Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 20 MARCH 2001
MP, RT HON
MP, MR DAVID
40. But before that you have spoken about the
possibility of inter-ministerial consultation in New York in April
chaired by Jan Pronk in advance of COP6 Part II, to give it its
full title. What is the purpose of that meeting in April in New
(Mr Prescott) Michael, you went to that one. Is that
the sustainable development conference?
(Mr Meacher) Are you talking about the next CSD conference?
41. The Jan Pronk meeting in April.
(Mr Meacher) The extended bureau at the end of the
Commission for Sustainable Development which is 17-20 April?
42. Yes. What is it for?
(Mr Prescott) You attended that.
(Mr Meacher) No, we have not come to it but I would
expect to be going to it.
43. The meeting in April, next month.
(Mr Prescott) I am sorry.
(Mr Meacher) One or other of us will be going.
44. What for?
(Mr Prescott) The President has a new paper and we
will discuss the Pronk paper and that will be starting again.
When we come back we will hear the opinions through the Civil
Service, who meet at these meetings, as to what exactly will be
the American position. If their position is we are not just going
to have an agreement for developed countries and it will have
to be everybody then the whole thing is completely opened up again
and I do not think we will get any agreement signed ahead of the
45. Are you going to lay the foundations for
COP6 Part II or is it to see whether there is any point in COP6
Part II, in which case will it go ahead?
(Mr Prescott) It will go ahead. At the meeting of
the European Group you have still got to take into account the
Umbrella Group and the developing countries. We have agreed now
that the conference that would have taken place in May should
be reconvened in July at the request of the Americans in order
that they may make their assessment. Our meeting in April in that
sense is an opportunity to look at the Pronk paper, see what the
latest position is of the Americans and adjust ourselves ready
for the meeting in Bonn.
(Mr Meacher) There is a whole series of preparatory
meetings, "prep coms" as they are called. We had an
extended session after the EU Environment Council a fortnight
ago precisely to discuss climate change, the latest information,
to take note of latest positions and how best we form an alliance
partly to keep America on track, if possible, with developing
countries, with other big countries like Russia and certainly
keeping our lines open with China, etc. We all tried to concert
tactics in preparation for the next meeting. That is exactly the
same purpose a month later in New York in April.
46. Having said all that, what are the prospects
for the meeting in Bonn in the summer?
(Mr Meacher) I think really everything does dependI
hate to say thison the American position. It is true, as
John said, that we can ratify Kyoto, we need 55 countries and
developed countries representing 55 per cent of emissions by those
countries to ratify. We can do that without the US but it would
be an extraordinary thing, in my view, to allow the world's largest
polluter to go on polluting and the rest of us tighten our belts
in order to meet these targets. There is something extraordinarily
bizarre and perverse about that. That is why it is so important
to keep America on track. We just do not know at this point where
these contradictory signals coming out of Washington are going
to lead to. I cannot believe that the United States is going to
walk away totally from Kyoto. If they do they will have to return,
in my view. It will not necessarily be to Kyoto but to something
similar. I find it very difficult to believe that given the movement
in public opinion amongst industrial leaders and the fact that
republican senators have said to us "it is not that we like
Kyoto, we like climate change, but this is something we have got
to address". There are undoubtedly persons at top level positions
in the administration who believe that this is a serious issue
that the United States has got to be a partner in.
(Mr Prescott) And there will be a different Presidency
on the European side.
(Mr Meacher) That is also true.
47. And possibly on the American side. Sorry.
(Mr Meacher) It is a mosaic and each time the kaleidoscope
changes. It is very difficult to say. I do not think we would
do it if we thought that we were bound for failure. We do think
there is a good possibility of success but I would not put it
48. Minister, when you last gave evidence on
climate change negotiations in 1999 you said that the major problem
was the prospects for "hot air" trading. What has happened
on that? Has it been overtaken by more important events or put
on the back burner or what?
(Mr Prescott) It was an essential issue. This is a
very good example of the trading emissions, "hot air",
etc. In all those areas they were the things that clinched it
at Kyoto. People signed up on the basis that you could do emissions
trading or CDM, etc. I think it persuaded an awful lot of industry
to take part and they could see there was a possibility due to
the experiments the Americans had done in this area on emissions
trading and trading actually achieved. BP here were doing some
of the internal trading. That was quite an important gain. Frankly,
those things will not be lost but, of course, you need an international
treaty to be able to trade in it. It was an essential reason why
a number of people signed up. The "hot air" issue was
one of the difficulties about Russia. Russia gotI perhaps
ought to be careful about my wordsa very good deal out
of it but that was because it was tired at the end and everybody
wanted an agreement. Now they are well placed with "hot air"
to want to do the trading but you want an international agreement
(Mr Meacher) "Hot air" remains a problem
but, to see it in perspective, Russian "hot air", because
of the looseness of their targets, might involve something like
300 million tonnes of extra CO2 and they are getting all the financial
benefit of the credits. If you then look at sinks, and of course
sinks has overtaken "hot air" as the big essential loophole,
I have already mentioned the figures for sinks at the top estimate
threshold are between one and three-quarters and two billion tonnes,
so it is a very different scale, but "hot air" still
remains a problem.
