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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2003

American Academy in Berlin

Spencer Abraham, Secretary, Department of Energy
Remarks to the Academy on global climate change
Berlin, Germany
September 17, 2003

Thank you for that wonderful introduction. Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to Gary Smith and the American Academy in Berlin for hosting today’s event.

Although I have previously visited Germany, this is the first opportunity I have had to visit Berlin, and it is a great pleasure to be here. I very much appreciate the hospitality that has been afforded me, and I appreciate your giving me this forum to discuss an issue that is of great concern to the people of Europe and the United States -- global climate change.

As the Secretary of Energy, I am charged with implementing many of my nation’s climate initiatives, and I am very proud of what we are doing. But it is my belief that U.S. policy on climate change is not sufficiently understood by large segments of the public, particularly here in Europe. That is why I came here today to share with you some key features of U.S. policy and to describe some specifics about what we are doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let me be clear at the outset. I am not here to debate the wisdom of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States is neither ashamed of its position on Kyoto or indifferent to the challenges of climate change. The United States is investing billions of dollars to address these challenges, and we are a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has the ultimate goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

As we have contemplated the UN Convention’s attainment, it has become clear that all of its signatories face one hard and clear choice. Either dramatic greenhouse gas reductions will come at the expense of economic growth and improved living standards, or breakthrough energy technologies that change the game entirely will allow us to reduce emissions while, at the same time, we maintain economic growth and improve the world’s standard of living.

We believe the second course is the only acceptable, cost-effective option, and that course is guiding our climate change policy response. For that reason, and because we also believe it is unreasonable to expect any country that possesses abundant supplies of inexpensive fossil fuels to forgo their use, President Bush initiated a Cabinet-level review to identify new approaches to climate change policy soon after taking office. The policies, he said, must:

  • be science-based;
  • encourage scientific and technological breakthroughs;
  • harness the power of markets;
  • encourage global participation;
  • ensure continued economic growth;
  • and be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Within these parameters, the Administration has developed an ambitious approach to climate change that rests on three main pillars -- technology, science, and international cooperation.

In February 2002, President Bush announced the creation of a Cabinet-level Committee on Climate Change Science and Technology Integration, co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce Don Evans and me. The Committee’s work is divided into two project lines, with the Department of Commerce leading the climate change science effort and the Department of Energy leading the technology research effort.  Both project lines are interconnected and complementary.

President Bush described this best when he said, “Our actions should be measured as we learn more from science and build on it. … We will act, learn, and act again, adjusting our approaches as science advances and technology evolves. Our administration will be creative.”

Perhaps as important, interwoven into our climate science and technology programs is international collaboration. Because global climate change is a worldwide issue, we are committed to helping bring about a truly global response to this long-term challenge. 

Well-designed international partnerships allow participants to leverage resources and accelerate the development and commercialization of new technologies. These collaborations can be on a large scale or a small scale, but we feel they are especially relevant to the pursuit of new technology. Now that I have briefly outlined the structure and focus of our climate change efforts, I’d like to report on our progress.

The United States recognizes that climate change is a century-long challenge, but one that we must begin to address now.  In response, the Administration has developed a continuum of short-, mid-, and long-term steps consistent with a 100-year timeline. Our first task is to slow the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In February 2002, President Bush announced an ambitious national goal to reduce by 18% over the next 10 years the greenhouse gas intensity, or emissions per unit of economic output, of the U.S. economy.   Achieving this 18% reduction goal will result in the United States reducing the 183 metric tons of greenhouse emissions per million dollars GDP that we emit today to 151 metric tons per million dollars GDP in 2012.  And meeting this commitment will achieve 100 million metric tons of reduced emissions in 2012 alone, with more than 500 million metric tons in cumulative carbon-equivalent emissions reductions through 2012 -- an amount equal to taking 70 million cars off the road. 

A goal of this magnitude will require an effort well beyond business as usual, but it is a goal that works with economic growth, instead of dampening it.  That is important because, as experience has shown, vigorous and sustained economic growth is critical for new investment in energy efficiency, cutting-edge technologies, and a cleaner environment.

To support his 10-year goal, the Bush Administration is engaging in a variety of approaches.
One example is our Climate VISION program, a presidential initiative launched by the Energy Department in February 2003 that is designed to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by energy-intensive industrial sectors.   Participants in the program account for between 40 and 50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. 

