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1989 Mar 7 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference closing London Saving the Ozone Layer Conference

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Between 0940 and 1240.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3060
Themes: Autobiography (marriage & children), Environment, Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Science & technology

Prime Minister

Just a very few words because you have already had two major speeches this morning and a great deal else to report.

I would just like to say that this Conference has really exceeded all our expectations. I think that people have learned a great deal from it. We have learned what technical solutions are likely to be available in the coming years and learned how we intend to put them to practical use.

I also have found that all of the delegates have thoroughly enjoyed the Conference and many of them have asked for videos of the very good films which the Central Office of Information has done for us.

We look forward to following up in successor conferences the requisite Montreal Conventions and Protocols. We have been very very pleased that over twenty new countries have signed the Montreal Protocol and, as Dr Tolba indicated this morning, some ten or eleven are intending also to do so—fourteen now—it goes up every time we come on to this platform. [end p1]

So I think it would be better if we now opened the Conference up to your questions because I think you must be saturated with information. Bernard InghamBernard is in the chair. [end p2]

Question

In her opening remarks to the Conference, the Prime Minister urged the delegations not to set their sights too low. A few hours later, no doubt mindful of these words, the leader of the delegation from the European Economic Community, Sr Ripa di Meana, said it was his opinion that the target for 100 percent CFC phase-out, agreed in Brussels the week before, of the end of the century not only should be, but also could be, advanced to 1996, 1997, and that if he could he would try to make this the mandate for the European countries at the Helsinki Conference. Could we ask the Prime Minister what specifically you think of that suggested new target date?

Prime Minister

I think it depends upon the rate of technological advance which research and getting into industrial production can achieve. That is not necessarily a matter upon which politicians can pronounce.

As you know, ICI has an enormous research programme and so have some of the other big companies too. We cannot just say what they will find and we cannot just say how rapidly it will become available.

As we come nearer the time, perhaps in three or four years, we will find that they have gone faster. We do not know. We do know at the moment they are making a supreme effort, for which we are very grateful and we also know that public opinion is very much aware of the need to respond and are responding magnificently. [end p3]

Question

I would like to ask Madam Prime Minister. I saw the most dreadful film on Panorama yesterday from Brazil. Are you putting extra pressure on Brazil to stop cutting and burning down the rainforests because it is really, as you know, it is quite dreadful? What are you going to do about it?

Prime Minister

We are all aware about the rainforests because it is the rainforests which do the majority of fixation of carbon dioxide. And that, and the chain in the sea, those are the two main means of fixing carbon dioxide and therefore the two main ways of stopping so much carbon dioxide from going up into the atmosphere and having the greenhouse effect and we simply must try to do everything we can to keep a balance between the two.

Now first I think we are looking at every programme for Brazil which goes through the World Bank or through bilateral means very carefully indeed in the light of the knowledge we now have. Because so many of the things we used to do unwittingly have perhaps contributed to the destruction of those forests.

Now as I indicated in my speech, and I think Dr Tolba will be the first to confirm this, we have to do things with the cooperation of other countries and that first means indicating to them the importance of keeping those forests. [end p4]

Secondly, we in our bilateral aid programmes have for some time been doing everything we can to help with reafforestation and we know from our research that the tropical forest plantations actually are more efficient at fixing carbon dioxides than the ordinary untreated forests.

So we will be doing everything we can through the World Bank, bilaterally, but we can only do it with the cooperation of the people of Brazil and for that we must persuade them. That is the main weapon that politicians have.

Yes it is important but it is important for other countries, as well as Brazil, to maintain tropical forests.

Question

In the light of the seriousness of the problem of ozone depletion, can you foresee the need for any statutory measures to accelerate the pace of phase-out?

Prime Minister

As I indicated in an answer to a previous question, there is no point in statutory measures yet. First you have got to have the substitute chemicals that are not only available in the laboratory, not only available in pilot plant form but are available commercially and in retail form. [end p5]

Now that is taking a time, as you have seen, but some of the work is well under way. If, when they they are all available, we find people are not responding then in fact we shall have to have regulations, otherwise we should not meet our target.

But as a matter of fact, at the moment it is very interesting that industry is very much aware of public opinion and public opinion is really leading the way on this. Perhaps you do not go into supermarkets, but you know you have things that are ozone-friendly and they go far faster than things that are not ozone-friendly. And people who buy aerosols are coming to say: “Are they ozone-friendly?” , that is to say have you got the substitute aerosol propellant that in fact is very very much helpful to the atmosphere and not harmful to the ozone layer.