49. I want to try to draw out lessons that can
be learned from what has happened. The way that the discussion
has gone so far, I realise that we have got to draw a line under
what has happened and when the meetings come back in July we have
really got to start afresh. Given the fact that we have got a
new US Presidency and a different European Presidency as well,
I just wonder given the various concerns that have been set out
about, for example, principles like contraction and convergence,
which I know our Environment Minister has been very involved with,
do you think that things could change so much that things that
might have been impossible or perhaps not even thought of at the
earlier stages of the debate that we have had are things that
could be brought up afresh in readiness for July?
(Mr Prescott) I do not think we actually go back to
square one completely. The fact that we had Kyoto means that the
world has basically accepted that targets have a role to play,
albeit it is the developed countries to begin with. The big key
often was to try to find the connection to the developing countries
and that was what we were working quite strongly on until it broke
down. We have those targets and we have the mechanisms by which
countries are prepared to make their adjustments and changes which
we have been talking about, whether it is "hot air",
CDM, emissions trading, all those kinds of things, and people
have accepted that these are the mechanisms that can help achieve
those targets, they were written into Kyoto. Therefore, we have
that and are hoping that is not thrown out because eventually
it was to applying to developing countries but the first stage
was to make sure it applied to the over 40 developed countries.
The big question now is going to be if the Americans stick to
their line of saying it has got to apply to everybody immediately
then I think the reaction of the developing countries where you
have to get consensus will be to go back to quite a strong exchange
between the parties, between the developing countries and the
rich countries, and we will go back to the old arguments we were
having before Kyoto. That would be sad. That would be a step backwards,
I do not think there is any doubt about that. It will hang on
what the general positions are. Since this is quite a global position,
I think, for countries like America the argument is "do you
want to lead" and the Americans usually like to lead. I can
remember the conversations that Michael and I had in the later
stages of negotiations in Kyoto and the real importance for the
Japanese was that they wanted to be less than the Americans and
the importance for the Americans was they wanted to be less than
the Europeans and it was always at what per cent, so whatever
level you went to could we have that relationship and we had to
say to the Americans "if you do not want to lead the world
any more, we will do it".
50. Given the whole changed position now of
the American Presidency and given, if you like, the scope that
there is for even more UK leadership in trying to reach some kind
of agreement, what has been your response? Have you had an official
(Mr Prescott) From?
51. Have you actually given an official response?
(Mr Prescott) From the Americans?
52. To the Americans on the fact that Russia
has now changed its stance completely and is not saying what was
said by Christine Whitman at an earlier stage?
(Mr Prescott) Our position is for the Prime Minister
and Foreign Minister to obviously engage in a dialogue with the
American administration and say "look, we think this is the
position". We were very encouraged by the Environment Minister
G8 meeting but since then we have had the American President give
his opinion and we will continue to engage with them at all levels.
53. If one of the things that has changed across
Europe is greater understanding, what scope is there between now
and July, for example, for that special relationship that our
Prime Minister has with America to use that special relationship
to try to bring about greater public awareness about the importance
of the Kyoto Protocol and the importance of it being ratified
and the importance of America taking a key role in that?
(Mr Prescott) I think public opinion and the NGOs
are quite powerful in these matters really and the changing opinion
in American public opinion is the same as it has been in Europe.
They are conscious about the weather considerations and what they
see on the television and that has made a difference in America
as it has here. No doubt the President will want to take that
into account. They do not need any encouragement, the people are
very committed to this. Where it would be quite strong was if
the American President was to say "as far as I am concerned,
I am not doing it just for America, it is going to be every country"
and that would be read by everybody who sees that as a step backwards
in agreement unless you can get those countries to agree. We have
used a lot of energy and time particularly on major countries
like China and India. We have travelled a lot to those countries
to argue the case with them to find agreement prior to these conferences,
but they feel it is a bit of a cheek if the developed countries
start to lecture them on what they should be doing about greenhouse
gas emissions, CO2, all that. They say "you did it, just
show you are going to do something. Yes, we do want our industrialisation
but do not start telling us what we have to do in the first stage
until you show you are prepared to do something about it yourselves".
