Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
MP AND MR
100. Could we turn to the United States now?
You are visiting the Vice-President next week and we have been
talking about dealing with other nations but most of us would
see the United States as the toughest nut to crack. What areas
do you expect to discuss with the Vice-President?
(Mr Prescott) Last time I met him we had to speak
by video because of the unfortunate circumstances at the time.
Now he is visiting London and we agreed to meet out of a phone
call he made to me on the day President Bush made his announcement
and his latest proposals on climate change. He rang me four hours
before the President made his statement. We discussed what they
were proposing to say and I mentioned certain other aspects we
would like to follow up with them. Clearly it is not as good a
deal as we had previously but it is a different administration.
We did welcome the fact that the President now accepts the science
which he had rejected four months before. He now accepts it so
I find that two trains on two tracks have produced that but one
is going at a different speed. At least a target is now set by
the Americans which even commits them to reducing it voluntarily
and they accept the science which is a step forward from the situation
four months ago. What we have to do is encourage them to go further.
We have discussed one or two ideas with him and I asked whether
one of my own staff could go over there and talk with them and
use that as the basis for further discussions when he is over
here in London. I am looking forward to the opportunity of discussions
101. I have some sympathy with you when you
talk about achievable targets and consensus, but in the memorandum
you have set yourself a very tough target when you talk about
the UK's wish to match the current global coalition against terrorism
with action in a range of areas. That may be so with our more
junior partners in the coalition. You are now speaking to a senior
partner in the coalition asking for a match of effort with what
we are putting into the action against terrorism. Do you think
there is any real hope of that?
(Mr Prescott) If I might just think aloud on this
one and say that four months ago the President made a very emphatic
statement that he did not accept the science and was not prepared
to see his industry ruined by these proposals as he saw it, which
was a judgement he had made as a newly elected President and he
was entitled to make this judgement. He was totally rejecting
what the previous administration agreed to and it was a deal which
was worse. We talked about the reduction in greenhouse gases,
and they are a major emitter of these so that is unfortunate,
but it was better than four months before when he said it was
not acceptable. I happen to think that change of mind is not only
about looking at facts and the arguments more clearly, it is also
due to the fact that their businesses have told them that there
is quite a lot of interest in this for them and he should not
cut them off from the possibility of environmental development
for industry. They were an influence. Whereas at Kyoto they were
highly hostile, they have changed over the period. The final one
was that greater emphasis came from global partnership and working
together. That was one of the factors involved and it would be
very nice if we could get the same energy and commitment involved
in dealing with these problems and it would certainly save money
but a step at a time.
102. Do you think there is any leeway for hoping
that they might be starting to think about exceeding targets in
the same way that the Germans have? This Committee went to Germany
last week to look at renewable energy and what we found was that
moving further across to renewable energy was not only a way of
achieving Kyoto targets but was actually creating quite a lot
of jobs. Do you think you will be able to get as far as that sort
(Mr Prescott) That is a very important factor. I work
closely with the German Green Minister who is very effectively
involved in that. Overall, comparing the programme in Germany
and in Britain, I have to tell you that we are ahead of them in
the overall achievement of targets but that is taking all the
factors into account. There is an economic argument about there
being a lot of gain not pain in environment investment and we
have had this discussion before and I think that has focused the
minds of the Americans. That is why business interests have not
been so hostile as they were at Kyoto. They have realised that
there is some benefit, there is a buck in the development, there
is gain and it is not all pain. That example in Germany is one
example and one which is beginning to register and hopefully will
decide the kind of contribution they can make. Little known was
that when the Americans made their proposal for reductions one
part of the formula said they wanted was to increase their help
to developing countries in technology, in transfer of technology,
in these things which were identified as the tool, the mechanism
for achieving the target under the Kyoto agreement. That is a
useful and welcome development and when it comes from the Americans
it comes with an awful lot of money involved.
103. If you see a change coming about in American
thinking and also with this objective to try to get as many world
leaders as possible, do you think you are going to be able to
persuade them or do you think there is a chance of seeing George
Bush going there and playing a full part?
