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Press Briefing by the Delegation of the United States

Harlan Watson, Ambassador and Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation
Daniel Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development
Remarks at the Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Poznan, Poland
December 1, 2008

Date: 12/02/2008 Location: Poznan, Poland Description: Daniel Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development and Harlan Watson, Ambassador and Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation State Dept Photo
State Dept Photo/Dec 02, 2008/Poznan, Poland
Moderator: Good afternoon and welcome to the press briefing of the U.S. Delegation. There are two briefers this afternoon. The first is Dr. Harlan Watson. He is Ambassador and Special Envoy to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our other briefer is Daniel Reifsnyder. He is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development. We will begin with brief opening remarks by both gentlemen, beginning with Dr. Watson. Thank you.

Ambassador Watson: Thank you all for coming here today. Most of the attention, of course, in the climate change negotiations is focused on emissions of carbon dioxide. But that is only one of the six gases that are focused on under the Convention and covered by the Kyoto Protocol. I wanted to just give a brief overview of some of the work that we have been doing on methane and then Mr. Reifsnyder will talk about work that has been going on under the Montreal Protocol where great progress that has been made on addressing other important greenhouse gases.

First, with respect to methane, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today will be releasing an accomplishments report of the Methane to Markets Partnership. The United States continues to provide significant support for the Methane to Markets Partnership to reduce emissions of methane which is a greenhouse gas some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Current U.S. Methane to Markets projects when fully implemented will deliver an estimated annual emission reduction equivalent to more than 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and this is nearly triple the early estimate that had been made by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006.

The report, which is entitled, “U.S. Government’s Methane to Markets Partnership Accomplishments - November 2008,” highlights the accomplishments through 2007. Highlights in the report include more than 800 private sector and NGOs internationally that have signed on to participate in project development activities. This is an increase of more than 200 organizations in the last year. During our fiscal year 2007, the U.S. Government dedicated $10.2 million to the Methane to Markets, bringing the U.S. total financial commitment to the Partnership to more than $28.5 million dollars since it started. Now this is important to note that U.S. funding has also leveraged additional public and private sector investment of over $271 million. So we’re getting a lot of bang for the buck in this partnership.

The U.S. commitment to the Partnership has continued to assist the rapid growth of the program, including the entry of six additional countries, bringing the total number of partners to 27. And just as a brief reminder, the Partnership was launched in 2004 with an original partnership of the U.S. and 13 other countries. So with that I wanted to turn now to Mr. Reifsnyder and he’ll talk about some activities that have been ongoing under the Montreal Protocol, which have important global warming implications.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Reifsnyder: Thank you, Harlan, and good afternoon. Naturally, much of the focus here is on carbon dioxide, but two weeks ago I led the U.S. Delegation to the 20th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, in Doha, Qatar. You may know that last year nations of the world took a very important decision under the Montreal Protocol to accelerate both the developed and developing country phase-outs of HCFCs – hydrochlorofluorocarbons. This can get a little complicated, but HCFCs were the transition substances to which Parties were moving in leaving CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons.

We were able last year to accelerate the phase-outs of HCFCs, which was a huge accomplishment. We estimate that, as the result, we – the Parties to the Montreal Protocol -- will avoid putting about 524,000 ozone-depleting (ODP) tons into the atmosphere. We estimate that, in addition, the Parties will avoid putting about 9.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2-e) into the atmosphere. This is an amount comparable, depending on the choice of substitutes that people make when leaving HCFCs, to the climate benefit of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. So, it is really rather a significant development.

This year, under the Montreal Protocol, we were looking at two other aspects that also have a bearing on these talks. One is on the destruction of CFCs and other substances that are currently included in banks – such as refrigerators, air conditioners and foams. Most of these banks will leak into the atmosphere by about 2015 if they are not recovered and destroyed. So, Parties to the Montreal Protocol are now exploring ways of recovering and destroying these substances. And we took an important decision in this regard in Doha.

The Montreal Protocol Parties also decided to look into the issue of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are substances that people may move to as they transition out of the HCFCs. Remember I said we are accelerating the transition from HCFCs. They will likely go to HFCs. HFCs have no ozone-depleting potential, so they don’t create a problem for the stratospheric ozone layer, but some of them have very high global warming potentials (GWPs), so they could create a problem for the climate system. This is an issue that has been recognized now under the Montreal Protocol — and we think it should also be taken up here under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is something that the two conventions are trying increasingly to work together to address -- because we don’t want to solve one environmental problem — depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer — but create another problem for the climate system. So, it is very important that the two conventions begin to work together on this. We had a good decision in Doha that seeks to begin a dialogue between the two conventions, and we hope to hear more about that here this week. I just wanted to make these initial remarks and I look forward to your questions.

