U.S. Has Three-Pronged Climate Change Strategy, Envoy Says

by William Yeatman on December 6, 2004

in Kyoto Negotiations, Politics

The United States is pursuing a three-pronged climate change strategy that is equal to the efforts of any other nation to address this environmental issue, which is the focus of attention at a major international meeting underway in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“We believe we match or exceed what any other country in the world is doing to address” climate change and the need to control greenhouse gas emissions, said Harlan Watson, senior climate negotiator for the U.S. State Department, speaking at a press briefing on the sidelines of the conference of the parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The first prong in the U.S. strategy is to reduce carbon intensity — that is, the amount of carbon emissions generated per dollar of economic output — and consequently to reduce emissions.

“Second, we are making substantial investments in science and technology and institutions designed to address both climate change in the near term and in the long term,” Watson said to the international press. The senior official, also the alternate head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting, said the United States is spending about $5 billion annually on science and technology projects, including solar and renewable energy technologies, and advanced, still-developing technologies such as nuclear fission and fusion.

The United States has established partnership arrangements with other nations in pursuit of those technological breakthroughs, and that is the third element of the U.S. strategy.

“We have well over 200 projects with our partners addressing climate change science, clean energy technologies, earth observations, and so forth,” said Watson. The United States and partners are working to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors, new methods for the capture and storage of fossil fuel emissions, and the technologies and support structure to move society toward a hydrogen-energy based economy.

The looming implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is the main agenda item at the UNFCCC. The United States is not a party to that agreement, which called for compulsory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Watson said the United States may not be in accord on the Kyoto agreement, but it has taken actions to reduce emissions and control climate change.

“Much more focus ought to be put on the action,” he said.

The following terms are used in the transcript:

DOE: U.S. Department of Energy

EURATOM: European Atomic Energy Community

The transcript of the press briefing follows:

[U.S. Department of State]

Press Briefing by
Dr. Harlan L. Watson
Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative,
U.S. Department of State, and
Alternate Head of the United States Delegation,
Tenth Conference of the Parties [COP] to the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]

Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 7, 2004

Dr. Watson: We welcome and congratulate the government of Argentina on hosting the meeting here and for the excellent arrangements they have made. We are certainly committed to working constructively and to having positive outcomes of this Conference of the Parties.

The United States does remain committed to the Framework Convention and to achieving its ultimate objective. However, we are taking a different path than Kyoto, which many of the parties here are taking. With regard to the actions the United States is taking, they are many, and I would challenge many of the Kyoto Protocol Parties to match us in the activities we are taking both domestically and internationally.

First of all, we have three prongs in our climate policy which President Bush announced in February 2002. The first is to reduce our greenhouse gas intensity at home, thereby slowing the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions. Second, we are making substantial investments in science and technology and institutions designed to address both climate change in the near term and in the long term. And, third, we are engaging actively in international cooperation — both on a bilateral basis and on a multilateral basis.

With regard to our domestic program, we are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas intensity by 18% over the ten-year period 2002-2012. This is a domestic commitment the President made. We are doing this through a number of programs through both incentives and voluntary programs, and through some mandatory programs such as improving the fuel economy of our automobiles, improving the efficiency of our appliances and so on.

With regard to science, the United States is spending some $2 billion annually on the science of climate change, to address the uncertainties and help reduce these uncertainties. We spent some $23 billion dollars since 1990 when the U.S. Global Change Research Program was first initiated.

On the technology side, we spend approximately $3 billion dollars annually on a variety of technologies, the implementation of which would allow us to reduce our greenhouse gases over the long term. This includes both near-term options such as solar, and other renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency technologies, advanced fossil technologies — and some longer-term technologies, such as advanced nuclear, both in fission and fusion, as well as strong investments in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage.

Internationally — we are engaged both, as I mentioned before, on a bilateral basis as well as multilaterally. Bilaterally, we have established partnerships with 14 countries and regional organizations — many of which are Kyoto parties and some of which are not. We have well over 200 projects with our partners addressing climate change science, clean energy technologies, earth observations and so forth. We have also initiated, as I mentioned yesterday, some five multilateral initiatives — science and technology initiatives:

The Group on Earth Observations — which is involving over 50 nations and 30 international organizations, as well as the European Commission, I might add, on helping to design and implement, over the next ten years, a comprehensive earth observation system which will provide data not only on climate change but also on other environmental issues.

We have a very strong partnership among 10 countries and the EURATOM on the Generation IV International Forum which is working to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors, which will be safer and more economic and secure, from a proliferation standpoint.

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, with some 16 countries and the European Commission, is working on technologies that will allow the capture and storage, in a safe and environmental manner, of emissions from fossil fuel burning plants.

The International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy — where again we have 16 countries and the European Commission — is working to advance the global transition to a hydrogen economy.

And most recently, the Methane-to-Markets Partnership where 13 countries joined the United States this summer to launch an innovative program that will be targeted on reducing methane emissions, which is the second most important greenhouse gas. With regard to this latter partnership, the U.S. committed some $53 million to the Partnership over the next five years.

