MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
Mr John Horam, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Cabinet Office
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON JOHN PRESCOTT, a Member of the House, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State and MR CHRIS WOOD, Deputy Director of the Central Policy Group, Cabinet Office, examined.
(Mr Prescott) I would, if I may, thank you very much. I have Chris Wood with me who is Deputy Director of the policy unit in my Department. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the UK's preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Indeed your inquiry is a very timely one. You will have seen the memorandum that we have provided and that set out my role in the United Kingdom's preparations for the summit. The Johannesburg summit is an opportunity to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable development and take further steps to put the principles agreed at Rio ten years ago into practice. After 11 September, we have seen a very effective global coalition against terrorism. Now we want to see the same degree of global commitment applied to tackling other global issues such as poverty and environmental degradation. The Prime Minister asked me to take a key role in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. There are two main strands to my role in preparing for the summit: one is the international one and a role within the United Kingdom Government. Internationally I am seeking to use high level contacts, through my role as Deputy Prime Minister, to gain political commitment to the summit itself. This builds on the early lead the Prime Minister gave in announcing his intention to attend the summit (made in his speech to the CBI on 24 October). He was the first world leader to do so and that gave a clear indication of the importance this Government places on this summit. Over the last few months I have met around 20 Heads of State, Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers in meetings when I have received foreign politicians in London and also when I have made official visits abroad. I have used all these meetings to raise the profile of the summit and seek political commitment at the highest level. For example, last week the Chancellor and I met the Secretary-General of the United Nations to discuss preparations for the summit and the forthcoming Financing for Development Conference, which will take place in Monterrey in March. The truth is that for many world leaders the summit has not even begun to figure on their radar screens. In many countries sustainable development is something which is labelled as an "environment" issue and left to the Environment Ministry. Whilst in the United Kingdom we might have a joined-up approach, many others abroad do not. Often the Environment Ministry is weak and disconnected from the rest of government. If we are going to get the summit to give political commitment to the issues we have outlined as crucial - taking people out of poverty, giving them sustainable livelihoods, safe drinking water and modern energy supplies - we need to go to the highest levels for this summit. In fact there is a clear indication that the pressure we have been exerting is paying off. Awareness about the summit is increasing and, as momentum builds, a growing number of world leaders are demonstrating their commitment to attend Johannesburg. With regard to my role within the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a Cabinet Ministerial Group to develop, co-ordinate and deliver the Government's strategy for the summit. The group is composed of Ministers from key departments involved in developing the UK's input to the summit. Exceptionally that also includes Ministers from the devolved administrations. Later in the course of this inquiry you will be speaking to some of the Ministers involved in developing UK priorities for the summit, in particular Margaret Beckett and Clare Short. I am, of course, in frequent contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary also. We are working hard to establish a set of UK priorities and identify the practical inputs the UK can make. Sustainable development, by its nature, covers a broad range of issues. We need to concentrate on areas where the summit can make a real and practical difference. As Kofi Annan said in London last week, Rio told us what the problem is: Johannesburg needs to address how to solve it, how to get things done. Above all, the summit needs to address sustainable development in its fullest sense: development and economic growth as well as environmental issues. The summit needs to identify the practical progress on issues affecting people, especially the poorest people. It is unacceptable that one billion people have to survive on less than a dollar a day or that 1.1 billion people are without access to a safe and affordable water supply and two billion people without access to modern energy supplies. We need to recognise that practical progress cannot be achieved by governments alone. We need to involve the private sector, NGOs and local communities, backed up by a strong international framework, including the international financial institutions in a new partnership for delivery. I believe the UK is well positioned to make a strong and focused input to the summit and that our preparations are well advanced and co-ordinated. I should now be happy to answer the Committee's questions and thank you for the opportunity to make my opening address.
(Mr Wood) That is right.
(Mr Wood) It is a group which was established following the machinery of government changes to support the Deputy Prime Minister in his new functions.
