Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 20 MARCH 2001
MP, RT HON
MP, MR DAVID
Chairman: Welcome, Deputy Prime Minister.
I understand Michael Meacher may join you when he finishes his
statement in the House. Thank you for coming along this afternoon,
I know it is a busy day for you. You will recall that this meeting
had its origins in the meeting we had to postpone after the break
down of The Hague talks and we want to talk to you before you
embark on further talks in a very short time. We want to concentrate
on the COP6 discussions, what happened there, the aftermath and
what may happen now. Mr Chaytor.
1. Thank you, Chairman. Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr Prescott) Do you not want me to say
one or two words beforehand?
2. Not really, we are a bit pressed for time.
(Mr Prescott) I always rely on that for another half
3. If you would like to make it very short.
(Mr Prescott) I will leave out what I would have said
except I do want to say a couple of things. One is that Michael
will be with me, of course, but I have also brought along with
me the Head of our Global Atmosphere Division because, as you
know, at COP6 it is partly involved with the negotiations that
go on with the Civil Service first and then the politicians and
they may be able to give a fuller reply to some of the questions
you might want to ask on COP6. Secondlyit is rather an
awkward way of putting itI just want to apologise that
I did not come in December but we were preparing to go to Oslo
and trying to resuscitate the talks after the failure that had
occurred at The Hague, and also to apologise for this afternoon,
to thank the Committee for understanding those difficulties. My
last point, to curry even more favour, is I would like to say
the Environmental Audit Report, since I first came to this Committee
and said "I hope you have got the power to snap at our heels",
was an excellent report. We will be responding in a positive way
and I think the recommendations are something that will make the
Committee much more effective and we have a lot more to do about
targets. I wanted to put that on the record and hopefully that
puts me in a good light before starting.
Chairman: You are sucking up very well
today, Minister. That will not prevent us asking tough questions
about COP6 which is an entirely different matter. Mr Chaytor.
4. Chairman, thank you very much. Deputy Prime
Minister, I wonder if I could start off by asking a question or
two about the reasons for the failure to reach agreement at The
Hague. First of all, can I ask did you feel that there was a significant
shift in opinion between Kyoto and The Hague on behalf of the
Umbrella Group? Have they become less willing to negotiate, less
convinced of the science of climate change? Was there any change
between the original conference and what happened at The Hague?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, I think there was a change between
Kyoto and The Hague and it happened at The Hague. We just lost
our political courage and political will to make an agreement
quite frankly. That was on the European side, in my view. The
developing countries were quite happy to see whatever agreement
could come between the Umbrella Group and, indeed, the European
Group, which were the two major groups in that really. I think
the break down of negotiations was largely because we were not
prepared to come to an agreement with the Umbrella Group. Of course,
in all agreements it requires you to compromise and the issue
is always compromising. Let me give you an example. At Kyoto the
target that the Europeans proposed for a cut in the CO2 greenhouse
gases was 15 per cent. That was an impossible target. I think
we all knew that was just "hopefully you might get that target".
Eventually we had to negotiate and we got a target which was eight
for Europe, seven for America, six for Japan. They were very high
targets against the predictions that America would not do anything,
Japan would agree to be no more than one or two, but I think everybody
found the political will in those last few days to find agreement.
That was in a much more hostile setting where a number of the
motorcar industries and the big energy users in America had got
together in these alliances and were pressing very hard for no
agreement. We still got the agreement, admittedly working through
the night for it but the will was there to do it. I think you
have got to recognise whilst at Kyoto, to be fair, we were setting
targets, at The Hague it was how you achieved those targets and
much of the technical matters on which you had to agree was where
there was not a lot of work done, whether talking about the sinks,
the science, all of those things were involved. All of those had
to be worked out before The Hague. Whilst I think a great deal
of movement had been made, it was not sufficient to convince some
of our European colleagues that you could compromise on a deal.
I think that was unfortunate. Others will have a different view
but since you are asking mine, certainly other countries may have
said "we are not prepared to accept that kind of deal".
There was great compromise on the Umbrella Group side and I think
we could have settled an agreement, but we did not and hopefully
we will go on to the next stage.