I want to close my opening remarks by referring to President Bushs commitment he made in June 2001 to develop with friends and allies and nations throughout the world an effective and science-based response to address climate change. The United States supports the development of an integrated approach to partnerships among governments, the private sector and NGOs that promotes economic growth, improves economic efficiency and productivity, enhances energy security, increases the availability of cleaner, more efficient energy resources and, of course, reduces pollution — all in ways that have the effect of reducing nations’ greenhouse gas intensity.

We believe that economic development is absolutely key to addressing this issue, because without economic development and economic growth around the world we are not going to be able to afford the new technologies that we need to address the problem in the long term.

And with that, I will be happy to stop and take any questions that you might have. Thank you.

Reuters: Dr. Watson, you told us about the goal of reducing the GHG intensity by 18% over the next 10 years. I wanted to know where U.S. emissions will stand in 2012 relative to 1990, because I understand that your emissions rose since 1990 right now, are up 13% and well, I’d rather you do the math for me.

Dr. Watson: Well, I quite frankly don’t have off the top of my head — maybe my colleagues of the DOE can address what our latest projection is. I believe we are forecasted, under a business-as-usual scenario, to be up approximately 20% by 2010. But, Dave, do you have that figure at the top of your head?

David Conover [Director, Climate Change Technology Program, U.S. Department of Energy]: No, I don’t.

Dr. Watson: O.K. I think the projections, again under the latest business-as-usual [scenario], we would expect a 4% reduction from that, which would get us about 15% or 16% above 1990 levels.

German Radio: Can you please tell us how would an international climate change protection regime from the time after 2012 have to look so it could be ratified by the U.S.?

Dr. Watson: Quite frankly, we don’t believe it’s time to address the post-2012 time frame. We are very focused on implementing the President’s program domestically. We think there are many lessons that will be learned from that process, which can inform the international process. We believe the same is true for those who will be working to implement the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, what is still to be decided among the Kyoto Parties is the type of compliance regime that will be agreed to; whether, of course, the Kyoto mechanisms – exactly how all those will work out. Of course, European trading systems and other trading systems under development still have to be implemented. Again, we will learn many, many lessons from that. And, quite frankly, whether or not the Kyoto Parties will be willing to take on what we believe would be non-growth economic policies; [they will be] required to meet the targets. So, for all of these reasons, we do not believe that it is the appropriate time to talk about post-2012 negotiations.

Agence France-Presse: I just want to understand your figures on what you’re spending this fiscal year. Can one add $3 billion this year and $2 billion annually to say that you’re spending $5 billion on climate change science and on new technologies? I mean, to simplify matters, can I do that or how would you do the arithmetic? Thank you.

Dr. Watson: Yes. Actually, Congress, by the way, is still working on our 2005 budget. The President’s overall request for climate change programs was $5.8 billion, $5 billion of which were spent on science and technology – $2 billion on the science and $3 billion on the technology. We also have some significant amounts requested before Congress with regard to tax incentives to encourage the use of clean energy technologies as well as, of course, our assistance to developing countries through our contributions to GEF and other international bodies.

Energy Daily: You mentioned the President’s statement in June 2001 committing to a science-based response to the problem of global warming. Can we infer that the U.S. does not consider the Kyoto Protocol to be based on sound science?

Dr. Watson: The Kyoto Protocol was a political agreement. It was not based on science.

German Press Agency: You’ve been telling us all the efforts the U.S. is making concerning climate change. Can you tell us when the world can expect that GHG emissions will really decrease? In which year will this be – in 2020 or when would that be? And a second question, if you allow me, what went wrong in American way of life that you have almost doubled GHG emissions in comparison to countries in Europe with the same living standard, more or less? What went wrong in the States?

Dr. Watson: Let me address the last part first, and I’ll turn to my colleague in the Department of Energy to perhaps provide some more detail on some of our technology programs. Nothing went wrong in the U.S. We are blessed with economic growth. In most developed countries and developing countries economic growth implies more energy use, which typically implies more emissions. I might say, by the way, that your sweeping statement about European reductions does not hold across-the-board, because you should know there have been substantial increases in a number of countries in Europe. I’m not going to name any countries, but I think you all know who they are.

David, would you like to address the first question?

David Conover: Thank you. We are making substantial investments in both near-term deployment of energy-efficiency and renewable energy. The total budget for our program is over $3 billion, as Harlan indicated, and fully a quarter of that is deployment of technologies today that will have an impact on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The larger efforts that we have going will phase in over the near, the mid-term and long-term. The Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy [and the Presidents Hydrogen Fuel Initiative are aiming for] the 2015 time-frame [for commercialization of] hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The FutureGen program is clean coal with sequestration producing hydrogen and electricity, and is also on schedule for that time frame.

The GEN IV nuclear programs that Harlan mentioned are aiming at the 2035 time-frame. And, ITER and the fusion effort…… is aiming to the middle of the century, in the 2050 time-frame.

So we are phasing these technologies as we move forward. We have strong investments in the near term, and we believe that the intensity metric that we are using is the appropriate metric to recognize both reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and continued economic growth.