(Mr Wood) We deal with international issues, domestic committees which the Deputy Prime Minister chairs and also the Deputy Prime Minister's work on regional governance.
(Mr Wood) We have regular contacts with the No.10 Policy Unit.
(Mr Wood) We are a separate organisation.
The Committee suspended from 4.37 pm to 4.50 pm for a division in the House.
Chairman: We will move on now to the main points in your memorandum and the substance of the approach to Johannesburg.
(Mr Prescott) Would you like to define that and explain what is critical?
(Mr Prescott) I meant on transport.
(Mr Prescott) For the role we played in Kyoto; that is a good start. Everybody agreed that the role Britain played in Kyoto was a leading part. We led in the last three negotiations where the final deal was settled between the umbrella group which was the Americans particular and the Japanese, Group 77 and indeed the Euro group and led to those final conclusions. That came from meeting very often with leaders in China and India, which were important groups inside the Group 77, particularly with America, Japan and Australia and we were invited by Japan to play a leading part in bringing what are called the developed countries together for those negotiations. From that it was generally assumed that the contacts we developed would be very useful in taking this further forward. The Prime Minister saw the importance of the Sustainable Conference, Rio 10, which will take place in September this year and thought it was perhaps important to identify the different approach we should take this time. The Kyoto agreement rather dominated most of the Rio 10 and people thought it was all about the environment. There were many other objectives, such as poverty, access to clean water all matters of importance. We thought these practical objectives should dominate the conference and we have tried to put our views and our objectives to other countries and also to increase the awareness of the importance of the Sustainable Conference. I have been well received by these leaders who played a positive part in it.
(Mr Prescott) The fact that we have recognised sustainability and first of all from Kyoto getting the recognition that there had to be an international agreement. All the voluntary systems were not working so that international role was quite important. That meant we had a target set for us of a 12 per cent cut in gases on the 1990 levels, which meant we had to have a sustainable policy. We produced that and we believe, if you take it on the indicators that there are in that sustainable policy, that we are doing very well. We have produced the annual reports for that which show we are doing very well. We have reached an agreement on the climate negotiation levies and these are all part and parcel of what we believe will now not only achieve the European target, which is 12 per cent, but we are going to do every better than that. I think that is a success and it can be seen and measured, indeed out of the European countries we are seen to be ahead of everybody in achieving those targets. I would call that success. I do not know what you would call it.
(Mr Prescott) I have not read their report. Presumably you have. This is one yet to come out, is it not?
(Mr Prescott) I have not read that.
(Mr Prescott) Not the one which is due out now.
(Mr Prescott) So this is over a year, 18 months, old.
(Mr Prescott) Is that the one from January 2001?
(Mr Prescott) Which says Annual Report - Achieving a Better Quality of Life?
(Mr Prescott) Reports are coming out from the Sustainable Development Commission and there is one about to come out by Jonathon Porritt. There are the ones we produce each year.
(Mr Prescott) I understand that has not yet been published. You have the memorandum. I do not know. The one you have been given which is out is Annual Report - Achieving a Better Quality of Life.
(Mr Prescott) Yes, that is the annual report which is produced by government. If I take the indicators in that, of the 15 indicators eight have improved, about four or five have not materially changed and three of them have got worse. That is over two years and shows we are meeting our targets, we are doing well. A lot done, a lot more to do, to coin a phrase. So what are you talking about?
(Mr Prescott) Is there another Deputy Prime Minister going round doing this job? I do not think so. In fact their ambassadors, ministers, foreign secretaries, leaders, prime ministers, are all in some way enunciating how they feel about this issue. Tony Blair has made it clear that it is a very important issue for him and has called upon them to do that. In Europe they are even meeting today on the Environment Council talking about the targets we need to set as Europe within those negotiations. Tony Blair has made it clear that he thinks it is important, he wants to set an example and has said that he is going to attend that conference. My job is to encourage others in that process to explain what we have in mind. What you have to remember about this conference is that the preparatory conferences decide what the final deal is going to be. There is also another international development which will affect people's attitude about attending and that is the Monterrey conference which is coming on the financing of development. In those cases people might feel, if the conclusions of the Monterrey conference mean you are going to have to pay money, it might influence the attitude of some of the leaders who are going to attend. That is what I find. At the moment I am hopeful that we will begin to get an increasing number of heads of state going to this conference: our Foreign Secretary, our Development Secretary, Margaret Beckett all those are actively involved in this process of encouraging all governments to attend at the highest possible levels.
