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 Speech at the Global Technology Partnership Venture Conference – 24 March 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Global Technology Partnership Venture Conference, held in Birmingham on Wednesday 24th March 1993.


Perhaps right at the outset I may say how pleased I am to see how many of you have come here for this particular conference and clearly recognise the importance of the subject and the importance of the conference itself.

It does seem as we meet here this morning that Birmingham in March is a world away from Copa Cabana in June, and so I suppose in many ways it is. But this conference is an important staging post in the process that began at Rio last year and is the staging post for this reason, because today we move from discussion and negotiation to implementation and it will be implementation of what was agreed at Rio that will actually make the practical effect in the environment we hand on in the future.

You will be familiar with the events at Rio. In Rio leaders from over 120 countries came together to discuss the environmental challenges that all of us face. We in Britain were determined from the very outset to ensure that that conference at Rio was a success and I believe our early support, the determination to attend and to contribute was crucial in ensuring that Rio did turn out to be a success.

The core set of agreements that were reached at Rio are well known: climate convention to reduce the risk of global warming; the biodiversity convention to protect the varieties of plants and animal species and the statement on forest principles and a great deal more besides. Those were the agreements that Heads of Government all over the country signed up to in that remarkable conference in Rio. But we need to move beyond that, we need now to turn those agreements into reality and here also I wish to ensure that Britain is in the lead.

When we returned from the Rio conference I urged our partners in the G7 and in the European Community to action. On Monday of this week the United Kingdom played a significant part in an agreement reached at the European Community Environment Council, an agreement that committed all the European Community countries to take action to ratify the climate change.

That summit at Rio recognised the need for coordinated action. Global problems will only be solved by a global response. Without that one country can undo the good that is done by another. But we agreed also on some common sense precepts, that action would be most effective if it drew on the individual strengths of each country, but the action required was not just for governments alone and that action would succeed best if it went with the grain of the economy and not cut against the grain of the economy. And we took that view for a very practical reason – enlightened self-interest is a far more powerful weapon for change and improvements than grudging masochism.

Those are the ideas that will underlie our environmental strategy for the future. And that is why while at Rio I launched three special United Kingdom initiatives designed to draw on Britain’s individual strengths. First, on technology transfer which we are discussing today; second, on biodiversity which is already under way; and third, on involving non-governmental bodies which we will launch in the autumn.

I will say more in just a few moments about technology transfer, but let me just briefly remind you of the other programmes. The Darwin initiative that I announced at Rio draws on British expertise in the field of biodiversity and our aim quite simply is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s plant and animal resources. But in order to do so we will be putting the skills and expertise of world renowned institutions like the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and Edinburgh and the Natural History Museum at the disposal of the whole of the world.

Our initiative on non-governmental bodies will be taken forward in September when we will host The Partnership for Change 1993 Conference that will be held in Manchester. And the purpose of that is to bring together several hundred representatives from the world’s non-governmental organisations, the voluntary sector, local government and business, bringing them all together in that conference. And the aim will be to exchange practical experience on the delivery of sustainable development.

Over years in the past perhaps the role of the non-governmental organisations have been under-played. But I myself have not a shred of doubt that they played a very important part in the preparations for Rio and I want to see them equally involved in the future in taking the process forward. It is right that these NGOs should press action on governments right the way around the world. But apart from that they have a second role that is equally important, a vital role to play in involving a wider public in the debate on all environmental matters. Because ultimately it will be public acceptance of the threats that we all face that will create the climate for decisive action by governments all around the world.

The initiatives I have set out just briefly there are global initiatives. But the United Kingdom must demonstrate that it will do more than just offer assistance to others. We have to show that we are prepared to act here at home. For every single country the environmental buck stops in their own back yard, nowhere else, and that means governments around the world need to act, even when that means taking difficult and unpopular measures. And that was why we announced decisive action in the budget in the United Kingdom last week. The Chancellor announced that there would be long-term rises in the real level of road fuel duties and that Value Added Tax would be extended to the domestic use of fuel and of power. And in so doing he underlined Britain’s determination to meet our Rio commitments on Carbon Dioxide emissions. It makes no sense for the government to commit Britain to lower CO2 emissions but at the same time to be the only Western European government with no Value Added Tax on domestic fuel. It was, frankly, a text book case of perverse signals. Nor did it make any sense for the government to exhort motorists and manufacturers to choose and build fuel efficient cars while refusing to give them tangible incentives to make and to buy those cars.