5. So you think the failure was more on the
European side than on the Umbrella side?
(Mr Prescott) I thought the question was were the
Umbrella Group sticking very hard at not getting an agreement.
The fact is they were quite prepared to change their position
on the CDM, whether they could use sinks in the CDM, which would
have been a big way of getting out of domestic controls. They
were quite prepared to accept those principles in those negotiations
but what happened as we got to the later stages was the Americans
who were mainly doing the negotiations, but there were very powerful
voices from Australia, from Canada, they worked very closely as
a group, they began to see there was less unity on our side and
pressures were coming in from their own countries and the negotiators
then began to step away from where we had got to the edge of an
agreement. That was unfortunate. To be fair to the Europeans,
and in this sense I include myself of course as a European, in
those negotiations being handled by Mr Pronk, who was the Chair
of the COP, and the EU Presidency, Mme Voynet, both of them asked
me if I could get an agreement with the Americans and the Umbrella
Group. At that stage we were united but unfortunately the deal
was not acceptable.
6. Looking at the European Union side, in your
statement to the Committee you say that at the final moment it
was not possible to get a majority of the European Union countries
to agree. Could you tell us what the voting figures were and which
European countries were opposed to the agreement? How big was
the disagreement? Was it a narrow majority or a large majority?
(Mr Prescott) There was not a vote. It is a kind of
collection of voices that goes on really. This is one of the difficulties
of these kinds of conventions, it is not really put to a vote.
At Kyoto you had to get consensus. There was no laid down "if
you get 25 per cent, 30 per cent, 55 per cent", there was
no formula for it, it was totally consensus. That meant at Kyoto
we had a Chair that rolled over the opposition in a way and everybody
else was so exhausted they said "oh, yes, great". That
is how these great moments come in history, I think. We got agreement.
We had a Chairman who had quite a lot of courage and he brought
about the Kyoto Agreement and that was a major achievement, however
it came about. When it came to The Hague and in the EU we did
not have a vote because you sound voices. Here if I am critical
of a political position, and I would like to put it to the Committee
and this is just my own judgment on it, some of the Green Ministers
in it, namely the German representative and the French, are from
the Green Parties. Frankly I think they are very much concerned
with the negotiators outside from a Green point of view than they
are from national governments. They are all in minority positions
but have quite strong voices. Therefore, if they get together
and strongly say "we are not going to do it", although
there was some division between the French and the Germans, if
you cannot get a strong enough consensus among the majority of
them you really cannot go forward. The way they do the negotiations
in Europe is the Presidency has a very strong position and the
Presidency in this case, to my mind, had not really shown the
will to want to find an agreement and, frankly, the Commission
were not much help either.
7. So the French and the German Green Parties
have disproportionate influence?
(Mr Prescott) They were stronger outside but to be
fair to the German Minister, he was trying to find an alternative
route, he did want agreement and at the last minute tried to suggest
another compromise. I am afraid Madame Voynet took the view that
it was over and Mr Pronk agreed with her. Many of the negotiators
by late Saturday morning had gone so the whole thing just fell.
They were hurrying to get out in order to allow an oil conference
to take place the next day in the conference hall. I do not know
whether they booked it to make sure that we were short on time
but it was a problem.
8. Can I ask a couple of questions about some
of the details of the agreement, particularly on the question
of compliance and the ideas for a compliance regime. We understand
that one of the ideas was that there should be for those countries
who did not comply with their initial targets a penal increase
in emissions reduction targets in a future period, so if you do
not hit your targets in the first period you are penalised by
having a huge increase in your targets in a later period. Is this
the dominant idea in terms of the compliance regime? What other
ideas are there? What is the favourite idea at the moment?
(Mr Prescott) The issue of the penalties, whilst they
were in the original document by Mr Pronk, did not really get
a great deal of attention because you needed to be further along
the line to get agreement. It was one of those areas you would
have had to thrash out once you had got the core of the agreement
and the core of the agreement was for the developed nations themselves
to agree these issues as to whether there was going to be a domestic
level forced on them, which the Umbrella Group did not want, or
whether there was going to be the issue of the Kyoto mechanisms
and how they worked. Each had different vetoes, if you like, and
we did not really get into a great deal on penalties. Indeed,
the same argument on penalties came within the European bubble
because the argument then came "what if somebody in the European
sector does not achieve their share of the bubble?" Overall
we had eight per cent internationally and then it had to share
out. If we did better than other countries the question came "because
we are doing better does Europe claim that or do we put a penalty
on those that are not achieving it?" I think we tended to
look away from penalties, quite frankly. The real issue was to
see if we could get an agreement between all developed countries,
known as the Annex 1 countries, to this process.