(Mr Prescott) Yes, that is an extremely important point and it dominated a great deal of the Kyoto negotiations. If you cannot get Group 77 to agree, where this north-south concept was identified, then you will have difficulty in making progress. At Kyoto where they eventually came to that compromise and later at Marrakesh most of the developed countries faced up to that responsibility - except the Americans, as you know, because they did not want to accept that responsibility at that time, and the Third World - and Group 77, identified as the south, co-operated with it and have gone along and we think we shall see the ratification of that protocol. That is very important. In these negotiations we are advocating that developed countries have a greater responsibility to help those countries more than they have done before; they have not moved much on it since those statements were made in 1992 at the Rio conference and they very much want to see the developed countries playing a more positive role in that. Our approach is to go a little further and say that both the Doha negotiations on trade and the Monterrey conference on finance will give us an opportunity to have a new global structure to work towards that sustainability. If we get that we shall be able to introduce another principle which is important to us, that even some of the countries of the south, or the Group 77, have advanced quite well and others have not advanced at all, particularly in the African countries and we believe greater aid should be given to those in greater need. These are some of the arguments being developed in the preparatory conferences at the moment which will not be established until June. I have no reason to doubt that the Group 77 countries will not play as positive a part as they did in Kyoto.
(Mr Prescott) The press often do, so join in.
(Mr Prescott) I would not like to put it like that because people would feel and perhaps speculate that we were backing up the environmental objectives. They are very important but the Kyoto agreement and then the legal framework established at the Marrakesh conference meant that environment was well under way. All we have to do now is implement it and make sure we do in the ratification of it. It has dominated most of the nations' approach to the Rio 10, but there are many other objectives about poverty, about access to clean water, about reducing the amount of poverty we have in the world. Those were highlighted and we are trying to bring them more to the fore. I believe there needs to be a change of gear at Johannesburg which is being organised by the South Africans and is not called the Rio 10 conference; they now use the term People, Planet and Prosperity. That gives us an opportunity to begin to focus on those areas where we have not done so well. The various preparatory conferences at the moment are trying to establish exactly what those objectives should be. We have given a lead by saying they should be concentrating on poverty eradication, greater resource productivity, science and technology to help them develop their education base, access to fresh water and oceans, for example, many of these countries which are coastal states have been driven into poverty by the raiding of their fish stock areas by fleets from other countries and that is extremely serious to them, capacity building programmes, education. We have said that if we can concentrate on those and get the agreements along the lines of the millennium targets set by the UN we would reduce poverty by a certain time, get more children into schools, improve the amount of access to clean water. These are objectives set for 2015. I rather think the emphasis at Johannesburg should be a plan of action based around the title of the conference: People, Planet and Prosperity. It is not moving away from the importance of environment but is trying to bring up all the other issues which are practical issues, which are things we can do positive things about such as access to clean water.
(Mr Prescott) It does not at all. When I first met him in December in the United States he was very worried that enough importance was not being given to the conference in the regional reports he was receiving; people did not think it was very important to be involved in this conference. He was concerned about that, therefore he set up a group of people to encourage the regional groups to participate and determine their order of priorities and not to have too many and come to political agreements about it. That is what the five regional groups are. His view was that this was a conference from the grassroots up, not from the top down and therefore you would get many, many demands reflecting the different regions. The real challenge for us in the next few months is to boil them down to very practical aims. Many of our proposals have been accepted as an approach to that. We did discuss with the Secretary General, the business of finance, the coming Monterrey conference which Gordon Brown was extremely concerned about. He wanted to see the Secretary General take into account that aspect of the trust fund, the possibility of making sure more resources were available and devoted very much to eradicating poverty and increasing education. He very much agreed with that, indeed he went on to make a speech which we discussed in December saying from Doha to Monterrey and on to Johannesburg. I do think we are now talking about a new global structure, if we can get that framework right instead of operating just trade, just finance, just sustainable development. We need to bring it together in a complete frame, as indeed the Rio conference was in 1992. We think this is now an opportunity for South Africa in the Johannesburg conference to lay out a plan of action. The Secretary General made that clear, it is in line with what we were saying and we found great encouragement from that.