Question: Dr. Watson, how strongly will you articulate the Bush Administration’s policy on climate change here in this Interregnum? The end of the — coming to the final weeks of the Bush Administration - you have the Obama Administration, which is coming along with a very, very different policy compared with yours. Are you liaising closely with people who could articulate the Obama Administration’s policy? And when push comes to shove, in these negotiations if you see something to which the Bush Administration objects to but which is…going to be accepted by the Obama Administration, what will you do?

Ambassador Watson: First of all, I think the differences — certainly there are differences—but the principal differences are in the domestic regime. President-elect Obama articulated at — most recently — in his remarks to the Governors Global Climate Summit on November 18, his intention to promote the development of federal cap-and-trade legislation. But he has been relatively silent on the international aspects, with the logic being that the United States has to reach consensus domestically before we can bring that forward internationally. It does not work for us to agree to something internationally and expect our Congress to approve it. So, I think there is broad consensus with regard to the importance of a number of issues internationally: that climate change is a global issue; and that we need all Parties to the Convention involved, particularly major developing economies. There is no difference in opinion on that.

They certainly want to move forward with the Convention process so that we can reach an agreed outcome in Copenhagen next December. That is certainly something that the Bush Administration has supported in the Major Economies Process, as well as in the G8. So, we are committed to moving forward, to making contributions to the discussions under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. We expect those discussions will continue into next year with four to five meetings and we believe that we are going to be making positive contributions here so that the next team can pick up the ball and carry it forward.

Question: I’d like to ask Dr. Watson, please: Barack Obama sets the goal now returning U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Is that possible? And what would it mean for the economy?

Ambassador Watson: There have been analyses done of some various bills that have been proposed, at least during this Congress. The cost depends, of course, on a lot of the underlying assumptions in the bills. Senator Obama did cosponsor a couple of the major pieces of legislation that were considered—the so-called Warner-Lieberman Bill; and Senators Boxer and Sanders also introduced a bill that basically would take our emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, which is what the President-elect is on record as proposing. I do not have exact figures for you — you can get some of that information from our Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy, which has done some analyses of the various bills. Again, the costs are very dependent on the underlying assumptions: the economic assumptions; population growth assumptions, etcetera. It is not cost free. It is possible to achieve these reductions, but again there is going to be a price attached to that.

Question: I assume one of the goals in Poznan in the conference is long-term shared global vision, which might involve a number attached to 2050 — for emissions to be reduced to half by then. And maybe some midterm targets, 2020, and I was wondering where the U.S. position is on that. Do you think that we can agree to a number here in Poznan on 2020? And what might that number be?

Ambassador Watson: No, to be short. We have been on record within the context of the G8 on the 50 by 50 number—the emissions reduction of 50%, with no base year attached. That was what was agreed to in the G8 Leaders Statement. We also had an intensive discussion of this within the Major Economies Process, but we could not get consensus on that. There are various ranges that have been considered with regard to the near term — so-called 2020 range. I do not think many Parties are willing to sign on to any range at this time. My own personal opinion is that that’s going to occur in the end game in any event. It’s unclear here whether we’ll be able to get an agreement on a long-term goal. That remains to be seen.

Question: Even halving emissions by 2050? You don’t think there will even be an agreement on halving emissions by 2050 from 1990?

Ambassador Watson: I doubt if there will be consensus on that point. We have seen in past discussions of this that a number of Parties are not willing to agree to a long-term goal until other Parties are coming forward with 2020 or a near-term goal and a number of Parties, including the United States, are not wanting to come forward with that yet. So, I doubt there will be consensus.

Question: The question I have to Dr. Watson: you really think that consensus is something that — certainly the Bush Administration supported — I don’t think this position is shared even by involved Americans or people around the world. You have also said that the U.S. delegation would be making positive contributions here in Poznan. Can you specifically indicate what those positive contributions are if there are any that have been outlined for your delegation?

Ambassador Watson: Well, certainly there are going to be three workshops, for example, within the Ad Hoc Working Group—the AWG-LCA: shared vision; the risk assessment and insurance piece, which is part of adaptation; and technology research and development. We are going to be saying very positive things at each one of those workshops, in particular, as well as on the other elements of the Bali Action Plan, particularly on technology R&D.

The United States and Japan do fund the bulk of the world’s technology research and development. And we think it is very important to boost that, boost the amount that is expended on clean technology research and development because that is the only way we are going to really address the problem in the long run. Energy efficiency is important, but that will only get at part of the problem and we ultimately need to develop carbon capture storage, a great expansion of renewables, in particular, as well as advanced nuclear. So, that was again something that was, that we promoted within the discussion within the G8 and the Major Economies Process and we’re going to continue to push that here. We think that’s a very positive contribution.

Question: Since we’ve got an outgoing Administration and an incoming Administration, do you happen to know if President-elect Obama has got anybody here at the conference, sort of watching things on his behalf?