I find that to be a very powerful argument and we do have to make
that stand, it was accepted by all the developed countries. If
we are now throwing that away, or if America says they are no
longer going to accept that, that is a serious setback, there
is no doubt about that. You have got to remember the other timetable
is I think it is in 2002 that we have Rio 10 when all the nations
will come together and talk about what a wonderful world and how
we have got to save it for our children's children. Hopefully
that will put pressure on them to get agreement but it is so easy
to slide into rhetoric.
54. Do you think that in the meantime in terms
of Rio plus ten there will be scope for Europe to go ahead and
supply ratification irrespective of the US?
(Mr Prescott) Again, I have to say to my European
colleagues in this sense that it is fine to be in the vanguard
and say "we want 15 per cent", and the person who pushed
that very hard to the President was the Dutch Minister and she
did not last six months after because they found that very difficult
to achieve, but there is one thing about rhetoric and another
about targets to achieve them. Britain has given its programme
and in the programme produced by the Commission it showed that
we were well ahead of any country in setting in hand the programmes
to achieve the targets that we had agreed in the UN and in Europe.
Most other countries have not even begun to implement those policies.
There are very big questions. We are taking a lead and we show
that we do it by the policies and we have tried to highlight that
in the documents before you.
55. Some would say that the way we have been
able to meet those targets, much of it has been to do with dash
for gas and now we need to start going much more quickly down
the routes of alternatives.
(Mr Prescott) In the first stage it was more to do
with smash the pump.
56. In terms of the US and what we can do between
now and July, is there any scope for the Prime Minister being
able to perhaps have some special meeting with the President to
discuss this? Is there scope for the US electricity companies
in this country to have some kind of meeting here whereby we can
perhaps ask why they have been lobbying so strongly with their
US links against what we are trying to achieve on Kyoto?
(Mr Prescott) I hear a great deal of European arguments
in this country but when we were negotiating we were a much more
powerful force being a European continental negotiator than we
were as a European nation. It was not the Brits up front, it was
the fact it represented the European case, quite a powerful case,
and that is a powerful influence in any international negotiations.
Anyone who is involved in those negotiations knows that to be
true. I think at the coming Stockholm conference where the Prime
Ministers are meeting under the Swedish Presidency, they will
certainly be talking about that. There is a great opportunity
for Europe to lead the way. In fact, I think it did play a very
powerful part and without Europe we would not have had a Kyoto
agreement. There were individual contributions and we might talk
about the divisions but at the end of the day it was Europe as
a Group of European nations with its powerful influence that brought
that about. What we have is a margin of disagreement between ourselves,
but there is more going for the agreement. The leaders are very
much committed to it. Under the French presidency, they made a
very strong statement about it and I think we have a chance of
leading in that way. We should take it and I think we will. We
spent so many years in these negotiations. If you just say to
the developing countries, "We are not doing it now unless
you guys do it", forget about any agreement.
57. I did wonder whether the US or the United
Kingdom position were really so far apart. The government here
has taken a number of decisions. One is not to tax the use of
energy in the domestic sector, so we have not got carbon taxes.
Secondly, the desire to see a reduction in electricity prices
for domestic users. Thirdly, we had the whole business of a moratorium
on gas fired power stations. Curiously, looking at those three
issues on carbon emissions, those strike me as being rather compatible
with the sort of noises which President Bush himself has been
making because, if you look at what he has been saying, apart
from the dislike of Kyoto as a mechanism, the, perhaps rather
vague, utterances he seems to have been making seem to highlight
exactly the same points and concerns which are a desire to see
a reduction in carbon gas emissions but a dislike of fiscal mechanisms
to achieve it because of an anxiety over economic consequences.
Do you share that view or do you think that you are in fundamental
disagreement with President Bush and the American administration
in terms of their approach?