(Mr Prescott) If Johannesburg is to be a success, you want an awful lot of people to go to it and heads of state to go to it to be honest. It is not so much about the decisions it takes, it is the decisions it might not take. For example, if the agreement is to increase aid to these countries or doubling it, there will be a number of countries who will say they are not going to Johannesburg if that is what it is about. We have a commitment to increase the target of 0.7 per cent of GDP. We are going to increase ours over the next couple of years to at least half that level and many countries have actually reduced it. If Monterrey were to identify that it was only about aid, I think countries might shy away from it; some obvious ones. If it is about getting a practical set of proposals which will implement programmes better than at the moment and move to eradicate poverty and get free access to water, I think many countries will not want to get trapped in that. To my mind it is very important at all these international conference not to be too ambitious in what you are demanding if you want consensus. Remember, at the end of the day, as with Kyoto, it is not easy to get 140 nations to agree. They are small steps but they are important ones. The important point is to avoid failure and that is what is important about Monterrey: not to make too many obstacles to achieving what we want at Johannesburg. Take Gordon Brown's commitment to the trust fund, which you probably heard about, the idea of having a special fund which would help these countries. That fund itself is quite a considerable amount. If you try to agree that at Monterrey in March, you will not find agreement. If the Johannesburg conference were dependent on getting that agreement, it would be a pity to approach the conference almost expecting failure because you had not achieved success at Monterrey. It is small steps, step by step.
(Mr Prescott) I have no doubt the developing countries feel strongly and the terms of trade have been very much against them. Aid in some cases has not helped many countries; it has been okay for some but the poorer have got poorer and some better. They feel it is not a very fair way of doing it. We understand the CAP in the European Union is something which has not been particularly advantageous despite the Lomé agreements and other agreements which followed from that. They feel strongly about that. These issues, particularly the posers we are setting here, are about how you help them with their education, reducing poverty, access to fresh water, all these kinds of things are things which they agree with and look to us to help deliver on that. This conference at Johannesburg should be not only about defining the aims and being practical about them, but at the same time making sure they are delivered and delivered in a different way, that is through partnerships with industry and the civil society, so we can achieve that and on a political principle to argue that we should recognise that some countries are not doing well and if that is the case they should get greater help from that. Within the Group 77 there are sensitivities about those countries which have benefited from the international agreements they have had and those who have not. Africa frankly belongs to one of those groups of countries where it is not going too well.
(Mr Prescott) I am aware that people have been wanting to make the issue of corporate accountability a major issue for the conference. It is for the conference to decide whether they want to accept that. I have put a great deal of emphasis on getting the kind of co-operation to achieve the more limited objectives I have set out and they are important for billions of people. The corporate responsibility we are asking for as a minimum is getting in to help us deliver the water projects, to deal with sanitation, to help us with the education, to deal with resource and greater energy efficiencies. All these are things in which we look to the private sector in the south to co-operate with us to be able to achieve that and working with a number of countries who are the recipients of these benefits, particularly Group 77. When you talk about accountability, I recall my discussions with the Nigerian leader who said he pulls on the levers and often nothing happens. Therefore he was looking to a better form of governance and governance is an issue increasingly brought to the fore. When you talk about accountability it is often felt that money is put into places and not enough accountability falls on the recipients. We want to tighten that up and the Monterrey conference is about setting some of those standards. All these will be competing demands to be put at the conference; the ones being consulted upon now and the ones being prepared by different groups. The NGOs are participants in this conference, so I am sure they will be able to put what they wish to it.