(Mr Prescott) I notice that George Bush is going to
the Monterrey conference and people thought he was not going to
go. That is about getting together, financing trade and development
and that is a welcome sign. The Americans might just see what
is happening at Monterrey before they make the decision on going
to Johannesburg. We will obviously press them to go to Johannesburg
but there are several difficulties. One might be about policy
but another one is the time chosen because they did not want to
be in conflict with that date in September, with the 12-month
anniversary of that tragedy in New York. Clearly an American President
could not be out of the country at that time, so they made the
conference earlier. That brings it into August which is always
more difficult because it is usually the holiday time for most
of the leaders and in America there is Labour Day. It is not easy
but certainly he is going to Monterrey and that is welcome. The
President's father when President only made up his mind to go
to that conference a few days before so I am an eternal optimist.
104. I think you might need to be.
(Mr Prescott) I have been here 30 years and I have
learned that bit.
105. What about climate change? I know there
is a range of issues. You have talked about whether climate change
was the thing to discuss this time but for many people it is still
the key issue. There is a thought that it might be ducked at Johannesburg
for fear of upsetting the Americans. I hear what you say about
a change of thinking but do you think there is almost a mind set
now that we do not discuss climate change in front of the Americans
and we should duck the subject?
(Mr Prescott) Climate change is now taking care of
itself if you observe Kyoto, go through the ratification, live
up to the promises, the monitoring of the process and the sanctions
which may come from it. The only issue which would make environment
a matter for Johannesburg would be if you were deciding whether
you would want to pass a comment on whether America should come
on board or not. That of course would be a highly controversial
thing. Of course you could have it but you have to find where
there is agreement. What I found very interesting and significant
during those Kyoto negotiations and later during the discussions
in The Hague and Bonn was that the Group 77 and the European nations
did not want America to leave and did not take a kind of hostile
approach and hope that eventually the President would change his
mind after review. It is a matter of judgement now as to whether
he has changed his mind sufficiently. I would have thought in
the main they will think not but they will welcome the fact that
he has accepted the science. He may be on a different track going
at a different speed, but he is heading for a target. He is heading
for an assessment even though it is voluntary. The interesting
thing about his point about it being voluntary is that he is setting
up a register for these companies so why not do it internationally.
The curious thing is that China is now reducing greenhouse gases
faster than the Americans are and they are not party to it. Presumably
that will be a credit for them as for other countries which are
achieving it, even though they are not in Annex 1, even though
their cuts are not considered in the overall cuts. If you balance
that, why not have an international register which accounts for
those countries who are not part of Annex 1? That would include
America and it would include a number of developing countries.
These are some of the ideas to develop in a positive way rather
than going to the conference and just having a big row and treating
America as the leper of the world for not coming to an agreement.
I prefer to stick with the positive arguments which have had some
success so far, then getting an agreement. I remember when we
first went to Kyoto nearly every paperin fact I will say
every paperand radio and television said the Americans
would not change, they would not move from their zero position.
They did. They went to minus seven. That was a major change and
a major challenge for them. Unfortunately the new administration
did not accept that proposition but they do accept that they are
going to have to cut greenhouse gases. That is to be welcomed.
106. Surely if we could get America to make
clearer commitments to climate change it would be a key factor
in the peace process internationally. When we are looking at global
sustainability one aspect of that is peace.
(Mr Prescott) I agree with you and they are some of
the arguments we do plug.
107. One of the great achievements, arguably
the greatest achievement of Rio was to put climate change on the
(Mr Prescott) Yes.
108. You followed that up and the world has
followed that up except not a lot has been done. The fact is that
we have not ratified Kyoto; no nation has yet ratified Kyoto.