Ambassador Watson: Not that I’m aware, and he did specifically — again on his November 18 remarks at the Governors conference — what he said is, “I’ve asked Members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learned there.” So, we do anticipate Members of Congress — again, it’s a bit uncertain on who will be here on what time scale because our Congress is due to resume next week, as you know, to consider the American automakers’ request for funding as well as perhaps some additional legislation on financial stimulus. But I would expect that some Members will be here at some portion and again will report back to the President-elect.

Question: Dr. Harlan, the United States has a popular split still on climate change; it’s largely a suburban society. We don’t have a lot of infrastructure on a national level set up for a cap-and-trade program, so we’ve got these problems, challenges. At the same time we’ve got higher expectations created by the President-elect Barack Obama as well as some of the comments Senator Kerry has made about the U.S. taking a leadership role. From a realistic standpoint, how difficult is the next group’s challenge leading up to Copenhagen, balancing all these different challenges?

Ambassador Watson: Well, actually, we have a lot of experience in cap-and-trade. We were, of course, the first —with the SO2 program that was a result of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air—to set up cap-and-trade, which really set the stage for what became the ETS and other cap-and-trade programs. So, we do have experience with it. And, of course, as you know, we have a number of states and regional clusters of states that are also in the process of implementing cap-and-trade. So there’s experience and I don’t think it would be that difficult to set up the mechanics of it. What’s difficult is reaching an agreement because it’s not a Republican or Democratic — it’s not a partisan issue — it’s depending on where you are in the country and the impacts it can have. There can be great regional differences in terms of energy resources, what different states depend on for electricity. Some get, use lots of hydro power, which is low carbon; and some—actually most—of our states are heavily dependent on coal. And so, it’s really about different impacts on the economy of the different regions of the country, and how you work those out so that everybody thinks they’re getting a fair deal.

We have had this discussion ongoing in Congress now for a number of years, at least for three sessions of Congress, about six years now. And not much progress has been made. It is a difficult issue. I don’t think anybody expects it to be done soon, but the President-elect had made a commitment to try to push on this, and I’m sure he will, and we’ll see how successful he’s going to be. It will be difficult, however.

Question: Since I’m sure you’ll agree that after President Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, the Americans have come in for a lot of stick coming from other countries. Do you think that what this has achieved is worth it? What argument has the United States put forward in this arena, the global arena, which has made progress, do you think in underpinning the Bush Administration’s position on it?

Ambassador Watson: Yeah, you’re quite right: we have had a lot of criticism and I can show you some scars. But let me give you my interpretation of what happened over the seven years plus in this. I think we’ve really advanced, particularly, the discussion on technology. That was something that was really not the focus—the focus was totally on, what can I say? — almost, on absorbing pain. It really only works for a short time. You can not get, you cannot hold political consensus by just promising that it’s going to get worse and worse, because we really need advancements in technology, and I think that’s something that, quite frankly, the Bush administration put on the table. It’s something that’s caught on and now it’s been the mantra for the past several years.

And I’d also say that, going back to the Delhi 8th Conference of the Parties, we worked, once again with the developing countries, highlighting the importance of adaptation. It was no secret going back to the IPCC Third Assessment Report that adaptation was absolutely going to be necessary. And it had been totally neglected under this Convention. All the focus was on mitigation. Somehow adaptation wasn’t supposed to be talked about, was politically incorrect, because it somehow meant that you were giving up on mitigation. But if you look at the underlying science, all the science tells us that no matter what we do, if we cut emissions to zero tomorrow, the inertia in the climate system is going to continue, sea level rise will continue at a slower rate, those impacts — the warming impacts — will continue. And that adaptation is absolutely going to be necessary. And once again, except for a few lonely voices out there, it was totally neglected under this Convention. I think that’s also something that we worked, particularly with developing countries, to bring forward, and so now, it’s still a little bit behind, but it’s catching up, and it’s nearing equal footing. So, those are two examples.

Question: Dr. Watson, do you believe that the deadline for international negotiations is going to be met by COP-15?

Ambassador Watson: That’s what we have agreed to. It won’t be easy, but we’ve been committed to that, we agreed to it in Bali. We’ve reaffirmed that; our President has reaffirmed that within the G8, within the Major Economies Process, and we intend on doing that.

By the way, the contribution of the Major Economies Process—I would also tout that, I should have touted that as a first, bringing together a group of countries, both developed and developing that account for over 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions. And I think that was also a signature accomplishment; it’s recognized by bipartisan fashion, it’s been referred to by the President-elect, and the Vice President-elect, as something they would like to continue and strengthen — and so, once again, I would say, don’t look so much at the differences domestically, I’m saying on the international scene, there’s broad-based agreement. With that, I think we’ll wrap it up.


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