(Mr Prescott) Yes, we are still in active discussion in a number of those areas as we get ready to prepare for the conference which takes place end April/beginning May where the Ministers and the preparatory conference come together to decide the kind of agenda and the importance of those issues. Those issues are still ongoing but do not forget NGOs are involved in the international discussions as well as in the national ones.
(Mr Prescott) No, we have said we do not think we agree with that proposal and what we want is the agenda we are proposing at the moment. We are discussing these matters with various groups but my own judgement is that we have made our position clear that we shall not take that directly as one of our major worries.
(Mr Prescott) I should like it to be voluntary. I should like to avoid all the excesses which have brought about these demands for greater accountability. We are concentrating on how much we can meet those demands and get the maximum co-operation from people to deliver. Deliver, deliver is the important issue of this conference and that is why we want to make sure we have a programme which people think is practicable, meets the demands of it and deals with those millions in poverty and denied access to clean water.
(Mr Prescott) Yes and in fact it is one of the demands which is being made but it is a convention. We had that one on climate change, we have this one now on biodiversity and the issue of forests is something which is being discussed within the climate change issues and at the UN Conference on Sustainability which you are aware of; highly controversial, no agreement about it at this stage. We have advanced so far to a convention: what we should like is to advance some of these social problems which are important at the moment, which could be solved and where there is less controversy.
(Mr Prescott) That is our obligation and particularly under forestry. We shall be doing all we can to observe the obligations which come from that.
(Mr Prescott) I agree with a great deal of what you said. May I take the point about aims, targets and objectives? You have to be practical. What Kyoto taught me was that the European demand for a 15 per cent cut in gases just was not possible. You either go in and the conference breaks down or you change your position. Fortunately we all began to change that position and we came to an agreement at Kyoto. One of the problems with international conferences is that sometimes everybody sets impossible demands and you have to try to find a formula; you start working all through the nights for the compromise. What is important is to get the preparatory work done beforehand so that the arguments do not come at the final conference. The example of the UN conference in South Africa on race was a classic example where the work was not done. If you take the Doha conference on trade, at least that was more successful than the one in Seattle. You have to do the work beforehand. If I presume the preparatory conferences are not really conferences, they are trying to get a realistic collection of demands to be put to a conference and agreed, the reality is that if you are talking with 140, 170, 180, whatever countries who are involved and you have to get consensus, there is no vote in the main. It is extremely difficult to get a consensus and it is perhaps the speed of the convoy. You need to know the speed of the slowest ship and get everybody to agree it. The worst is to fail. Once you fail on these kinds of conference you have put it off for another ten years. The real priority is to get something that everybody can accept across a diverse group of nations from very rich to very poor and something they can agree with. What we have settled on is this programme where I think we will find agreement.
(Mr Prescott) They are pretty basic: the access people should have to good sanitation facilities or access to clean water. We find there is very much agreement about all those things. Do not forget that this was agreed at the 1992 Rio summit, though most of the effort went into the environment. What we are saying is bring them back to the floor. They were agreed then. Implement the rest of that Earth Summit programme but give a higher priority to it under this People, Planet and Prosperity one being proposed at Johannesburg and spell out what they are. The United Nations has agreed certain millennium targets including a reduction in the number of people suffering poverty - over 1.5 billion on less than a dollar a day. We are looking to halving that by 2015. The same with access to clean water. We have set a series of targets which are practicable and should be ones we should all endorse and ones which will be acceptable. We have to wait for the preparatory conferences. We have some very ambitious demands which I do not think we have a chance of getting accepted internationally, but we are still in negotiation for them.
(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 with him.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Prescott) I have been here 30 years and I have learned that bit.
(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 paper - in fact I will say every paper - and 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.
(Mr Prescott) I agree with you and they are some of the arguments we do plug.
