Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 20 MARCH 2001
MP, RT HON
MP, MR DAVID
20. Just to interrupt you, are you saying that
it was not so much the content, the issue, so much as the view
of the negotiations that was taken by the French Presidency which
led to the collapse, that another person might have taken a different
view in forcing it through on the same content?
(Mr Meacher) I think that is possible. The point I
was making that John cannot make is we would not have been in
a position to make these judgements about should we have had the
agreement, could we have got it. We were inches away and if he
had not taken that initiativesomething John is very good
atof knocking people's heads together and forcing them
to come to an agreement to settle matters or to say "we cannot
make an agreement", that would not have been done. It desperately
needed doing and it is only John Prescott, in my experience, at
these international negotiations who has the determination and
skill, for which he is so often not given the credit, for doing
(Mr Prescott) That was absolutely correct, of course.
21. Everybody is sucking up to everybody else
(Mr Prescott) It is very kind of Michael but he did
play quite a crucial part in the whole negotiation. We act as
a team. I would like to record in front of your Committee the
skill of the civil servants who were absolutely superb.
22. That is taken as read, you are full of praise
for the civil servants.
(Mr Prescott) At Kyoto it was the skill of our people
who negotiated that agreement and it was the skill of our people
that put this package together. Sometimes they get a lot of knocking
and we get a lot of the praise saying "we are up there",
but without their back-up, and they were really superb
23. I fully recognise all of that and great
credit to everyone concerned, including the civil servants obviously.
What we are trying to get at here is what was the nature of the
(Mr Prescott) There was one contentious point that
was very important in the process. We were able to say to the
EU when we met that the Umbrella Group had agreed that sinks,
which was always the concern about developing countries, could
not be used as part of the contribution to the target. The Europeans
were set against that and said "we do not want that".
We got the Umbrella Group to agree that was the proposition. The
Europeans were quite staggered at that but when they got awkward
and they wanted more the Americans and the Umbrella Group withdrew
from it. That was what kept the attention of the Europeans. We
were able to say to the Europeans "look, you said they would
never do that and this is in this agreement" and then people
started walking away from it when it got difficult. To be fair
about Mme Voynet, she did go round the table and a number of the
other European countries who did not understand the agreement,
were not actually involved and just came in, and said "I
am sorry, we do not have enough information". My main concern
was this was one window and it would be lost. To be fair, we have
not mentioned the next window where we hoped to try to get over
it again at Oslo, which got cancelled. Frankly that was a failure
of political courage and political will again.
24. I asked in my earlier question whether the
Americans accept some of the science behind the causes of global
warming. Whatever the uncertainties amongst them, the uncertainties
that exist over the effectiveness or otherwise of sinks is rather
greater. Was it the uncertainty about the effectiveness of sinks
that was behind some of the European Ministers' problems?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, that was part of it but it was
connected to the ceiling. Michael was very much involved in that
(Mr Meacher) You are absolutely right that there is
great doubt about sinks.
25. There is some evidence that some so-called
sinks may actually contribute towards carbon dioxide rather than
(Mr Meacher) Oh, they do. I was about to say that
trees sequestrate carbon, there is absolutely no question about
that. The problem is, and as one gets older one learns this, when
they are young or middle aged they absorb carbon but as they get
older they yield it up. If they burn they no longer sequestrate
it but you get a double-whammy because it all goes up in smoke
and CO2 into the atmosphere. There is also the real problem about
sinks, to make a distinction between what is the sequestration
effect of a forest being there where it happens naturally, as
a natural phenomenon, and how much human agency adds to this.
The view that we took was that countries should get credits for
the amount of increased sequestration which takes place as a result
of things from human management as opposed to the simple existence
of a natural phenomenon. There was no agreement about any of these
matters, certainly how you calculate the latter, we simply do
not know how that is done and we need a lot more experience. That
was why we said that sinks should not ideally be included in the
Clean Development Mechanism in developing countries, that we needed
experience up to the first commitment period of 2008-12, we could
review it perhaps in 2005 or 2008, and use that scientific knowledge
and we may be able to incorporate in a reliable, quantifiable
way how much those sinks should contribute to targets but we should
not do that immediately.
26. How confident can you be, given the uncertainties
of science about the sinks, that you do not achieve an agreement
based around targets which actually do not deliver anything at
all or maybe deliver the reverse of what you want?
(Mr Meacher) Indeed, that is exactly the point. 5.2
per cent of Annex 1 emissions might save in the order of a quarter
of a billion tonnes of carbon a year. If we allow in sinks in
developed countries it could well add something like a billion
tonnes, which was agreed under the Kyoto Protocol, and if we allow
it in the CDM possibly another 0.8 billion tonnes. To be fair,
I mentioned a quarter of a billion tonnes but between a quarter
and a billion tonnes depending on certain conditions. Even on
the most optimistic scenario, if we allowed sinks in unqualified
there could be a doubling of the level of CO2 emissions actually
permitted under the Kyoto Protocol, which would be an absolute
nonsense. That is why we have to treat this with enormous care.