Europe has not ratified Kyoto, we have not ratified Kyoto and
America has backed off. I understand what you are saying about
the change of emphasis towards positive development as opposed
to climate change and the environmental matters. Does it not in
fact really need a kickstart? It is ten years since Rio and ten
years before the next Earth Summit or whatever you like to call
it. Do we not really need to seize this opportunity, not to downgrade
environmental things? The environmentalists and those concerned
about climate change who argue it is the most important topic,
it is the future of the planet and so forth, are getting very
worried about what is going to happen here. Are you?
(Mr Prescott) To put it in perspective, Rio was all
right, we called for voluntary agreements and after five years
found that was not working at all. Britain was the only one who
achieved it, largely because we closed down our coal mining industry.
Germany achieved it because she had a collapse of an awful lot
of the East German aspects which came into it. At least they achieved
it but the voluntary way was not going to work so there was a
major shift half way through to this more statutory framework,
a convention which we actually sign up to and face possible sanctions
if we do not agree it and various procedures put in for that.
I think that is a major step forward and I think to be welcomed.
Fifty-odd countries have signed and ratified but many of them
are not ones for the obligations of Kyoto. The ones in the Annex
countries are the ones you need to sign up. In Europe we all agreed
that we would sign together and the European nations in the Council
of Ministers this afternoon are discussing that aspect of now
ratifying it and certainly wanting to do it before the conference
in Johannesburg. We hope other countries in the umbrella group
will: Japan has said she will; we shall have to wait and see for
some of the others who are in the Annex groups. Hopefully America,
Canada, Australia, New Zealand will sign as well. I agree with
you that we have to keep the pressure on to achieve that but it
is still a remarkable change in international negotiations to
shift in that five years to getting a convention agreed and getting
on to implement it.
109. I have a group of very articulate sixth-formers
who spend a lot of time looking at these international problems
and they are particularly concerned with the rights of children
to an education. They are saying to me that every time we take
a long-term view that is another generation of children who are
not getting the literacy they need to start developing and contributing
to their own countries and internationally. How would you answer
them when they are saying the delays are too long?
(Mr Prescott) Sadly we live in a political system
where long-term decisions are not given a great deal of importance.
If you do take long-term decisions you get stick for it. You can
look at transport, all sorts of disinvestment problems in this
country and how easy it is to put off the decision because it
does not fit within the political cycle. I must say to those people
that they are right to demand and to push and to say more should
be done. I have perhaps left the impression that because we have
the agreement on Kyoto that is enough. No, we have to move to
the developing countries. They have to play their part in it.
Do not forget what we did to get agreement was to say that the
richer countries which had caused the pollution would go ahead
and make that decision and then hopefully bring on board the developing
countries who are going to go through and have a right to go through
their process of industrialisation if we are talking about prosperity.
What we want to emphasise is that this is a more sustainable kind
of development. At the end of the day if we do not achieve these
targets we shall have failed internationally and our children
will bear the main penalties of those failures.
110. You mentioned earlier the importance of
delivery and that is germane to this entire debate. One of the
criticisms is that you have this blaze of "summitry"
and people fly in and appear to consent to these things and there
is much backslapping and then people go away and some time further
down the road nothing happens. What do you accept of a critique
which says that following on from Rio there were many aspirations
which were agreed in principle, but the actual practical things
which have changed ten years on are relatively slight compared
with all the optimism you had a decade ago.
(Mr Prescott) First of all you have to get them to
agree. If anyone looks at international conventions, they take
a considerable period of time from when somebody states at the
conference what their aims are, to get the convention, to get
the protocols, to get the agreement and implement it. We did set
is one, for achievement of the obligations we entered into. It
required us to be on track for everybody to ratify by 2002. All
the signs are that quite a lot of them, a majority I would imagine,
will have done that and hopefully it might be all. That is to
be achieved in 12 months to two years from the agreement; it is
less than that because Marrakesh was where the legal framework
was set for the objectives set at Kyoto. Within 12 months the
majority of those nations will have ratified. They have a date
imposed on them to implement by 2010-12. Looking at international
conventions, that is pretty fast movement, I have to tell you.
