Prescott goes diving to save the Maldives

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The Independent Online
JOKES ABOUT Peter Mandelson are out. John Prescott, who once compared the former Cabinet minister to a crab, will be avoiding any mention of the crustaceans when he drops in on the undersea world of the Maldives.

The Deputy Prime Minister announced yesterday he is planning to dive on the teeming coral seabed in the Indian Ocean islands on the final leg of a trip to India to highlight the threat to one of the world's most beautiful holiday locations. If global warming is not checked by measures agreed at the earth summits, the Maldives could be lost.

As he announced the trip yesterday, Mr Prescott was asked what he was going to do to stop the islands being submerged. He said he was not planning to act like King Canute, but the getting the agreement of the developed world to meet its world climate targets on pollution is one way of holding back the waters.

The Maldives is the fifth country to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which he helped to negotiate in 1997 setting a legally-binding global target of 5 per cent cuts in greenhouse gases by 2012.

The warm waters of the Maldives will present no fears for Mr Prescott, who, in Opposition, trained as a diver as part of a campaign he led for safety on North Sea oil rigs, and met the late Jacques Cousteau, the French underwater explorer. He even swam two miles along the cold and murky River Thames from Chelsea Bridge to Westminster to present a petition to Downing Street in a wet suit, when Lady Thatcher was in office, in a protest about dumping at sea.

The Deputy Prime Minister flew to India last night, where he will spend a week on an official visit, carrying a pledge of pounds 50,000 to help save tigers from the threat of extinction. The aid brings the total cash donated by Britain to protect dwindling tiger numbers there to pounds 200,000.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who is to be given a special award by Chester Zoo for his conservation work for tigers, told a London news conference that the trip was a "chance to listen and learn" from India about its commitment to meeting its targets on climate change.

Mr Prescott is to meet India's premier A B Vajpayee and make a keynote speech at the Millennium Tiger Conference in Delhi on Friday.

The former merchant seaman is planning an international initiative, after talks with Al Gore, the American vice president, to protect the seas.

Leading article, Review, page 3