The American view was not necessarily to disagree with us scientifically,
they have never challenged us on any of these figures, it was
simply that they have a problem on the Hill, they have a problem
in the Mid West, they want to get a lot of credits from changes
in land usage in the Prairies and they want to use their forests
to the full in order to minimise any impact on their domestic
economy. That is politically an easier way of trying to reach
their targets. Since they are probably now 20/25 points above
their Kyoto target, and they are supposed to be seven points below
it, anything that gives them an easy way of achieving the target
is clearly desirable. It is not a difference about science, it
is about political accommodation to an embarrassing external target.
27. Is it your view that we do need to secure
a political deal on sinks before we can move forward on anything
(Mr Meacher) Absolutely.
(Mr Prescott) Do not forget the important point about
that, which some of our European colleagues sometimes want to
forget, is that Kyoto was agreed and, yes, they are targets but
they were based on a technology and science we were not too sure
about as to how you could measure targets and emission trading.
In the period of time in between Kyoto and the COP6 and moving
to agreement all of this had to be worked out but it was a pretty
new area. It has not necessarily got the preciseness and it does
not help with the targets but they are an inevitable part of it
and it is consistent, I think, with your criticism of targets
that you made in your last Environmental Report. It is good to
have targets to measure against but sometimes the things on which
they are based are not all that accurate although it was part
and parcel of putting Kyoto together.
28. If I can just step back a moment to the
question of the deal that you are both saying was informally agreed
by all the European Union Member States.
(Mr Prescott) The leaders of them.
29. The leaders, sure.
(Mr Prescott) Because the French, the Swedish, the
British, the Germans, the Commission, they were all in that room
and they then took it back to the full European Group and that
was when it all began to fall apart.
30. So the leadership agreed what was on the
table but they wanted more time?
(Mr Prescott) They would take it to the Group. But
in between arriving there and at the Group they said there was
not enough information.
31. Has that view ever been published in written
form? Can you tell us exactly what was agreed there? I followed
the reporting of the conference with interest but nowhere did
I read what the sticking points were. What I understand from what
you have said this afternoon is that there was an agreement over
supplementarity and the original sticking point of 50 per cent
was relaxed to become a form of words that was "a significant
proportion" and there was an agreement that sinks could not
be used in developing countries. Were those the two points that
were negotiated with the Umbrella Group and were they agreed by
the leaders of the European Group or were there other points?
Does this exist in a written form somewhere? If not, would it
be possible for the Committee to have a note about exactly what
was agreed because that would inform our understanding of what
is likely to happen in the future.
(Mr Prescott) We could give you a note of what that
negotiating position was at that moment. Do remember, it was the
full conference that made the decisions. There was an executive
group that was set up to negotiate it but they had come to the
end of the road and they could not get any agreement, hence the
reason could we get the real people who were going to have to
make decisions on some kind of agreement. We put forward negotiating
positions on what we thought of each one of the positions and
the Americans particularly, on behalf of the Umbrella Group, had
theirs. We can give you a statement at that point in time when
we brought in the leaders, the French, the Germans came in, and
listened to what we had to say. They then went back to their group
to study and to consider our group, and we went back as well.
In the meantime, when it got difficult and we said, "We want
more information than this" or, "Let's negotiate again",
at that late date, you either accept or reject. As the discussions
went on and the President called us back to ask how far we had
got, people began to change their positions. The Americans began
to say, "We did not quite mean that", because otherwise
they would be outflanked. There comes a time in any negotiation
when that is it. You can either accept it or reject it. If you
accept some and you want to build on it again, it becomes very
difficult. We can give you a paper which we took into the Europe
group, giving our judgments of what was on the table, which was
a paper given to us by the Americans and the Umbrella Group. We
thrashed through those bits but quite properly we then went into
the European group and, if they were not prepared to accept it
or said, "We need more time or information", as we said
to them, "If you let this go, the whole deal goes. Secondly,
if you do not decide now, there are only a few hours left."
We are talking minutes left, an hour or so. "If you do not
accept that now and you start negotiating again, frankly, you
may find a change in the political situation in America and the
fear is that it may be a different attitude." I do not know
whether that is going to happen but there are signs of it at the
moment and we are in a more difficult situation. You have a memorandum
that is our understanding of that agreement. We put our understanding
because, once it went into the group, people started saying, "I
want a bit more on this. I want a bit more on that" and everybody
walked away from it because the Americans particularly, do not
forget, have to go and answer to their Senate. They did not want,
"Did you agree this?" when they had thrown it away.