These sectors have already agreed to meet specific commitments to reduce their industry emissions and to use their successes to help enable those in other sectors, such as the commercial and residential sectors, to reduce their greenhouse gas impacts.  The Climate VISION program works with industry trade associations to accelerate the transition to practices, technologies, and processes that are cleaner, more efficient, and capable of capturing or sequestering greenhouse gases.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program is another voluntary program with similar goals for individual companies and other entities.

On another front, in February 2002, the President directed the Department of Energy and other federal agencies to improve the accuracy, reliability, and verifiability of the voluntary greenhouse gas-reporting program that was established in 1994.   We currently have about 220 annual participants in the program who have undertaken significant efforts to reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.  These include businesses, farmers, and federal, state, and local governments.   By enhancing the registry, participation will increase as businesses and governments become more confident that their actions will be more accurately recorded, removing the concern that voluntary actions taken now might not be recognized under any future climate policy. 

We believe these approaches will be effective because they allow consumers, businesses, and industries to make flexible decisions rather than being forced to implement government-mandated actions or to meet government-imposed targets.   However, as was stated in the Bush Administration’s 2002 Climate Change Strategy, if by 2012, “our progress is not sufficient, and sound science justifies further action, the United States will respond with additional measures that may include a broad, market-based program, as well as additional incentives and voluntary measures designed to accelerate technology development and deployment.” 

The Bush Administration is also implementing an array of federal policy programs to support greenhouse gas reductions.   These include tax credits for renewable energy like solar, geothermal and wind sources, and energy efficient technologies like hybrid and fuel cell vehicles and cogeneration.  These also include tougher fuel economy standards for motor vehicles, “Energy Star” labeling to encourage more-efficient home appliances, and the “Energy Savers” program, which provides energy efficiency tips to homeowners.

We have also made significant progress promoting conservation and increased energy efficiency, and expanding the use of clean, renewable energy sources. Indeed, this year the Energy Department made a funding request for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs that exceed funding levels enacted by Congress any year during the last two decades.

We are proud of our record, and we believe that with all of these initiatives we can achieve our short-term goals.   But, of course, that only covers the short run.  So, in addition to the actions listed above, we have also launched an aggressive effort to lay the foundations for mid- and long-term advances that will spring from a greater understanding of the climate, how it is changing, and how it is being affected by various factors. 

The truth is, we know little about the scope, magnitude, timing, or regional distribution of future climate change or its potential impact on society.  Our goal is to produce useful scientific information on climate change that will bring greater focus to our research, and help us formulate and implement the most effective future technological solutions.

The U.S. National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Science, noted that reducing the significant uncertainties in projections of future climate change requires finding answers to a number of fundamental scientific questions relating to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the behavior of the climate system.   The Council’s recommendations were instrumental in the design of the President’s climate strategy and the recently released 10-year Cabinet-level plan to accelerate climate science. 

Consistent with that plan, President Bush requested $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2004 for our overall Climate Change Science Program.

The United States also supports better environmental observation systems, especially in developing countries where they are needed most.   One such effort is the Earth Observation Summit, which was recently hosted by the United States and attended by more than 30 nations.

The goal of the Summit is to establish an international, wide-ranging, and integrated Earth observation system, which will be a crucial element in advancing our understanding of climate change.  Better observation systems will create more accurate climate models, improve our knowledge of the behavior of carbon and aerosols emitted into the atmosphere, and develop strategies for carbon sequestration.  They will also help in the formulation of sound, science-based environmental policies, and allow us to measure progress and assess the effectiveness of our policies.

I know that some have characterized our emphasis on science programs as a delaying tactic, a way to avoid doing anything until every scientific question is settled.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  For in addition to our initial 10-year plan to reduce carbon intensity, we have also launched an array of ambitious research projects to develop new technologies designed to help us attain spectacular reductions in greenhouse gas levels.

Last November, an article in the prestigious journal Science examined the full range of existing energy technologies.  The authors determined that existing energy technologies, even with substantial enhancements, could not meet the world’s future appetite for energy and simultaneously deliver the emission reductions necessary to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Doing so, the authors asserted, will require leapfrogging to the kinds of technologies that will transform current energy systems.