9. If I could ask about another aspect of potential
question and that is the question of supplementarity. We understand
that the European Union position originally was that there should
be an absolute cap on the extent to which the various Kyoto mechanism
could be used to reach the emissions target. Then we are told
that there is now a discussion about a qualitative cap from the
supplementarity issue as opposed to a quantitative cap. That does
not make sense to me. Can you explain this question of supplementarity
and the different kinds of caps that have been suggested?
(Mr Prescott) That may have come at the later stage
about the qualitative caps. Michael was dealing very much with
those. Were you involved with the discussions in the Civil Service?
(Mr Betts) As part of the compromise package we would
have been prepared to move away from a quantitative cap towards
language that said that a significant proportion of each developed
country's effort would need to be done at home. This would have
been set out in national communications and it would have been
assessed through the compliance process.
10. So rather than saying "by 50 per cent"
it would be a significant proportion?
(Mr Betts) Correct. That was part of the package;
the EU would have been effective winners on the sinks element
of the package.
(Mr Prescott) You have to remember in all these that
the Americans particularly but also the Australians, the Canadians
and the Umbrella Group were against any ceiling whatsoever. They
just said that we should be able to come to an agreement, we should
not have any restrictions on these matters. Basically they had
some doubts to a certain extent whether it should apply to developing
countries. We have now seen the new US President suggest that
he finds that unacceptable. I must say that is quite at variance
with what the US agreed with Michael at the recent G8 Environment
Ministers meeting with the Head of the US Environmental Protection
Agency. There were really strong lines. It is like the 15 per
cent argument, at the end of the day you have to break away from
those positions and find agreement. The ceilings were certainly
one of the more difficult ones although in the last minute negotiations
they were quite prepared to do that and accept it.
11. If I can ask one more question about the
state of the science. Was this an issue for the Umbrella Group?
Is there still an ongoing dispute about the science of climate
change on behalf of the Umbrella Group? I mention this in the
context of the floods we had in the autumn which some people said
were not the result of climate change but were the result of other
weather conditions, and also in view of the Second Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was published at
the beginning of this year in February.
(Mr Prescott) Yes.
12. I notice in President Bush's statement earlier
this week, or last week, about his change of policy on carbon
dioxide emissions, he says quite forcefully that the science of
climate change is still incomplete. Is this a problem? Are the
Americans still resisting the conclusions of the Intergovernmental
(Mr Prescott) Certainly nobody in the Umbrella Group
was doing that, we all accepted that, and indeed it was reinforced
by the latest IPCC scientific report. If President Bush is saying
that now I think it is quite different from what we heard from
the Americans before and that is quite clear because Vice President
Gore was the man who played a major part without any doubt in
reaching the Kyoto Agreement. He had to come then and lift it
up from zero to minus seven, that meant almost a 30 per cent cut
in their emissions over the period of time we were talking about
getting to the 1990 levels. We never found in any of those negotiations
that anybody disputed the science on which it was based. There
was a lot of it at Kyoto but certainly not at The Hague. One of
the reasons I felt quite strongly about the break down was I could
see President Bush coming and holding a different view. To be
fair to President Bush, I do not know whether that really is his
view. I have heard his latest statement but that came after the
statement by the Head of the US Environmental Protection Agency
at the G8, which Michael attended, where they agreed language
on Kyoto. Since talks are going on, and I know there have been
exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary
and Mr Powell about these matters, we got the impression it is
still a negotiating matter, a discussion matter. We have agreed
that COP6 now will resume in July instead of May and that was
at the Americans' request. I assume the US will come and enter
into the debate. If they are going to tell us they do not accept
the science they might as well come in May and tell us that as
much as in July. I think it just shows a new administration trying
to look at all the problems. Perhaps this is not at the top of
their agenda at the moment but it is certainly under discussion
and we are wise at the moment just to read what is said either
by the President or the Environmental Protection Agency at the
moment and wait until they come to make a more definitive statement
13. Could I ask you what degree of consensus
was reached at The Hague regarding a funding package for developing
countries, as far as helping them with transferring technology
and other measures to enable them to reach compliance?
