The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Statement at the Launch of the Rio Documents – 25 January 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement at the launch of the Rio Documents on 25th January 1993.


When I, and 117 other Heads of Government, put our names to the Rio agreements in June 1992, we all knew it was just a beginning. The environmental challenges the world faces are immense. We all knew that signatures in Rio would mean nothing unless they resulted in action at home.

Today we are launching four documents which take the Rio process forward.

– our Climate change plan – to meet our commitment to return the UK’s CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000; a commitment now backed by substantive measures to change the way we use energy;

– our biodiversity plan – to show how we propose to conserve our natural heritage for the benefit of future generations and for the rest of the world;

– our forestry plan – setting out how we propose to manage our forests in a sustainable way.

Over-arching all these, is the UK’s strategy for sustainable development. It is a long and complex document. I make no apology for that. It is a big and difficult subject. But it is one that is crucial to the quality of life of everyone in the country.

Sustainable development is a jargon expression. But the problem it addresses is real. It is about meeting the global environmental challenges we face – how to tackle climate change, how to remove the threat to the ozone layer, how to preserve the variety of plant and animal life.

They may sound remote to many people. But they’re not. And much of sustainable development is very real to people. It is about ensuring the good quality of the air we breathe in our cities, the water we drink, maintaining the countryside we all enjoy. All this does not mean calling a halt to economic growth – it means ensuring that the growth we need does not exact an unacceptable price from our environment.
It is a huge task. A task too big for government alone. The report has been drawn up only after long consultation with business, voluntary bodies and local authorities. John Gummer will be explaining how we propose to involve them all in taking the strategy forward and how we plan to involve individual citizens.

But government also requires advice. We are often operating in uncharted territory. We are learning as we go along. The environment requires us to think on a longer time scale than Ministers and civil servants often do. It requires us to think beyond the normal pigeon-holing of Departmental responsibility. In that task, we need frank advice of the highest quality.

For that reason I am establishing a panel of people with long and distinguished track records in science, business and the environment to aid the Government in this task:

– Sir Crispin Tickell – a man whose environmental credentials are known to you all as Director of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding, Chairman of the International Institute for Environment and Development and who has, most recently, been chairing the advisory committee on the Darwin Initiative;
– Lord Alexander – under whose guidance NatWest Bank had become widely renowned as an environmental innovator;
– Dr Anne MacLaren – Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, a distinguished scientist with a European reputation;
– Lord Selborne – Chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee who has tremendous breadth in practical nature conservation in which the UK leads the world;
– and Sir John Houghton – Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution – who, more than anyone, has been responsible for pushing climate change to the top of the international agenda.

I am delighted that Sir Crispin, Lord Selborne and Sir John can be with us today.

The task of the Panel is to give independent advice on issues of strategic importance to the Government as a whole. In particular:
– to keep in view general sustainability issues at home and abroad
– to identify key threats and opportunities; and
– to monitor progress and consider priorities.

I am grateful to them. There are few tasks more important than securing the well-being of future generations.