Agree it in the context of agreement, fine, but if you have not
got agreement you were prepared to give that away and when it
came to Ottawa that is what the problem was. In Ottawa, they began
to back off the negotiations.
32. Following on from that and the evidence
you have just referred to which you presented to the Committee,
the outline you have given us on where things may go now is that
there is a paper which Mr Pronk has prepared which was the subject
of the almost agreement, which has been now subject to further
comments and views and so forth, was not able to take in Oslo
but could now come back in early April for further discussion.
It is a question as to whether these are the right tactics. Is
it right to work with a paper that has failed? We could not, you
could not and the Europeans could not quite get it together. Are
you convinced that you are taking the right line with this or,
in order to get this to work, because ultimately the prize of
getting this to work is what everyone needs, even if it does take
a bit more time. Is it better to put all bets off on that and
to look again at the whole issue of the sequestration of the sinks
and the clean development mechanism and, okay, if it needs to
go back to the drawing board, let's try a different path? How
much consideration have you given to that?
(Mr Prescott) I think the paper is bust. I do not
think you can go back with that now because people in those late
stage negotiations were prepared to do something. They might not
now. Anyway, the US administration has changed. The administration
might not be the same to the American negotiator now, so Mr Pronk
is producing another paper. The issues are still the same, the
formulas that you find agreement on, and now President Bush seems
to be suggesting that anything that is just for the developed
countries in the first stage is not acceptable. That is a fundamental
change. Michael, in the Environment Council in the European Union,
has been dealing with some of these negotiations.
(Mr Meacher) We do accept exactly as you are saying
that it would not be appropriate to continue with a paper which
we have really had two go's at and not succeeded. Jan Pronk, the
Dutch Environment Minister and President of COP6, has put together
another paperI am not sure if it has been published. I
think it is going to be published very soonon the basis
of consultation with all the parties, trying to put forward a
set of proposals which might bring them all together.
33. Does that include America?
(Mr Meacher) Yes, absolutely, although the American
position is completely unknowable. They have this major review
and we are getting very contradictory reports from what senior
ministers are saying in Washington.
(Mr Prescott) If the paper was to suggest that we
reopen it all again and the developing countries have got to fix
themselves some targets, you can forget about getting any agreement.
34. The Kyoto Protocols are not open for negotiation;
they are agreed. There might be a previous administration in the
US, but nevertheless that is the international agreement.
(Mr Prescott) You still have to ratify it.
35. It has not been ratified yet?
(Mr Prescott) No. That requires so many nations to
do so. You can sign it at its first stage but if you do not actually
ratifyand indeed there was an argument at one stage that
perhaps some of the Europeans entertained the idea that you could
get enough to ratify up without the Americans. Frankly, I doubt
it. Secondly, an agreement in this case without the Americans
is not going to be very workable because many other countries
will say, "Why should we bother if the Americans are not?"
36. If I can put it to you in your terms, how
gutted are you today that Bush has very recently questioned not
only the negotiations that happened in The Hague but the actual
climate change itself?
(Mr Prescott) The gutted response was one reaction.
I thought we had missed an opportunity. The events since then
rather confirm that. I am sad about that because it was one opportunity,
like Kyoto. Kyoto had every chance of failing but to fail on this
one when we had Kyoto, I was gutted. Now we are in the process
of negotiations and the reality of global negotiations. The Americans
have elected another President and the President is entitled to
put his point of view. I am entitled to argue with it and no doubt
others will agree with America. That is into the public arena.
Therefore, you live with that. You try to find agreements. If
you say that all the developing countries have to come in and
line up targets, I think it will make it impossible but who knows?
Every country has to reassess when a major player like the Americans
in this sense says, "We do not want to play that game"
or, "We are not prepared to sign up for that." That
does not mean we give up arguing and saying, "You have got
it wrong." I have already said that I think public opinion
in America has been moving as fast as it has here. It is no coincidence
that many of those big industries began to change their views
and that is a lot to do with public opinion. I have a lot more
faith in public opinion than the media statements and we will
keep arguing our case. The weather will keep reminding them perhaps
that something is wrong and perhaps also the whole business of
electricity provision in California might concentrate minds as
much as floods here. They are not going to get away from those
pressures. They are going to continue to be there and the public
is aware that something is going on. They will want some response.
37. Have we any timescale of this fundamental
review of climate change policy on behalf of the new American
President? We have timescales set for other negotiations but if
they are still fundamentally reviewing it it seems a big, black
hole at the centre of those negotiations. Have we any idea whatsoever
what is in Bush's mind?