(Mr Prescott) This is quite an important element.
The developing countries were not too concerned about The Hague
agreement. They said, "It is for you to sort out what you
are going to do about your agreement on implementing and achievement
of those targets" in the first period, which was the essence
of the Kyoto agreement. On the development package which Mr Pronk
was very strong about, he was able to put together a package that
was very much dependent upon agreement and moneys on a scale which
was acceptable as well as the other things involved in the clean
development mechanism technology that the developing countries
were quite prepared to accept and were very happy with. Again,
it was one matter you would come back to if you had the core of
the agreement in the developed countries. My impression was that
they very much welcomed and wanted the fund and were looking forward
to it; whereas the Umbrella countries were looking at how you
sort out emissions trading and sinks. All these were seen as economic
advantages to developed countries, whereas at Kyoto they were
doubtful about it. By The Hague, they could see a great deal of
money and gain, not pain, coming from those kinds of techniques
involved in bringing out emission trading, dealing with the definitions
of sinks, dealing with development mechanisms. All those were
part of the Kyoto agreement.
14. Was there agreement or would it have been
premature to reach agreement between the individual EU countries
as to what contribution each one would be liable for towards the
funding package; or was it just an agreement in principle rather
than having any amounts worked out?
(Mr Prescott) The European countries were very strong
on development aid and there was a great deal of measure of agreement.
There is always a tendency for some countries to want to try and
develop a kind of bilateral, but you could not solve this matter
bilaterally. The French always took the strong view that they
had a number of developing countries which were francophone; we
have strong connections with the Commonwealth countries and it
is inevitable in these international negotiations. You do what
you can in the countries that have common views about it. The
problems at The Hague were not the developing countries but the
Mr Owen Jones
15. Could I take you back to the last question
that David Chaytor raised about the acceptance or otherwise of
the Americans and the scientific bases. David may have been quoting
from a letter that President Bush wrote to Senators Hagel, Helms,
Craig and Roberts on the 13th of this month in which he said,
"... we must be very careful not to take actions that could
harm consumers. This is especially true given the incomplete state
of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global
climate change ...". A couple of years ago I had a meeting
with Newt Gingrich over global climate change. I was not the only
person at the meeting. It was very enlightening because Newt Gingrich
denied that global climate change was occurring at all. Do you
think the President believes in global climate change and believes
that carbon dioxide has a role in it?
(Mr Prescott) I used to meet Jesse Helms on occasions
and he believed in the science of missiles, but leaving that aside
these were highly intelligent people who do choose to say that
the science is not proven as far as they are concerned. That is
very difficult when you see the last IPCC report that has come
out. It is very hard to reject it and an important difference
to take into account that may be the vital factor here is the
switch around in American industry. Up to then, if you take the
car industry, the heavy energy users, they were all against it.
They were there in force at Kyoto. They were not at The Hague,
even oil companies. The BP purchase of the American Oil Company
changed the attitude overnight. Business people have begun to
recognise that there is some profit in this. I do not say they
are motivated solely by profit but it has turned it from pain
into gain. The Americans have been very successful in developing
emissions trading and some of these ideas. To that extent, President
Bush may well take more into account the business view, if the
business still holds to that view. Bear in mind it was President
Bush's father who led to the setting up of the Rio conference.
If the Americans had not played a part in that, it would not have
got off anywhere at that time. We must wait and see. It is an
illustration in this first few months. It may arrive at that view.
Now we have the President's letter, I am a bit confused about
that and I wonder whether that was a reaction to the Environmental
Protection Agency spokesman who signed up to language on Kyoto
targets at the G8.