Question: My question is, beyond climate itself, which consequences does the U.S. perceive that is suffering from the dependence on fossil carbon? Now, the reason for my question is that in today’s local “Buenos Aires Herald”, which is in English, there’s a reproduction of an article by Thomas Friedman. He points out that, in effect, the National Science Foundation will be funded less by 105 million dollars next year. That means that there’s a reduction of 2%, and he also points out that by paying these high amounts of money for imports of oil we are actually funding terrorism that’s going to the U.S…and the question was simply that beyond climate itself, what other consequences does the U.S. have now from the dependence on fossil carbon?

Dr. Watson: You’re getting way beyond my area of expertise. But, clearly, it is having an impact in the increased oil prices and obviously has had an impact in what we have seen at the fuel pumps and so on. And I believe that all of the forecasts are that we are going to have lower economic growth than we otherwise would have – as will the rest of the world. Beyond that you are getting way beyond my realm of expertise. I really don’t want to comment.

O Globo, Brazil: My question is if the U.S. is doing so many things to reduce emissions as they say here, why do you think there are so many negative opinions about the Bush administration that seems to be like the bad boy. Why is that if you’re doing so much and … [inaudible]?

Dr. Watson: Thank you for your question. I’m not sure why we are considered the “bad boys.” Let me just say that perhaps there’s a perception that it is more important to agree to things rather than taking actions. We believe the focus ought to be on the actions. But, agreeing to Kyoto does not necessarily mean that you’re going to meet those commitments. And again, much more focus ought to be put on the actions… Again, our focus there is highlighting our actions. We believe we match or exceed what any other country in the world is doing to address the issue.

BBC News: There’s been quite a lot of criticism of your attempts yesterday to keep discussion off the agenda of the various conferences coming up next year – on Disaster Relief and on the problems of Small Island States. The interpretation that some of the NGO’s are putting on this is that you are very concerned not to admit the causal link between climate change and some of the problems being discussed there because of the possible liability issues that might arise if that link was admitted. Can you comment on that?

Dr. Watson: Yes, let me say that our intervention there was to make sure that there is appropriate input from the Framework Convention on Climate Change into those other two meetings that are coming up — in Mauritius on the Barbados Plan of Action – as well as the Kobe World Conference on Disaster Reduction. And then, of course, the input in the Commission on Sustainable Development process, which will be from 2006 to 2007.

Each of the upcoming meetings that will occur in January of next year has their own negotiating sessions. Certainly, climate is featured in the current negotiating text. We believe that those are the appropriate fora to negotiate those texts. Quite frankly, one of our concerns here is that this meeting will be used as an opportunity to try to negotiate things here in a forum which is really not appropriate. Again, those negotiations will take place, and the results of those will take place both in Mauritius and in Kobe at the end of January.

We also have a problem with the Framework Convention, trying to provide inputs into meetings in general. Our time here is very limited, and there are many, many issues on the plate. Procedurally, if the Conference of the Parties starts to provide input to every meeting that is occurring, nothing else will get done. In fact, we won’t even work through the list of meetings.

Lastly, we want to make sure that, again, the attention is focused on what it is that the Convention is actually doing to contribute to those processes. There are many, many activities which are being carried out under the Framework Convention which are relevant to both the meetings in Mauritius and Kobe — particularly our work on adaptation is certainly very relevant, and we expect a very positive outcome on adaptation as well as other major steps that have been undertaken under the Convention processes.

There is an agreement that was reached that the focus [of the COP plenary discussion] will be on an exchange of views on what UNFCCC activities are underway or have been accomplished that are appropriate for the Executive Secretary to report on to those meetings. Those bodies can then take those into account and complete their negotiations ultimately successfully on their text there.

New York Times: I wanted to go back to the issue of post-2012 goals. Dr. Watson, you made reference to the February 2002 speech by President Bush in which he said that within 10 years the U.S. would reassess its position. So, I have two questions that flow from that. Why not, even in an informal fashion, discuss now some of those issues, post-2012 issues and plan ahead? That’s the first question. Secondly, if not now, when?

Dr. Watson: Why not?’ Because we are still implementing the President’s program and we want to be informed by the results. The President said the current U.S. plan is to review the results of that in 2012. And, if not [now], when?’ Well, again, 2012 is when the U.S. has to reassess its current program. Obviously, we will be informed along the way by science and make adjustments as needed. But we do not intend to change our overall approach.

BBC: In the session yesterday, the opening session, this is Joke Waller Hunter when she was speaking about the future and after 2012 about the possibility of different rules and different speeds. Did you interpret that as an opening towards the United States’ willingness to discuss different ways of doing things?

Dr. Watson: Listening carefully and reading her comments, I think she put that more as a hypothetical and certainly something that needs to be on the table – different approaches and so on. And, particularly if you have the desire to bring in developing countries more into the process than they currently are, there will have to be different approaches because expecting developing countries, whose focus is on poverty reduction, to agree to targets and timetables that might impede that desire to reduce poverty in their countries is just not going to be something that is agreeable to them.

Thank you.

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