IT IS A stark and arresting fact that, since the middle of the 20th century, humankind has consumed more natural resources than in all previous human history. This has resulted in more pollution and waste; and contributed to climate change which is now acknowledged to be one of the greatest challenges for the coming century.
So when I'm asked, "What is sustainable development?" it isn't hard to point out what is not sustainable. This makes the case for urgent and serious change. But translating that into action is another matter.
In publishing the UK Sustainable Development Strategy this month, the two key messages were this - first, the Government itself is determined to take a lead and that sustainable development is for everybody; and, second, that citizens and communities have real choices which can contribute to sustainable development.
We need consumers, business and the public to demand, use, and support sustainable products and services and to choose more sustainable transport options. I very much hope that the case studies in this supplement will interest those who are willing to come on board; they certainly demonstrate how sustainable development can be applied.
We are looking at new ways of involving people in making decisions about their futures. And next year, the launch of a new information service, Environment Direct, will be able to help, complementing the advice already available from the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
But, the first of my key messages is that the Government must take a lead. As a purchaser of more than pounds 13bn worth of goods and services each year, there is much it can contribute. So I have asked Sir Neville Simms, a highly respected business leader, to chair a new task force to draw up an action plan by April next year. Its focus will be how to help the public to make more sustainable choices, but also how to encourage innovation and help drive the market for the future's sustainable products.
There is one area where we will take immediate action. We are introducing a new scheme to "offset" the carbon impacts of Government air travel. All Government departments will participate by April 2006. When there is no alternative to flying, Government will compensate for carbon dioxide released from our flights by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. This initiative will not detract from our wider emission reduction objectives for aviation, but is a useful interim measure which raises awareness of the environmental impact of air travel and provides a means …