They are doing that. They will be on to the next thing very quickly and your manufacturers make their money by pleasing their customers. And everyone is involved. It is not as if we are having difficulty in selling this idea to most people. They have begun to realise the danger of everyday living if we do not in fact do our level best to get rid of those chemicals.

Question

Prime Minister, in your speech you mentioned the need for the nations to move together but you also noted that the Montreal Protocol provides special measures for the Third World countries. [end p6]

What would you think of a more explicit two-tier approach in which the industrialised countries, particularly the Europeans and the United States, move ahead as fast as they can, recognising that the developing countries would be considerably slower and possibly not worrying over much about that?

Prime Minister

We shall move ahead as fast as we can because we know, and it has been underlined to us at this Conference, the seriousness of the position. So we are going to move ahead as fast as we can and undoubtedly the firms which get the latest chemicals or the latest processes will patent them or licence them in the customary way.

The message of this Conference has been: it is not only some countries that must move ahead as fast as they can, but every country must take some action. So in practice I think it probably will be two-speed but the precise method and precise speed at which it moves forward will be determined at the Review Conferences of the Montreal process, the first one in Helsinki and the second one here, under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Agency.

Would Dr Tolba like to add to that? [end p7]

Dr Tolba

I think, Madam Prime Minister, your answer is correct but the fact is there that there is already a two-tier action. In fact the existing Montreal Protocol is calling on those who have more than 0.3 kilogram per year per capita to cut down. The others are having a grace period of ten years. So the two-tier action is already built in and this will be reviewed basically in the next meeting that you announced that will be here. They will take policy decisions in Helsinki but the action will be in the next meeting here in London.

Question (James Wilkinson)

Prime Minister, could I ask you, talking of the environment, where the hundred of millions of pounds is coming from which will be needed to put the rail link to the Channel Tunnel underground?

Prime Minister

I really do not think that arises from the Ozone Conference. I think you are making a very very good effort. I congratulate you upon it, but I shall keep to the clear guidelines that the Chairman announced at the beginning of the Conference.

Question (Roger Bernheim)

… the setting up of a special fund. Are you in agreement with that? Would you support it and if yes, under which institution, the World Bank or what? [end p8]

Prime Minister

The World Bank is a special fund, if I might respectfully say so, it is a special fund and we contribute to it. And I think we are going to look at the programmes very much more with an eye to the effect on the environment than we have done in the past. As you know, we have to because there is a big programme with relation to Brazil and it is already causing quite a bit of controversy.

With our bilateral aid we shall also look very much more carefully on environmental matters and of course we also contribute to the Lomé Convention in Europe. And we already do, as you know from our leaflets from the Overseas Aid, we have been having a programme of assistance with reafforestation and the maintenance of forests and tropical forests for a very long time.

So we are already very well underway and I have announced an increase in funds to the United Nations Environmental Programme. [end p9]

Question

Prime Minister, you have indicated that the rate at which CFCs will be phased out is going to be determined by the speed with which the chemical companies can find substitutes. I understood the purpose of this Conference, in fact, was to save the ozone layer and surely saving the ozone layer is determined by the speed with which the science tells you you should phase out CFCs?

Prime Minister

Yes, but making speeches does not necessarily get scientific results! It is only the research—the steady research—and the inspiration of the scientists which in fact finds the results and if that had not been so, we should have of course have known about the ozone layer quite some time ago. But making speeches here will not necessarily get results on the laboratory benches. [end p10]

They are doing systematic research. There are already some less potent chemicals available which are very much better for aerosols—that is an interim solution—and some of them have already got much further.

When you have got the results in the laboratory, as some of you will know, you then have to go to pilot plants and you will then have to do all the engineering research to get the technology in. For example, on domestic refrigerators, there is a plan to produce by 1991 HFC 134A. They have done the work on that, they have gone on the pilot phase, they are going into production; and on commercial applications HCFC 22 can be used. So they are getting the less damaging ones as an interim and in some cases they are already on to the next, but you cannot determine what a scientist can find, no matter how good your questions or how brilliant my answers.

Question

Prime Minister, I have a related question to the one you were just asked.

In the light of criticisms made yesterday of the representation here at the Conference of industrial alternatives to CFCs, how do you justify the absence of non-fluorocarbon or non-chemical alternatives? [end p11]

Prime Minister

I cannot say precisely what alternatives will be found. What we do know is that the industrial companies—I have mentioned one, Du Pont also has a very extensive research programme, and two others who were downstairs in the exhibition. We cannot say what solutions they will find obviously, and they believe that they will be able to find solutions just as they found the original chemicals in the first place.

Question

Several Third World countries in the Conference called for financial assistance to help to switch to non-CFC alternatives over and above existing aid.