111. I will just press you a little further.
I take the point and I accept the point you are making that it
takes quite a lot of effort just to get people to agree and that
is a fair point to make and I am cognizant of it. Nevertheless,
a lot of your story here today is yes, we are near to getting
some progress on these things, people are shortly to ratify and
to sign up, but the thing that runs through is that it is going
to happen. What I want to come back to and press you on is that
a lot of it has not actually happened yet. How certain can you
be that whatever is agreed at Johannesburg is going to be implemented
further down the line?
(Mr Prescott) Can I go back to the criteria for what
we were wanting to do, namely to get a reduction in greenhouse
gases? Some countries are increasing, America for example, others
have begun to make their cuts in their programmes and are having
an effect. That is beginning to happen now. Before the convention
coming in we had targets. You have to start early enough and we
started early enough and we have got ahead of the game, admittedly
building on the advantage which came from the coal industry being
closed down. Given those circumstances, we have already achieved
half of the target which was set for us at that time, so have
the Germans, by Rio 1992. We have gone further since then by implementing
programmes. Europe has already started to implement. We are not
waiting for the ratification; it is making sense to do something
about it now. If you go to China and wonder why they are doing
it because they are not obliged under any treaty to do so, they
do know that the smog in their cities has a political effect on
their people and they are having to do something about it. They
know the effects of climate change on some of their rivers and
they are having to do something about it. Political pressures
are developing there. The curious thing is that China has now
cut gases far more than America with a greater growth than America
has. That is largely because they are using higher technology,
environmentally friendly technology, not because they have any
obligation under this treaty, but it just makes sense for them
to do, yet it does contribute to an actual reduction in greenhouse
gases; not a net reduction because that has to be balanced against
the kind of growth, but they have done considerably better in
America and no doubt it gives them great satisfaction to say that.
112. May I ask what the Government are doing
to tell the public about the preparations for this summit and
to educate the public about sustainability? Does it not seem that
a conflicting message is coming out, even perhaps this afternoon,
that some countries might want to sign up to a treaty, they might
want to bind themselves to doing something, but other countries,
if they are of sufficient power, can simply say it is all voluntary
and they will do what they like? The record of the current administration
when George W Bush was Governor of Texas was that the voluntary
approach simply did not work.
(Mr Prescott) We have an education programme within
our schools which achieves that. We have the bilateral agreements
with industry, co-operating together on how they may adjust to
achieve that. The whole climate change levy has been about that.
Frankly we have a press who are not interested in a positive story.
If you want to put what is going to happen in Kyoto they do not
want to know. They only want to know about rows. With one or two
honourable exceptions I can think of who do report seriously on
these matters, in the main most of them are not interested. They
only want to know if there is a row, if you are not going to make
it, about the problems of sustainability. A classic example was
when I went to visit coral reefs. Coral reefs are very important.
Now everybody thinks they are important whereas three or four
years ago it was "Prescott on holiday". Coral reefs
are very important. They are like the canary in pits which warned
the miners of gas. Dying coral reefs are a good indication of
what is going to happen to our oceans and seas and that is why
one of our objectives is to do a lot more about the oceans and
seas because a lot of people depend on them for their living,
whether fishing, access to water all sorts of things. Quite frankly
the positive aspects do not make a story. We keep plugging it
and trying to get it over but if we ring a journalist up and ask
to talk to them about sustainability they will say "Call
me next week".
113. The President of the United States says
our approach is voluntary then we have to work twice as hard to
get people on board. We could perhaps look at the period of the
petrol crisis to see that people do not accept we are doing enough
environmentally or indeed towards sustainability.
(Mr Prescott) Curiously enough I think it is the other
way about. If you are making it a requirement, you make changes.
The change creates a great deal of argument about the change itself
and then you have to argue the case for it. Increasing petrol
prices was a good example. You could argument an environment case
as to why fuel was far too cheap. The argument was as to what
the government tax level was on fuel. I hear that when I go abroad
from some of the Arab countries who make it clear that it is our
taxation programme. In reality we have discussed time and time
again here that if you want to use energy more effectively the
price mechanism is one way. You talk about the price of petrol
and whatever you say about it will be extremely controversial
and not very positive.