(Mr Prescott) Yes.
(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.
(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.
(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 targets, 2010-2012 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 2010-2012. Looking at international conventions, that is pretty fast movement, I have to tell you.
(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.
(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".
(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.
(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.
(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 aims - which were defined, reducing by half those who do not have access to water, sanitation, education, we set figures on them - for 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 bigger picture.
(Mr Wood) Yes.
(Mr Prescott) You have to take the Cabinet Committee and then take different departments. Take the Department, they have a whole environment section dealing with this. They are the ones who are the lead department. We do not lead the policy in that sense, we make sure we co-ordinate it and get it right. The lead department get on with it and in many Cabinet Committees that I chair I just make sure we get co-ordination and agreement. I do not need a lot of staff to do that. I just need a lot of common sense and a bit of push.
(Mr Wood) Our total complement is 18.
(Mr Wood) That is three of us full time; there are others putting some of their effort into that and some of the support staff included in that 18.
(Mr Prescott) It is not the thousands going into Admiralty Court.
(Mr Prescott) We were very much influenced by what was in the Rio Conference because we had agreed to do that, so it was very useful to do that. We made a political decision to concentrate on some of these more social and political factors and then to ask industry what we can do, because this is about partnership development, not just about government money. So we ask our water industries whether they can give some sense of training, investment, education and help on water and sanitation. We agree with the City on financial services, on sustainable finance. Similarly with tourism and our energy input. We put all these together, where we can get people to play a positive part, not just government money but partnership and other stakeholders delivering them, which is what influenced us to put this package together.
(Mr Prescott) Absolutely; yes.
(Mr Prescott) Yes.
(Mr Prescott) There is no contradiction between the five sectoral demands and the others. We have fitted them together. We have said that if we can do this can private industry help us to produce this and the NGOs and that is one system. Then we argue that is the best approach in Europe. I understand that the Commission are prepared to accept that this is a good way. I might point out that the Commission's proposals on greenhouse gases said 15 per cent. We had to say we thought that was nonsense and went on to come to an agreement which was more acceptable.
(Mr Prescott) Success.
(Mr Prescott) That is a very fair point and I was coming to that. You must define it and not allow all these demands to make it a failure. You have to work hard. If we can actually get movements in this, for example if the Johannesburg plan of action sets out these things as programmes, but puts a timetable for them, which we did for the millennium objective, which was another objective which influenced us on this, by 2015 I should like to see Johannesburg come out with a plan of action, a timetable for monitoring it and for adjustments and changes by 2015, as we did with Kyoto.
(Mr Prescott) Yes, I want to see movement on all of these and it is possible.
(Mr Prescott) I am going to find out. We should do that. What I should say is that conference should not say up or down. It should look at what is practicable, move on. This is back to the point about how often these conferences take place. Kyoto was important because we made a move at every stage and we defined success, instead of making impossible demands and having failure. If you can keep that momentum, my experience says do that with Johannesburg, let that be a gear change from Rio 10, let the emphasis be, as the South Africans say, People, Planet and Prosperity. We define these objectives, we set a timetable and judge it along the way by monitoring. By setting that timetable the whole Kyoto timetable then comes into a similar framework and then at the end of the stage perhaps even the Americans might be on board with us on these things.
(Mr Prescott) Absolutely.
(Mr Prescott) I am not sure whether they have been left out or not. Treasury is never left off anything, as we all know from direct appeals. As I understand it Education and DTI are very involved in the objectives we are talking about because they bring together both trade, finance and all those matters.
(Mr Prescott) I do not know what has gone wrong but I certainly have them on this bit of paper. Perhaps I could write to the Committee. For example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, International Development, Trade and Industry, Works and Pensions, Transport, then the representatives from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I admit this one does not seem to have Education.
(Mr Prescott) It is absolutely important. I do not doubt that for a second. I am sorry, I cannot understand why it is not on this list. My own information is that in discussions on these matters they are actively involved. If you would like me to drop you a note to explain or an apology or whatever it might be, I shall be delighted to do that.