(Mr Prescott) I do not know what his view is. We must
wait and see. We had a great deal of agreement with the previous
administration under Vice-President Gore. Without his initiative,
we would not have got a Kyoto agreement because at the end of
the day it boiled down to Japan, America and European negotiators
agreeing a package. If he says that the developing countries have
to do exactly as the developed countries before there is an agreement
to ratification, I think you have a real problem, but I will wait
to see what happens. How you achieve your targets can be done
in different ways. They are being done in different ways in Europe
and perhaps in America. Is he saying he rejects the targets? As
I understand it in one case, he has said that he rejects the Kyoto
targets. That is going right back to square one. If you say, "I
do not want to do the same things as you do", who would want
to destroy their car industry which previous administrations did,
frankly, but it did give us that environmental advantage. There
is no doubt, if we were ahead as we were in most other countries
of achieving those targets, it largely became because of the change
of the use of coal. I had to recognise that was one major contributing
factor to Britain achieving its targets. The Americans might find
it very difficult to impose the kind of European fuel cost to
their cars but there might be other ways of doing it and that
is what trading is very good for. We were concerned and the Europeans
were. You can do it all by sinks and trading if you want and do
nothing about anything in the domestic economy. What we are strong
about, if we are doing it in our domestic economy, so should you
and that was one of the differences between us. There are different
pathways to achieving the objectives. If the American administration
is saying to us that the targets at Kyoto are not acceptable either,
you do not have an agreement on anything. We have an agreement.
We have all signed for it. We have to wait and see whether America
will say they are not going to agree it.
58. With the President's letter, I take a less
happy view of it than Dominic does. When I see a letter that starts
by saying, "My Administration takes the issue of global climate
change very seriously", but then goes on to make the point,
"... I oppose the Kyoto Protocol ...", reneges on its
only environmental campaign pledge, says it will give priority
to commerce, costs and consumers rather than to carbon reductions
and says, "We have incomplete scientific knowledge",
I have to say if it was anybody else who had written that I would
be questioning either their intelligence or their integrity. Since
it is the allegedly elected President of the United States, I
could not possibly do that or ask you to do that but do you not
find a certain inconsistency between the initial warm words and
what he then goes on to say?
(Mr Prescott) I am reminded that, when President Reagan
came, there was an awful lot said about him but he did achieve
some remarkable things in certain global negotiations. I had a
similar view about Thatcher at the time, but using conventional
opinion is not necessarily right. It is the early stage of the
administration. They are having to take into account all sorts
of things. Since they have asked for the July meeting, we should
do them the courtesy of waiting to see exactly what happens. The
President has to deal with all sorts of things, commitments etc.,
but since he has asked for July and since the environment person
appointed, who Michael met, has no problems about signing up to
language on Kyoto, assuming the debate is going on, I would wait
to see the conclusion of it. I would like to see that they will
go along. If they accept Kyoto targets, I would like to see them
say that they have extra responsibility as a developed country.
If they can accept those two propositions, we have a chance of
working out an agreement. We need to work out an agreement, quite
frankly. Most of the world and most of our electorate knows something
has to be done. Something has to change. I will wait to see those
forces exercise their pressures on an American President or even
the European president.
59. Have you been having direct dealings with
people like Christine Whitman of the EPA, who seems to have adopted
the new administration, a point of view which in theory would
seem to me to lead inexorably towards the Kyoto targets?
(Mr Prescott) I could not go to that conference but
even during the negotiations in the conference I did think the
Americans played a considerable part in it and I do know that
they wanted to find an agreement and I was in personal conversations
with Vice-President Gore about that, because they came to an agreement
at Kyoto and we had the same exchanges of what the American commitment
was for an agreement. I was convinced they would do an agreement
at The Hague as they did at Kyoto. Despite everybody saying the
Americans would not go to zero, they did a good job and that could
have happened on this occasion. It is a new administration; they
represent the American people now and we should treat that very
seriously and listen to what they have to say. We were encouraged
after Michael's discussion at the G8, but we have to wait and
(Mr Meacher) I think that is right. Let us be perfectly
frank about this: there is a power struggle going on in Washington.
There are very different elements with different views of climate
change. The state department was more pro climate change at Kyoto
than, say, the domestic, economics department. There is a struggle
and it is not clear at this stage how exactly that is going to
be resolved or what the balance of forces is going to be in July.
A good deal depends on this new negotiator but decisions may well
be taken at a higher level, at President or Vice-President level.
That is where the power is being wielded at the moment, but we
have to see results and we have to keep open the possibility of
an agreement. We cannot responsible simply write off what the
Americans do because they are so important in terms of a generation
of greenhouse gas emissions. I repeat what I said earlier: this
is not just an environmental issue. This is a fundamental issue
of foreign policy relations between all the major countries of
(Mr Prescott) The key will be who they appoint as
negotiator at the end of the day because the President is not
going to be involved in this from day to day; it is that negotiator.
We will measure that. There has always been a conflict between
the state department negotiations and the Environmental Protection
Agency in these circumstances. We have found it before but it
is usually the negotiator who is the key.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
That was a very useful session. Thank you once again for coming
along at relatively short notice, considering all the other things
you have to deal with today. In return for me saying I look forward
to what you have to say about the environmental audit report,
we expect a favourable response.