(Mr Meacher) It is difficult at the moment to understand
what exactly is American policy on climate change. I did meet
Christine Todd Whitman who is the Bush Cabinet Environment Minister
at Trieste and she made it perfectly clear, first of all, that
the US was committed to taking action over climate change; that
President Bush did believe in the science of climate change and
she waxed lyrical about her multi-pollutant strategy which included
CO2. The Bush letter has moved away clearly from the Kyoto Protocol,
despite the fact that Mrs Whitman signed up to a communique which
contained a phrase about supporting the environmental integrity
of the Kyoto Protocol. It may be that he has had considerable
difficulty with his multi-pollutant strategy, including CO2, because
of the situation of California, the impact on energy prices and
consumer prices and that he has chosen to take a short term way
out. Whether that indicates a longer term view remains to be seen.
The United States is now engaged at a high level review of climate
change policy. I think it is at an early stage. There is now currently
an announcement about the new representative to replace Frank
Loy as the state department negotiator. We will have to see what
line she takes. It is premature to take a view too early as to
how far the Americans are either moving away from the Kyoto Protocol,
which I still find it difficult to believe they will, or whether
they are looking for some significant or fundamental restructuring
of the Kyoto Protocol, which itself could also be difficult. This
is not just a matter of environmental treaty; it is a matter of
foreign policy relations between America and the rest of the world.
(Mr Prescott) We should not underestimate the concern
of developing countries. The one strong issue for them was decided
by the Bonn conference in 1995. They agreed that the developed
countries, annex one, 40-odd nations I think, had to agreed targets
themselves and show that they were committed to making the change.
If now, as the suggestion could be from President Bush's letter,
that he is now saying, "All these countries who are in the
developing world are not committed to targets", if you are
now reversing that agreement, which they originally signed, and
saying it now applies to all, I have grave doubts that you will
be able to get an agreement with the developing countries, who
tend to feel that perhaps we have poisoned the world well ahead
of them and perhaps we should do something about it first.
16. I do not think you would get any disagreement
from most of the Committee on that. You were very frank with the
Committee about disagreements within the European group, particularly
your disagreements with some of the other ministers. Do you think
it could be argued that these public disagreements within the
European group weaken the unity of the European negotiating position?
(Mr Prescott) I think unity is better than disunity.
In the nature and politics of these kinds of agreements, it is
not easy to keep everything quiet. For example, all the way through
the negotiations, particularly the green representatives were
told the green party was outside. The green party would be demanding
more and more, shifting and changing. It is very difficult to
do negotiations under those kinds of circumstances, some wanting
to show that they are championing inside the negotiating group
and there are divisions and compromises to be found. If you go
outside to these groups you get a lot of hostility and that affects
the politicians in different ways. I can always recall the Kyoto
agreement, where many of the Europeans felt that to accept this
agreement was going to cause them a lot of trouble with the environment
groups in their own countries. They were staggered to find that
the environment groups after a lot of hostility to keep the 15
per cent were much more realistic saying, "Thank goodness,
you have got an agreement. We did not think you would get an agreement."
It is up to the politicians to make the judgment then as to how
far they can go but in that process of negotiation there is a
play off because the NGOs are part of the conference. To that
extent, it does make for difficulties. If you want to suggest
there is a compromise and that 15 per cent is no good, which we
had to argue, you are not going to get that agreement and you
must find a compromise, in the process of compromise the political
forces are not just inside the European group. They are outside.
You have to do it against that background. Even with those divisions,
we concluded a very good agreement at Kyoto and I think it would
have been possible to do it also at The Hague. Unfortunately,
for one reason or another, it did not come about. What is true
is that the opponents you are negotiating with are aware of the
different opinions in the groups, but that is not unique. Whether
it is trade negotiations or environment negotiations, people know
what is going on in each group. It is an inevitable part of it.
17. I was not privileged to read most of the
world's press but I was privileged to read our press following
the meeting. If I was a member of the Umbrella Group, I think
probably I would take some comfort from the fact that the press
were portraying the breakdown of the meeting as a row within the
European group rather than as a lack of agreement between the
European group and the Umbrella Group. We appear to have got the
(Mr Prescott) I do not think it affected the negotiations
for the Umbrella Group. They know these differences from talking
to them. They just say, "Is it possible to get agreement?