Chairman: That would be useful.
(Mr Prescott) Absolutely.
(Mr Prescott) I shall most certainly do that. I cannot understand why not and I am sure from memory that Education have been involved, though they are clearly not on this list. I shall write back to the Committee.
(Mr Prescott) More than we can get.
(Mr Prescott) There are many educational packs, approaches we have done on all these occasions. Let me take Kyoto. Kyoto only became of interest not when nations got together and said they would do something but when they saw storms and the ice caps melting and began to realise something was going wrong or by their own interpretation of what was happening to the blackbird or whatever it was. They had experiences and they became concerned and they were probably right to be concerned about it. It was only then they took interest in the early stages; a conference about it did not register with them.
(Mr Prescott) They seem to be in pretty full force today.
(Mr Prescott) The press are gone when we get to the serious stuff.
(Mr Prescott) We do it all the time. If you are relying on the press to get it across you have not much chance of interesting them in a speech on sustainability. I see some of the serious reporters are still here so ask them about the difficulty of getting some of these stories in. I ring up and say I am making a speech on sustainability. We keep doing it, please do not assume we do not. At the end of the day, if I look at the NGOs, they are quite emphatic about the whole business of Kyoto. They have not said a great deal publicly in the way they did on Kyoto about sustainability. This is not a criticism of NGOs, they have the same difficulties we have, but these issues are important and we will keep pressing them. I do not know what you can say to make an awful lot of people use the website. There are all sorts of reasons why they use websites, are there not? We live in that kind of society. There are people who try to make these issues attractive, they do seriously put forward serious arguments and they get space for them but in the main I am afraid it does not make it but we still keep doing it. I do not know the answer. If you give me about five points I shall take them away and do them.
Joan Walley: Maybe we have to look at something like Pop Idol, I do not know, but it has to be as important to young people particularly because we are really talking about education and talking about people understanding what is needed to save the world.
(Mr Prescott) To be fair DEFRA have been doing it. If you look at their programme, they have been organising these conferences and we all attend them in different ways and they have been doing that.
(Mr Prescott) What is front page news in our papers? It has nothing to do with news, does it? If it were serious stuff, we might be in with a chance.
Chairman: I entirely appreciate what you say about the difficulty of getting through for an issue like sustainability. For many people and for the media it may be a turn-off. The fact is that the approach of some of the key departments is rather underwhelming. For example, I have a memorandum here from the Treasury, two sides of paper. At the end of the first paragraph they say they have not actively publicised the summit or their own involvement. That does not exactly show enthusiasm.
Joan Walley: I have the DTI one here which say that they have not undertaken any particular actions on their own account to publicise the summit or their involvement in the preparations.
(Mr Prescott) You cannot say that. The Treasury have done quite a lot of things. I know you have your criticism of whether they do enough but frankly if you contrast this Treasury with any other, perhaps it is just that it has come at this time, they have done quite a lot on the green issue initiative side. You have looked at it a great deal and you have made proper criticisms of their programmes. Perhaps I should have said to you that there is a communications strategy which was set up at the same time as this. One of the objectives is to raise awareness of it and we have used a number of things to achieve that: to work with the key stakeholders, the NGOs ... I shall not read it all. We have established that. What we are complaining about here is that it is not getting over to a lot of people who either read it in the paper or see it on the television. There are difficulties with that, no matter how we put it out. If I were to sack my special adviser or this guy here, that might reach the front page, but it would not be anything to do with sustainability, unless it were my political career and then it would become an issue of sustainability.
(Mr Prescott) Most NHS stories are critical stories. You do not hear positive ones, but everything must have some positive side. BBC are classic at that. I should like to say this about the BBC. If you look at the programme they did on the Blue Planet, that was one of the best things I have seen about sustainability and life on this planet. Some of their programmes are really superb. It is only when a political journalist gets hold of it that it does no good, but we keep pressing.
Chairman: Deputy Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed. That was a very interesting session.