They concluded that stabilizing the climate “at the very least, requires political will, targeted research and development, and international cooperation. Most of all, it requires the recognition that, although regulation can play a role, the fossil fuel greenhouse effect is an energy problem that cannot be simply regulated away.”

Let us be very clear about the implications of this.   We can sign treaties that call for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  We can set targets and timetables for reducing emissions by certain percentages by certain dates.  But, as I have said at the outset, unless we are prepared to accept the severe economic consequences of punitive taxes on high-emitting agriculture and forestry practices and energy-derived carbon emissions, treaties, timetables, and targets alone won’t be able to bring about sufficient greenhouse gas reductions. 

We will also need to develop the revolutionary technologies to make these reductions happen.  That means creating the kinds of technologies that do not simply refine current energy systems, but actually transform the way we produce and consume energy.

When those technologies are developed, we will all exceed our targets.   If they are not developed, we will all fail.

The Bush Administration’s Climate Change Technology Program, led by the Energy Department, is hard at work developing those technologies.   Some will take years to perfect, others decades.  But we are determined to make them a reality.  As noted, we are putting billions of dollars into this effort, and more than a dozen federal agencies -- working with partners in academia, the private sector, and other nations -- are investing countless hours on them.

Let me highlight a few of the transformational technologies on which we are working. More than half of the electricity generated in America today comes from coal. Under our new Clean Coal Technology Initiative, the Energy Department is exploring a new generation of energy processes that can sharply reduce emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases compared with older coal-burning systems.

This work includes a broad spectrum of research and large-scale projects to meet today's most pressing environmental challenges, including climate change.

A related area of research is carbon sequestration.   As you know, carbon sequestration involves removing carbon dioxide from emissions streams or the atmosphere and permanently storing it in deep underground formations, such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams, and deep saline aquifers.

Carbon sequestration research and technology is a top priority for the United States because it acknowledges a simple and indisputable fact: fossil fuels will continue for the foreseeable future to be the world’s most reliable and lowest-cost energy resources. 

The International Energy Agency projects a 50% increase in worldwide coal use for electricity generation over the next quarter century, most of it in developing countries such as China and India, which have large coal reserves.

The United States is currently working with private sector partners on 65 carbon sequestration projects around the country, and we have increased our carbon sequestration budget by 60%.  International cooperation in carbon sequestration research is also a key aspect of our approach.   The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, a Bush Administration initiative, is a multilateral effort to advance technologies that capture and store carbon emissions. 

The Forum was inaugurated formally at a ministerial meeting in June, during which 13 coal producing and consuming nations and the European Union signed an international charter establishing a framework for cooperative research and development.

The Forum's partners will also be invited to participate in our $1 billion FutureGen project -- an initiative to design and construct the first emission-free coal-fired power plant. FutureGen will be one of the boldest steps our nation takes toward a pollution-free energy future. Virtually every aspect of the plant will be based on cutting-edge technology. It will be a living prototype, testing the latest technologies to generate electricity, produce hydrogen, and sequester greenhouse gas emissions from coal. 

FutureGen will help lead to the development of clean fossil fuel power plants all across the world. It will allow this abundant and economical fuel source to continue producing energy without its traditional environmental side-effects.

These are exciting and important projects, but we are also looking beyond traditional energy sources.  Today technology is transforming our lives like never before, and it is changing the way we think about energy.

President Bush recognized the promise of transformational technologies when he announced his groundbreaking plan to change our nation’s energy future to one that utilizes the most abundant element in the universe -- hydrogen. Over the next 5 years, the United States has pledged $1.7 billion to fund the ambitious FreedomCAR and Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to develop emission-free automotive operating systems that run on hydrogen.

Hydrogen represents one of the most attractive options to meet both our energy and environmental goals. It has a high energy content, it produces no pollution when used to create energy in fuel cells, and it can be produced from a number of different sources, including renewable resources, fossil fuels, and nuclear energy.

The United States has begun to reach out to our international partners to advance global cooperation in hydrogen research.  Last June I joined with European Union Commissioner for Research Phillipe Busquin in Brussels to sign an agreement that lays out the framework within which we will collaborate on hydrogen research.  This agreement will help both the United States and the European Union leverage their efforts to bring about a hydrogen-based economy.