Can you deliver?" The fact that I came into that group at
the request of Madame Voynet, the EU Presidency and the president
of COP6, carried authority because people say you can see we are
doing a deal. It is exactly as it came out at Kyoto, but this
time it did not happen. In regard to the press though, the press
have nothing but hostility in the main to these things, in my
experience. They are not prepared to put a case fairly one way
or the other. They are more interested in the personality and
the conflict. I am supposed to have stormed out of a meeting.
That is absolute rubbish. The meeting had come to a decision an
hour and a half before. Why I was moving quite quickly, I had
discovered I could get a flight back to Humberside and get home
for Saturday when I thought it was not going to be until Sunday.
Adding to that by saying you are feeling gutted gives a bit of
colour so I have to accept my responsibility for that, but that
had not affected the negotiations in any way. It did affect the
presentation of what was going on. I take the opportunity again
with Madame Voynet. I did not say that she was particularly tired.
When it came to the final deal, she said she was too tired to
really consider the complexities of it and I am not surprised.
We had been negotiating two or three days. You are tired. I was
tired. Everybody was tired. So we were at Kyoto but the difference
is we did an agreement.
(Mr Meacher) I will not forget that last night for
quite a long time. It was in many ways similar to Kyoto but it
was slightly different. It was agreed that the four strategic
issues would be dealt with by the key group of negotiators in
a particular room. The first one was going to be developing countries,
which we all accepted. After three hours, and we were getting
to three or four o'clock, still that particular issue had not
been settled. It did become clear that if we carried on at that
rate we were not going to get through the agenda or have an agreement.
I do say, and I am no sycophant as John knows very well, if it
had not been for John Prescott we would not have got that close
to an agreement. We got very, very close to agreement solely because
of his skill and determination to force the relevant partners
to face up to each of these issues in parallel with the key people
brought together, the relevant questions put and a settlement
made. It may be outside the procedure of a normal formal procedure
but that was exactly what happened. If we had not done that we
would not even have got within miles of an agreement but we got
within inches of it. I thought that we actually had got an agreement,
as I said perhaps unwisely on Radio 4. I was convinced of that,
I would not have said it otherwise. What actually happened just
before I made that radio broadcast was there was a meeting of
EU Ministers and mostI say this without any blamewere
not taking part in the negotiation and were in their hotel rooms
asleep. A meeting was called at about seven o'clock in the morning
as I remember and the details were put to them such as we had
and they said round the table, perfectly understandably, that
they had not got enough information to be able to make a judgement,
they wanted more information. I thought that was totally fair.
We said that we would get more information within the next two
or three hours and we could have a further meeting. The French
Presidency, who had always had some difficulty about the degree
of concessions which should be made in order to get an agreement,
again a perfectly fair judgement that ministers have to make
18. What was that difficulty?
(Mr Meacher ) Sorry?
19. What was that difficulty? You said they
had some difficulty all along.
(Mr Meacher) She had difficulty because the central
issue was the balance between trying to get the Umbrella Group,
in particular the Americans, to give priority to domestic action,
which they did not want to do, and what phraseology would be applicable
which would be short of requiring that action to be at least 50
per cent domestic action on the one side and, secondly, the really
critical issue was on sinks, how far one should be able to use
sinks under Article 3.3 and 3.4 in your own country or sinks in
developing countries under the CDM. Some of us took the view that
although there is always a bottom line in these negotiations,
no-one is going to get everything they want and one has to make
some concessions to get an agreement. We did get an agreement
with all the relevant partners in one room, which was repeated
again in another room and I took to be formalised.
(Mr Prescott) Including Madame Voynet.
(Mr Meacher) It was the case, I think, that the French
Presidency judged the earlier meeting, at which not one single
EU Minister opposed the agreement but several said they had not
got enough relevant information, and took that as a lack of a
mandate to proceed to reach that final agreement. I understand
why she did that. We have to have an understanding of other people's
positions. It was these kinds of very delicate sensitive judgements
that had to be made under time pressures as we were moving remorselessly
to the conclusion of this at about four in the afternoon because,
I know this is unbelievable, it had to be used for other purposes.