114. You said in your memorandum that you regarded
a successful outcome as being of high political importance. You
have talked this afternoon in broad general terms about some of
the key priorities for the UK, eradication of poverty, fresh water
and so on. I would assume that most people would view a successful
outcome from Johannesburg in terms of there being some new agreements
rather than just agreements on targets which already exist. What
would you see as the key things which would constitute a successful
outcome? What are the key agreements you would like to see?
(Mr Prescott) The first one is that people feel it
has been successful and there is no obvious breakdown. I do not
seek to make an obvious point but the conference they had in South
Africa on race was generally felt not to be the best example nor
the one in Seattle which I do not think was thought to be a good
conference. The first requirement is that people have felt it
was a good step forward and in trying to get that good step forward
is the agreement on all those things which will be defined as
making it successful. The climate change one was more difficult
because it meant major changes, as the Americans have pointed
out, to their economy but we had the same questions with our economy.
When you come to the issues we are dealing with, which we have
identified as UK priorities, namely the poverty eradication, application
and development of scientific and technical knowledge so these
countries can develop, transfer of technologies, help with investment
which is more environmentally sustainable, the fresh water and
oceans, sustainable development issues particularly for Africa
because we have identified there countries largely being left
behind in this process, access to modern energy, controversial
again, capacity building and education, whilst there will be an
element of controversy, you do find a common consent that it is
terrible that in this world one billion people live on less than
one dollar a day, that one billion people cannot get access to
clean water, that so many of the kids have no chance of education.
If you want countries to develop and prosper, they certainly have
to have the education. The fact is that they spend more on interest
rate debts than they spend on health and education and we have
been at the forefront of trying to reduce the debt responsibilities.
They are all important issues which have a real consensus of support
in the Group 77 and the developed countries. The concern which
arises is how to deliver more effectively than we do at the moment
because there is a great belief that finding resources is not
enough. You need a degree of governance in those countries which
in some cases is not there and you need to bring that alongside
these programmes. You help them in the governance, you help them
with targets, but they help deliver those targets themselves.
115. You said earlier that there was a possibility
that some of the targets, some of the proposals which were being
mentioned in the preparatory conferences were over ambitious.
Do you think it is going to be possible to achieve an agenda which
really is action oriented? On some of the issues we are discussing
such as poverty eradication it is very easy to find lots of people
who will say, yes, of course we want to eradicate poverty, and
rather more difficult to get down to specifics and to something
which really is action oriented. Do you think there is a danger
that we will end up with something which rather than being over-ambitious
is actually too vague and not very clear in terms of specifics?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, it is a very real problem and the
crucial moment will come in the conference in May when the final
preparatory conference takes place and the Ministers endorse the
agenda to go to South Africa. That is the kind of route map in
a way. It is important therefore that in these targets we are
setting for ourselves we may have to do something else. For example,
recognition of poverty in this country is far different from Africa.
You begin to identify that the definition of poverty is a dollar
a day. Clare, our International Development Minister has been
very much involved in investigating whether we direct our aid
to those countries where the GDP is below a certain level or above
it though they are still called developing countries. These are
questions where we have to draw a line and develop a kind of progressive
universalism. They all need to be helped in the process of their
development but in a progressive way because some of the countries
have just been left behind and they need to have more help in
the process because they need more help. That means you have to
define it. Will the rest of the world accept, for example, that
the trust fund which was to be set up to meet all the millennium
aimswhich were defined, reducing by half those who do not
have access to water, sanitation, education, we set figures on
themfor 2015 would cost something like £50 billion.
Half of that would go to Africa, which shows just how far Africa
has got behind in this process and that is why the Prime Minister
has given such importance to it. If you want to say it used to
be between the rich and the developing countries or the developed
and the developing, you now have some countries which are well
ahead of others in the developing-country stage and I believe
we have to set a progressive approach to that and give more help
to those countries. If you can do that, plus set the targets,
then it becomes practical. I am bound to tell you that in my experience
of talking to some of the developing countries they recognise
that needs to be done as long as they are not totally cut out
of the picture.
