Martin Cullen, the meeting’s Chair and the Irish minister for the environment, heritage and local government, acknowledged that Ireland itself has much work to do, particularly in the area of global warming. He reaffirmed that his country was determined to meet its goals and urged other countries to adopt a similar strong commitment.
This high-level conference served as a wakeup call. It was the first time ever at the OECD that representatives from business, trade unions and environmental NGOs took part in the ministerial meeting itself, and not just through prior consultations.
Serious environmental challenges remain, ministers agreed, particularly in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, halting biodiversity loss, and decoupling environmental pressures from economic growth. Ministers voiced a sense of urgency on the need to tackle climate change. Only one in three OECD countries have managed to stabilise or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and Minister Cullen urged all members to ratify and implement the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible.
Further progress could also be achieved by developing so-called “market-based” policies such as tradable permits, ministers agreed. They questioned environmentally harmful subsidies, including tax exemptions, which distort trade, and agreed to make reform and the costs of inaction an important focus of OECD work. The role of the private sector was key, the conference agreed, and applying cleaner technologies would also need to play a stronger role in addressing environmental challenges.
Ministers adopted a Statement for further work on sustainable development and agreed to meet again for a second interim review in 2008.
The Chinese vice-minister for the environment took the opportunity to announce that the OECD will undertake an Environmental Performance Review of China in 2005.
©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004