And we announced these measures in the budget but gave people time to adjust to the new signals, that is why the increases have been announced well ahead for a series of reasons. To give households the time they need to adapt and to invest in making their homes more energy efficient, to give car manufacturers, and for that matter car buyers, time to realise that in the 1990s there will be an increasing premium on fuel efficient cars and to enable the government to put in place special measures to protect the least well off from the impact of those bills.

The Chancellor made our intentions clear in his budget speech and will announce full details of the usual way in which we will assist people in the benefit up-rating statement in the autumn.

What is the environmental impact of those measures? We expect those measures to deliver an annual reduction of 3 million tonnes of carbon by the turn of the century. But we cannot, and in my judgment we should not, meet those targets through tax changes alone, they are but one element in the programme. We expect an even larger saving to come from the measures we have already put in hand to boost the efficient use of energy. We already have programmes to offer advice and information and to provide grants to low income households.

We are adding new measures. The Energy Saving Trust to devise and implement programmes to improve energy efficiency in consultation with the energy utilities and with their regulators. And also a new energy management assistance scheme to help small businesses with advice on energy efficiency. When these measures are operative we will be two-thirds of the way towards meeting our target. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Howard, is now engaged on a nationwide consultation on the remaining elements. We need a comprehensive approach and that means using a whole range of instruments and seeking lower emissions from all sectors. We will need to build on the excellent record of business so far in improving its energy efficiency.

We set out options in the document published last December. We will complete consultations with business, with consumer, with environmental groups, and by the end of the year we will produce the national plan to meet our targets.

We warned some time ago in the first Environmental White Paper that meeting our CO2 target would mean a rise in the relative price of energy. That White Paper was published not last week but two-and-a-half years ago. We could, as some have urged, have introduced a new tax, a tax that would have meant not just higher bills for private consumers but also higher bills for business but as the Chancellor said last week, we did not want to take measures that would damage the competitiveness of British industry and I will tell you the practical reason why that is so for there is one other development which is essential to creating the conditions which mean that Britain can meet its Rio commitments and that is economic recovery. A tax that added to business costs, dulled competitiveness would at best have retarded that and at worst could have undermined it completely.

Some people argue that there is a choice between economic growth and the environment or even that growth is the enemy of the environment. I have to say to you that I believe precisely the reverse is true. Growing economies can invest in technologies which save energy or recycle waste, dynamic businesses can lead the way in raising the standard of corporate environmental practice and it is when people are confident about their own immediate future that they think most about the longer-term future. In short, “no development” is not sustainable development, “no growth” policies would mean no green policies either; they would range environmental concerns against concerns about jobs and concerns about living standards and that would wreck any chance of the shared commitment we need in order to make progress.

If that is true of Britain and true of the other industrialised countries, it is surely true a thousand times over of developing countries. It is no accident that wherever you look in the world, the worst environmental degradation is found within some of the weakest economies. Allowing countries to grow out of poverty is the best way of securing long-term environmental improvement.

Our economy and our ecology are interdependent. That was the central driving principle of the Earth Summit but to maintain and improve the world environment in the face of rapidly-rising populations we must all invest, and to invest on the vast scale needed nations need income and to earn that income nations must trade and that is why a successful and rapid conclusion to the Uruguay Round is vital to our environmental future. Over time, a successful conclusion would raise the income of developing countries by some 100 billion dollars each and every year and that increase in income will have a far more positive effect on their willingness and their ability to protect their local environment than stalling GATT by erecting green trade barriers. Trade protection is the enemy – not the friend – of environmental protection.

I want to see us harness together environmental protection and business opportunity to create a green virtuous spiral of growth and higher environmental standards and if we are to be able to achieve that we need to draw together those who have technology to offer and those who can benefit from the technology that is now available in different parts of the world. I believe the British Government can make a special contribution in doing this and that is why today I am delighted to launch the Global Technology Partnership initiative.

Consider for a moment some of the lessons of history. The countries which industrialised in the 19th and early 20th centuries have now had to re-invent technology to meet today’s demands for cleaner air, fresher water, unsullied land and the aim of this particular initiative is to allow those who are newly industrialising today to bypass the old technologies and to move straight to cleaner processes. That surely is the logical and rational way to avoid environmental degradation and to avoid too the very heavy clean-up costs which eventually result from environmental degradation and if you want an illustration of that there is certainly one readily available. The countries of Eastern Europe suffered under governments which went for unclean industrial development for generations while ignoring the environmental consequences and they now demonstrate in the starkest possible way the price to be paid – the environmental price and also the case price – as they seek to protect and reverse the damage that has been done over so many decades.