116. May I talk a bit about the co-ordination
of policy in the run-up to the summit? I think it is fair to say
that the UKand this is recognised by a number of NGOsis
one of the better prepared countries in the run-up to Johannesburg.
Even so, the UK itself got off to a pretty slow start. The UNED
were advocating preparations as early as back in 1998-99 and it
was really only in 2000 that things began to get cracking. Was
that a matter of resources? Could you have done more to prepare
it even more thoroughly if you had had greater resources to enable
you to do that?
(Mr Prescott) It is a very interesting question. We
were caught very much in trying to get Kyoto to be successful
and we were playing the same role of thinking this was the major
change we had to make. The public had a feeling that something
was going wrong in climate change so a lot of political energy
went into that, there is no doubt. UN conferences were taking
place on sustainability, on fishing, on oceans, all those things
as well, so we were not cut off from that. In the main it is probably
right to say that we did not begin to give more attention until
later in 2000 and certainly in discussions I had with the Prime
Minister I thought it was very important for us to focus on that.
September 11 came as an opportunity to say that if all this energy,
this commitment, could be brought together to deal with global
terrorism, which is quite correct, why can the world not get to
deal with poverty in the same way. Why can we not give the same
effort and energy to doing it? That gave us the focus. To be fair,
I think we moved a lot faster than any other country in that sense.
We began to focus on what our priorities are. We talked to all
these different countries, the Prime Minister, myself, the Foreign
Secretary. I used to find when I asked people if they were going
to be attending the conference on sustainability that a glaze
would come over their eyes as I tried to explain what it was.
It is not that they are not aware of many things which are going
on, it is just one of those small parts. They saw it as a conference
which would create a massive number of demands and they say it
is going to be another talking shop. Our job was to shake that
down to see whether there were practical possibilities and to
make sure that objectives are achieved from which you can say
it is a successful conference. Let me be clear about that. The
timetable is limiting. There is not a great deal of time for preparation.
When you prepare from the bottom up as the Secretary General said
to me, everybody throws everything onto the camel until all of
a sudden you have to fight through that and try to get to a common
agreement. We did that by focusing on those categories I have
talked about, but it does mean that we cannot be too ambitious.
I cannot believe for a second that you will get such a detailed
action problem that will lead to something being achieved within
a month and then you all start on it. I do not think it will work
that way and it does not normally. If you can see this within
the context of a new global architecture, that basically the Doha
agreement on trade, the Monterrey agreement on finance and sustainability
now being brought together under one umbrella to achieve that
real sustainability which reflects the same principles and targets
all agreed, we are bringing them down to one focus, not like separate
operations, trade, finance, sustainability, to make it a practical
thing. The goal is well worth it even if it takes you a little
time to achieve these objectives. Let us get one small step we
can call success, not a large one which fails and nothing is done
for the next ten years.
117. You made a comparison with the effort in
fighting terrorism. Just to take a very simple example, the MOD
has over 300,000 who are concentrating on that quite hard, plus
the police and everybody else. How many officials in your Central
Policy Group are actually working directly on the preparation
for the summit?
(Mr Prescott) While he thinks about the answer may
I give one response which comes to mind immediately when you ask
that question and it is important? America's intervention in Afghanistan
is apparently costing £50 billion. That is the same amount
as the trust fund for the world.
118. How many people?
(Mr Wood) Three of us are working more or less full
time on this but I would point out that we are only a small part
of the whole Whitehall machine. There are many teams of officials
across Whitehall in a range of departments, particularly DEFRA,
DFID, Foreign Office, Treasury. We are a small part of a much
119. Three of you specifically with the Deputy
Prime Minister's staff.
(Mr Wood) Yes.
1 Under the Kyoto Protocol, each country's emissions
will be calculated as an average of the years 2008-12, the five
years being known as "the first commitment period". Back