Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2002
Ensuring sustainable livelihoods:

challenges for governments, corporates, and civil society at Rio+10
8 - 11 February 2002, New Delhi

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DSDS 2002

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    - 8 Feb. 2002
    - 9 Feb. 2002
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    - 11 Feb. 2002
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Conference proceedings
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Conference proceedings

Dr John Ashton
Head of FCO Environment Policy Department

John Ashton was born in London on 7 November 1956, and educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle Upon Tyne and at Cambridge University, where he read Natural Sciences specialising in theoretical physics. On graduation in 1977, he spent a year in the Radio Astronomy Group at the New Cavendish Laboratory carrying out research into maximum entropy methods of image processing.

He joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1978. After a further period at Cambridge University learning Chinese language, he served as Science Officer in the British Embassy in Beijing from 1981–84, building bridges in science and technology between Britain and China at a time when Chinese science was recovering after the lost years of the Cultural Revolution. From 1984–86, he was Head of the China Desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. From 1986–88, he worked on international terrorism in the UK Cabinet Office. From 1988-93, after learning Italian, he served in the British Embassy in Rome. Here he carried out the first ever study for the British Government of the Mafia and the dangers it posed – through drug trafficking, money laundering and European fraud – to British interests. This led to closer UK/Italy co-operation against organised crime.

From 1993–97, he was seconded to the Hong Kong Government as Deputy Political Adviser to Governor Chris Patten, dealing with matters relating to Hong Kong’s transition to Chinese Sovereignty. He led for the Hong Kong Government in various negotiations with the Chinese authorities. He was closely involved in all major dealings between the UK and China concerning Hong Kong during this time. He also oversaw the sensitive relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan.

As a diplomat with a background in science, John Ashton retains an affinity for issues requiring communication between the worlds of science and international policy. This has drawn him in recent years towards the diplomacy of global change, whose importance in world affairs will, he believes, continue to grow over coming decades. Accordingly, he spent 8 months from 1997-8 as a Visiting Fellow at Green College, Oxford developing a cross-disciplinary understanding of the science, politics and diplomacy of climate change. He is crystallising his conclusions in a book, which he is writing for the Cambridge University Press.

From Green College, he returned in May 1998 to the Foreign Office as Head of its Environment, Science, and Energy Department. As the UK’s most senior diplomat with full-time responsibility for environmental issues, he advises the Foreign Secretary on matters relating to the environment; participates as a member of the UK team in the international negotiations on climate change and other issues; and contributes to the UK policy formulation on the international environment generally.

A key aim has been to enhance the Foreign Office contribution to the collective UK effort across this area. This led in 2000 to his Department’s relaunch as Environment Policy Department, giving the FCO for the first time a Department dedicated to environment policy with substantially increased staffing and resources. He also instituted an internship programme to bring Fellows of the LEAD International programme on environment and development into his Department as interns. The second of these was from India.

John Ashton is a Member of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding. He also serves on the Advisory Boards of the Climate Institute, Washington DC, and of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

He is married, to Judy; he has one son, John jr, and one stepson, Graham. He has a passion for the game of cricket.