efforts for reinforcing and implementing global coordination.

25. We agreed on the importance of compliance with the terms of international environmental agreements and welcomed the US offer to host an international conference on this issue in 1997.

26. We attach great importance to the 1997 special UN General Assembly which is to be successful and be attended at the highest level.

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Trade and Environment

27. Trade liberalisation and environmental protection are equally important objectives. Provided that the right policy framework is in place, they should be mutually supportive in favour of sustainable development. The removal of trade obstacles should contribute to achieving a more efficient use of the Earth's natural resources in both economic and environmental terms an to lessening pressures on the environment. However, the environmental benefits of trade liberalisation are not automatic. They can only be derived if appropriate environmental policies and sustainable development strategies are implemented nationally and internationally. If this condition is not met, trade liberalisation can act as a magnifier of policy and market failures.

28. The work of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) is particularly important. This committee is emerging as a major forum to address the interlinkages between trade and environment, especially in the view of the fact that it can make recommendations on whether any modifications to the provisions of the multilateral trading system are required. We are of the view that, in order to perform effectively its tasks, the CTE:

The work of the CTE should also be action-oriented. The Singapore Ministerial Conference will be a first test of the ability of the WTO to integrate environmental protection and sustainable development concerns into the multilateral trading system. We must ensure that any agreements do not weaken environmental policies.

29. We consider that the WTO should be supportive of efforts to promote a positive framework to acknowledge the importance of greater internalization of environmental costs. We call upon the WTO to examine the relationship between the trade rules and environmental principles, including the polluter-pays principle (PPP) and the precautionary principle.

30. To make sure that they encourage industry to operate in a more ecologically-aware fashion, we shall work to ensure that the WTO rules, and in particular those on technical barriers to trade, do not hinder the development of voluntary ecolabelling schemes based on life-cycle analysis, but on the contrary further their utilization and effectiveness by encouraging the use of instruments to promote transparency and consultation, while avoiding trade protectionism.

31. It is particularly important to devise effective solutions to prevent conflicts between the WTO rules and MEA's and to ensure that trade measures pursuant to MEA's find accommodation within the WTO system.

We should seek to narrow the gap between environmental protection goals and those pertaining to development. We have a duty to play an instrumental role in search for an understanding with the developing countries that gives proper weight to the concerns of everyone. WTO members should fulfill the terms of the agreement establishing it which recognize that parties should conduct their trade and economic relations while allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking to protect and preserve the environment.

32. We welcome the decision on trade, environment and sustainable development of the 4th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the CSD (United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development) have important mandates on trade and environment. We will work to ensure greater complementary and closer cooperation between UNEP, CSD, WTO, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the OECD, with a view to avoiding duplication and taking advantage of the special expertise of each organization.

33. Beyond encouraging transfers of environmentally-friendly technologies, we should promote trade in environmentally-friendly commodities and raw materials, particularly for the benefit of developing countries; greater transparency on the subject of standards and environmental regulations, as well as in eco-labelling programmes should be achieved.

34. We will encourage the less-developed countries to participate more actively in the debate, in particular in future meetings and negotiations at the WTO, UNCTAD, UNEP and the ISO, and at the major conventions on the environment.

35. As far as the Singapore Conference is concerned, we emphasized the importance of achieving environmentally favourable agreement, and we underlined our particular interest in progress on MEA's and ecolabelling. The Singapore Conference should also mandate the committee on trade and environment ministries from all parts of the world. We committed ourselves to consult NGO's on those issues, through the appropriate channels.

Source: Released at the Meeting of the G7 Environment Ministers, Cabourg, France, May 9-10, 1996.