I believe that British industry has a long track record of successful technology co-operation around the world from recycling in Kenya to energy efficiency in India and what we want to ensure is quite simply this: to ensure that that expertise is both more widely available and more widely used.

Consider the opportunities for that: the opportunities for that are almost limitless. The world market for environmental goods and services is at about 200 billion dollars a year; it is anticipated to grow by a further 50% in the next seven years and beyond that any estimates I suspect would be worthless but certainly further growth will occur. That is a prospect that few businesses will wish to ignore so there are valuable commercial opportunities and technology transfer which takes place as a hard commercial transaction which passes the market test is I believe the technology transfer that is most likely to succeed. Both partners must have a vested interest in its success; the technology must be the best, the most appropriate the customer needs and if it is not, they will not buy it so there is this element of joint interest.

This Conference and this initiative are built to promote precisely such exchanges of technology. They are designed to promote partnership between Britain and developing countries, a partnership that like all successful partnerships will work precisely because both partners have something to offer and something to gain from the relationship between them.

Global Technology Partnership will run for three years and in so doing create the conditions for increasing successful transfers of technology. First, it will provide information. It is one thing to point to the benefits of technology transfer but what those of you from overseas need is hard concrete information – who can help and with what can they help and when can they help? That information is there in the Department of Trade & Industry’s new Guide to UK Sources of Environmental Technology and Services and that lists over 400 UK companies who can offer technology or expertise.

That Guide is a first step but guides get out of date. You need to know where to turn for news and for the latest developments so we have established a new network of organisations to keep that information flowing and the purpose is that through that particular network we shall give developing countries direct access to the guidance on the best environmental practice which we will make available to British industry. We will aim to expand it, to include as many organisations as possible, organisations who can help the process of technology co-operation.

But the network will work in another way as well; it will also feed back information from abroad to businesses here to ensure that special local problems abroad are more widely understood so that our businesses here in the United Kingdom can develop technologies specifically tailored to the needs of overseas countries and we are setting up a new unit in the Department of Trade & Industry that will be particularly dedicated to coordinating this initiative and making sure that it is a success.

There is one other important point often, alas, overlooked. People matter as much as hardware. There is no more depressing sight than an expensive piece of equipment gleaming unused or misused because technology transfer has meant only the equipment transfer and that particular piece of equipment. Successful technology transfer needs more than that. It requires also the transfer of technical and management skills to be in place to ensure that technologies can be used and diffused in the recipient countries so a vital element of this initiative will be a practical training through a hands-on training scheme. United Kingdom companies will help senior businessmen and women from developing countries to acquire practical experience of modern technology, modern management and modern production methods and the benefits they gain from that will surely multiply as they pass on those skills back home in their own countries.

This Conference runs for three days. In those three days, you will be able to address workshops addressing the most important environmental challenges. The workshops are organised and led not by civil servants but by practical businessmen. They will, I hope, address your needs and alert you to the opportunities that exist. I hope that at the end of those three days you will be able to leave this Conference with a greater sense of how far business can help business to meet the challenge of sustainable development into the next century.

At Rio, we recognised that governments could and should set the framework, could and should act as catalysts but we also recognised that we could not and should not claim that we can deliver that change on our own. Here at Birmingham today, the business community represent one of the powerful forces for the improvement of the well-being of people in all our countries but business is an equally powerful force for the protection of the environment in all countries. There are challenges for you in these next three days and beyond but there are also enormous prizes to be won, business prizes and environmental prizes, if business in this country and abroad is able to rise to the challenges that are there.

I hope at the end of these three days when you leave Birmingham you will leave Birmingham believing as I believe that the business communities of the United Kingdom and developing countries must work together. Not only that, but that it is to their mutual commercial and environmental advantage to work together but also beyond that ultimately – and this is a matter of crucial importance to this generation and to future generations as well – their working together will be to the enormous benefit of the environment we depend upon and the people we serve.

As we look at that, we should perhaps bear one thing further in our minds. In twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years from now, people will look back at the actions we took now to see whether we have taken the right action to protect our environment for the future. We have the technology, we have the capacity to transfer that technology; it is a matter of will and determination to make sure that we do. I hope this Conference will assist in bringing that will and that determination into being so that the technology transfer can be made for this generation and for the next. [Applause].