(Mr Prescott) If I can refer to the American request
for a delay in the meeting at COP6 to July, it can be interpreted
in a number of ways, I suppose, but if they were saying no to
May I assume that was to assess the position. They know it is
a very important, global issue. That is encouraging and if there
are views and discussions that are going on the Prime Minister
in our case, the Foreign Secretary, other people and Michael at
the G8 meeting in Italywe all make a very clear view and
it is interesting at the G8 meeting they did sign up to language
on Kyoto, so July is the time when we will know what the American
(Mr Meacher) They certainly said that they would complete
the review in time to be able to engage seriously in the resumption
of 16 to 27 July.
(Mr Prescott) Also, the American President said he
was concerned about energy, electricity, prices and things like
that. There are different ways you can achieve your targets and
that is up to the government, to make its decision. He might not
want to do something in one section but he can probably achieve
it in another. It does not rule out the possibility that he can
meet his political difficulties as he sees them and yet achieve
the same targets he is committed to.
38. Could we move to the post-COP meeting in
Canada in December between the EU and the Umbrella Group, where
they discussed ways of moving forward? I gather you said that
it emerged that the two sides now had different understandings
of the political package which had been discussed in the early
hours of 25 November in The Hague. Could you tell us when the
different understandings of your last minute deal arose between
the EU and the Umbrella Group? Were they there all along and just
an inevitability about the length of the negotiations, or was
the Umbrella Group stepping back in the cold light of day from
commitments which had been given in reaction to vacillation by
the EU before?
(Mr Prescott) He was at a meeting of officials in
Canada where they discussed that so I will ask Peter Betts about
that. I would not be surprised if people said there is confusion
because the main negotiator, Frank Loy, having done the business
and put it on paper, then said, "I was not prepared to go
that far." He began to change his position, which is understandable.
If you do something thinking you are going to get agreement and
then you find it is done, you are not going to put yourself into
the negotiations on that basis of what you agreed there.
(Mr Betts) We had thought in The Hague that sinks
were excluded from the CDM. That was our understanding from the
Umbrella Group. We also thought that Article 3.4 sinks, in the
jargon, would apply only to three main parties, the United States,
Canada and Japan. When the officials got to Ottawa, we learned
from the Umbrella Group that they were now saying it had not been
agreed that sinks would be excluded from the CDM. There would
simply be a review before a decision was taken and it had never
been agreed that only three countries would get Article 3.4 sinks.
That possibility would be open to all developed countries.
(Mr Prescott) Russia was particularly apprehensive
about being left out of that. Everybody then began to look at
it and Russia said, "Why are we not in it?" Let's face
it: Bush had a pretty good deal out of Kyoto.
(Mr Meacher) To be fair, Sweden and Finland were also
interested in this. This is another area where divisions of interest
between wanting to restrict CO2 from sinks are separate from a
national interest and being able to take advantage of a rather
convenient source. All of these tensions began to build up once
that so-near link was broken.
39. In part you are blaming a lack of time for
the negotiations for COP6, but are you talking about time for
the technical effort by the officials or time for the politicians
to break the logjam and the deadlock? If it is the former, was
not two years long enough? If it is the latter, is it not a shame
that the Umbrella Group did not want to pursue further, informal
negotiations in Oslo in December?
(Mr Prescott) It was more to do with political will
than technical terms because we knew anyway that, even if we agreed
it, there were certain things that you would need to dot the I's,
cross the T's and go on to the next meeting. What we wanted was
a political framework that allowed you to go on to the next meeting
in July and the developed countries had agreed among themselves
what the principles were. The principles would be taken to the
overall conference. The real problem then was that many of the
negotiators, particularly for the developing countries, had gone.
Some of the negotiators on the European side had gone. They had
gone well before I even left. It was not possible to make it back
to the main assembly that has to make the recommendation for which
there is the political agreement. I still believe that was the
political will. Oslo was still an opportunity. Hopefully we would
come to some agreement, but it had become more complex. The other
countries to this agreement had been left out of it and the Umbrella
Group began to say, "I am not going to do that" or,
"I am not going to do this". It became more difficult.
The Europeans in our discussionsthe French were still of
a strong mind about this, and felt it was not enough and in my
view there was a bit of fancy dancing went on about who was going
to be blamed for the result of the fall-out of talks in Oslo.
The reality is that once you get into that frame of mind you have
not got negotiations. If you have not got the goodwill to meet
and settle that agreement, it was not there; it was not on the
European side and it was not on the Umbrella Group side. It had
become more difficult and it had become too late to do anything.
People then were beginning to say "let us wait until COP6
II", or whatever it is called, "in July" and hopefully
they will do that but my main concern was that the American situation
may have changed, and it may have.