Is your Government willing to provide financial assistance over and above existing aid as well as looking at the environmental implications of that aid?

Prime Minister

We think, first, that we can use our existing aid—which is actually increasing—very much better than we are at present and having an initial eye to environmental projects.

We shall, of course, not cease other aid. It is vital that we have a look at some of the other factors which I mentioned in the speech. But we think the way ahead initially is the way which I [end p12] indicated: we contribute to the World Bank, we contribute to Lomé, we have bilateral aid, and the fourth way in which we contribute, which is very relevant to setting up alternative chemical plants in other countries, is through the Aid and Trade Provision. We will have a look at all of those things.

Incidentally, your substitutes to your CFCs will not necessarily be very much more expensive than your CFCs. I think, if I might say so, the real problem is going to come in the greenhouse effect where, of course, the cost problems are very much greater and the battle is on to get as much capacity to fix the CO2 and keep it here to counteract the enormous increase in burning of fossil fuels which, of course, release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Question

Will this, Mrs. Thatcher, mean more money for British science, particularly the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, who say they are under-funded by £6 million?

Prime Minister

I have intervened twice to see that the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge has funds to support its activities. They, in fact, have done—I think as most of them would admit—very well [end p13] indeed and I think they have £25 million out of the extra £71 million which is going to environmental research. I think I am right in saying that some £25 million of that is going to the British Antarctic Survey. There are other people who would also like some extra money and the whole of the basic scientific budget has been increased in real terms this year.

Question

Mrs. Prime Minister, on Saturday there will be a conference in The Hague, in the Netherlands, on the same subject. What will be the level of the UK delegation to this conference and is there any kind of competition between this Conference here in London and the conference which will be held in The Hague?

Prime Minister

No kind of competition at all. This Conference was announced quite a long time before the other one. We shall not be present at the other one. The other one is to set up a new institution.

You saw what I said in the speech about new institutions. We have enough institutions at present. We have the United Nations Environmental Programme, we have the World Meteorological Organisation and the International Climatology Conference and we [end p14] have the European Economic Community, there would also be the Council of Europe. We do not see the need to set up a new institution. We believe in calling conferences which try to get on or put further forward the tasks which have to be done and so, because we do not believe in new institutions, let alone in the compulsion of sanctions, we shall not be there.

Question

The French Secretary for Environment said yesterday that he was not pushing for especially a new institution and it could be only the reinforcement of the United Nations Programme for the Environment. In your speech a little while ago, you said that Great Britain would double its contribution to the programme of Dr. Tolba 's institution. What is the contribution of Great Britain for PNEU (phon)? You said you will double.

Prime Minister

For the environmental programme?

Questioner

Yes.

Prime Minister

It is comparatively small. It is £1.5 million—it will go up to £3 million immediately. [end p15]

Platform Speaker

One and a quarter!

Prime Minister

Well you had better put it up to £1.5, so it can go up to £3, hadn't you! (laughter and applause)

It will go up to £3 million (applause). That will teach people to give me wrong briefing, won't it!

Question

Prime Minister, can I ask if everything is now rather more urgent for you personally since the arrival in this polluted world of a new little Thatcher?

Prime Minister

Shall we say that it has a perhaps even greater and deeper personal meaning?

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, we have had twenty extra signatures to the Montreal Protocol at this Conference. Are you not disappointed that there over a hundred countries here and more have not expressed their desire to sign? [end p16]

Prime Minister

No, I am not. I think twenty extra signatories—and I think it is now about another fourteen seriously considering it—is very good, because it is a very specific protocol and they cannot in fact sign it unless they can see their way clear to doing what it requires and you would not expect them suddenly, unless they had already considered it very carefully, to undertake that protocol unless they were certain they could perform.

No, I think it is very good and it augurs well for the future and I think the degree of awareness and the degree of knowledge which has come from this Conference will help them to go back and to renew their efforts.

Mr. Ridley

One of those fourteen who, I think, are likely to sign soon is in fact China and the size of the Chinese population I think underlines the enormous importance if China joins the protocol with 1.1 billion people.

Question

Can I just ask for any observations the Prime Minister might have on Mr. Tolba 's suggestion for a plan to help the developed countries make transition, a plan that would include debt remission favouring environmental protection? [end p17]

Prime Minister

Several times this general point has come up. I think it is worth pursuing. None of us has a precise method of doing it and any such suggestion would have to be pursued with the greatest possible sensitivity with those countries which have debt.

Can I just stress we are not in the business of dictatorship to other countries. We have no such authority, nor any such wish. We are in the business of cooperation by persuasion.