» Tuesday, September 14, 2004

PM’s Environment Speech

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) briefed journalists on the Prime Minister’s speech on the environment which he was due to deliver at an event this evening. He said that the speech would refer to some of the measures which we had already taken – and would continue to take – on the domestic front. However, the Prime Minister would not go into so much detail partly because it would be the focus of DEFRA’s five year plan which was due to be published later this year, but also because the main rationale of today’s speech was the Prime Minister’s view that while “domestic action is important, a problem that is global in cause and scope can only be fully addressed through international agreement……It is hugely important that our efforts to stabilise the climate are based on global agreement”. In trying to reach such a consensus, he would say that it was the richest countries which were the main contributors to the problem, but it was the poorest countries which suffered most from severe weather events, such as longer and hotter droughts and rising ocean levels. The onus, therefore, was on the former to solve the problem. That was why we had made climate change the focal point of our G8 Presidency next year, in addition to Africa. The Prime Minister would take the opportunity to outline three objectives this evening to tackle this problem. Firstly, to obtain an agreement on the basic science on climate change and the threat it posed. Such an agreement would be new and would provide the foundation for further action. Secondly, to obtain agreement on a process to identify the science and technology measures necessary to meet the threat. Thirdly, the involvement of nations beyond the G8, particularly China and India (but not exclusively them) who will also be crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Given the different positions of the G8 nations on this issue, such an agreement would be a major advance – and in the Prime Minister’s view it was achievable. As preparatory work for such a deal, he would also announce that, prior to the G8 meeting itself, we were proposing to hold an international scientific meeting at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter in February next year.

Asked if the Prime Minister would single out the US and President Bush for criticism in his speech, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had underlined in the past, it was important not to personalise this issue. It should be remembered that the US’s hostility to the Kyoto agreement had existed during President Clinton’s tenure and had also been reflected in the Senate vote on this issue. It was also worth noting that the US remained a signatory to other international agreements, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We acknowledged that different G8 countries held different views. But that was why it was so important to try to form an international consensus – hence the first ‘stepping stone’ in terms of our objectives for the G8 Presidency. It went without saying that until we obtained agreement on the nature of the problem, it would be impossible to obtain a global agreement to move that problem forward.

Asked if he would agree that although President Bush might not want to sign up to the Kyoto agreement, he had accepted the existence of the problem of climate change and agreed in principle that something needed to be done about it, the PMOS repeated that it would not be helpful to personalise the issue. The central point was how to convince those who recognised there was a problem but who were worried about the impact on economic growth – a reduction in which, it should be noted, would also diminish the resources available to deal with it. In our view, the desire both to experience economic growth and deal with the problem of climate change were perfectly compatible. The key question was how to do it. One of our G8 objectives was to show that new technologies could help. However, it was necessary to obtain agreement on the nature of the problem and the ways of dealing with it and then ‘sell it’ to developing countries such as India, China, Brazil, by engaging with them on the issue.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS reiterated that that the Prime Minister’s speech tonight was not focussed at any one particular country. Climate change was a global problem, with the added difficulty being that different G8 countries held differing positions on it. To reduce the issue to one country or one person was to misunderstand what it was all about. It was important to analyse – on an international level – not just the nature of the problem but the also the nature of the solutions to it. This would be at the core of the UK’s approach to climate change during its Presidency of the G8 next year. In our view, it was important to point out the costs to the world as a whole were climate change to be ignored. Indeed, the Prime Minister agreed with Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, that the environmental impact could be catastrophic. But equally there would be an impact on the world economy, and it was therefore in our economic interest, as well as our moral interest, to deal with the problem. Asked if the Prime Minister was talking about walking away from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto process, the PMOS said no. As the Prime Minister had underlined consistently, Kyoto was the right path to take, but it was not ambitious enough since it was not enough to resolve the problem of climate change on its own. For example, the UK was on target to meet its Kyoto greenhouse emissions obligations – emissions were 14% lower today they were in 1990. However, we were not being complacent. We had to do more if we were going to meet the carbon dioxide target. It was clear that everyone had much more work to do on this matter. No one should be standing still.

Asked if the Prime Minister would use his speech tonight to set out any economic initiatives to tackle the problem of climate change, such as carbon trading or carbon taxes, the PMOS said he did not think the Prime Minister would go into such detail. However, he was aware of the need to build such issues into the international debate. This was all about trying to get the basis for an international consensus – in the same way that we were had to tried to reach a consensus on Africa through the Commission on Africa. The purpose of the G8 was to identify the key issues which we believed the world had to face up to. In our view, that meant climate change and Africa, both of which would be our focal points during our Presidency of the G8 next year.

Asked if new nuclear power stations would have to be built if the climate change problem was going to be dealt with, the PMOS said that our position on nuclear power remained as set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper which stated, “While nuclear power is currently an important source of carbon-free electricity, the current economics of nuclear power make it an unattractive option for new generating capacity and there are also important issues for nuclear waste to be resolved. This White Paper does not contain proposals for building new nuclear power stations. However, we do not rule out the possibility that at some point in the future new nuclear build might be necessary if we are to meet our carbon targets”. Put to him that Adrian Gault, the director of strategic development at the DTI’s energy strategy unit, had warned that nuclear power would have to provide half of the UK’s electricity needs if the Government was going to meet its obligations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the PMOS said that this suggestion had been set out in an Options Paper which had been produced just before the White Paper last year. We recognised that Options Papers could be made to look like policy decisions. However, they were not. Ministers had not seen the one in question.

Asked about the status of Stephen Byers in the light of his visit to the US this week to discuss the issue of climate change, the PMOS said that he did not have a Government role.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

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    Comment by Ben Green — 16 Sep 2004 on 1:49 pm | Link

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