In addition, last spring at the International Energy Agency, and again in June at Brussels, I called for the establishment of an International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy to coordinate multinational research and development programs to accelerate the transition to a global hydrogen economy.

The public-private collaborations envisioned under the Partnership will address the technological, financial, and institutional barriers to hydrogen and develop internationally recognized technology standards to speed market penetration of new hydrogen-based technologies. Fifteen potential international partners, including the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, have been identified, and a ministerial meeting is planned for November to get the Partnership under way.

In addition to hydrogen, we are also looking at bio-energy and bio-based industrial processes, which have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable development. As we are learning, scientific advances are making it possible to convert biomass to petroleum substitutes. These substitutes could not only reduce dependence on oil, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also have to recognize nuclear energy as a clean energy choice, both in the near- and longer-term. The Generation IV program, which includes 11 international partners, is working on new fission reactor designs that will be safer, more economical and secure, and able to produce new products, such as hydrogen.

And earlier this year President Bush announced that the United States would rejoin the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a project to develop nuclear fusion as a future energy source.  Although the technical hurdles of fusion energy are high, we feel the promise of this technology is simply too great to ignore.

Taken together, these technology initiatives, if successful, add up to what can only be described as a long-term revolution in our energy systems. Not only will these technologies put us on a long-term path to stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, they will also ensure secure, reliable, affordable, and clean energy to power economic growth and development across the globe.

Needless to say, these initiatives cost money, and we have backed them up with significant resources.   The Bush Administation’s fiscal year 2004 climate change spending request totals more than $4.3 billion a year. Moreover, the new Energy Department initiatives I’ve discussed will constitute more than $5 billion in research activities over the next 5-10 years. 

I am proud of the level of this commitment and I feel it places the United States in a very strong comparative position to the rest of the world in terms of climate technology investment.

As I noted, we believe that international partnerships are integral to our success. In addition to those I have previously mentioned, I would be remiss if I failed to include our partnerships with key industrial and developing countries on advanced energy and greenhouse sequestration technologies, climate monitoring, climate modeling, scientific research, Earth observation systems, and more.

The United States has agreements with countries representing more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These include large industrial countries such as Russia and Japan, and some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world, such as China and India.  Our emphasis on technology development and transfer will help these countries plan for a cleaner, more efficient energy future.

Through our climate change partnerships and other arrangements, such as the Clean Energy Initiative, which grew out of last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we are working with our international partners to strengthen capacities for scaling up and commercializing clean energy technologies that provide a range of public benefits.

The United States also is working through the United Nations’ Global Environmental Facility to support the transfer of advanced energy and sequestration technologies to the developing world.  Last year we supported a 16% increase in funding of the Global Environmental Facility over the next four-year replenishment period.

Together with our international partners, we are establishing policy and scientific and technical frameworks for addressing climate change in a cooperative way, and we feel such multilateral efforts will be extremely productive.

The U.S. efforts on climate change I have described today represent a very different approach to a very vexing challenge. But I am confident it is an approach that offers the best hope to find cost-effective solutions to this long-term challenge.  Because current technologies cannot lead to the desired result, irrespective of any regime of targets, we strongly believe that to get the job done we will need transformational energy technologies, similar in scope to the discovery of electricity or the development of the automobile.  Without these technologies, no matter how good our intentions, we cannot achieve our environmental goals except by economic stagnation.

As I have said, it is wrong to expect nations -- especially developing nations -- to accept lower standards of living and curtailed economic development, just as it is impractical to expect that any nation will not take advantage of abundant domestic energy resources to power their economies.  It is better, therefore, that we work together to develop new technologies that advance all our economies and preserve the world’s environment.

Fifty years ago, no one could have guessed how technology would transform the way we live today.   Computers, genomics, nanotechnology, space travel, and other technical marvels were hardly imaginable a century ago.  But mankind developed these things.  And it is in our nature that we continue to develop new technologies to advance civilization.

The challenges we face are significant.   But working together, we are capable of developing and perfecting the new technologies that will transform the way our children and grandchildren and all future generations live. 

Together, we can and will perfect the technology of carbon sequestration.  We can and will transform our economies from carbon-based to hydrogen-based.  And we can and will restrain the emission of greenhouse gases so we bestow a healthy planet on future generations. These goals are greater than any differences between us, and they are goals we must all work together to achieve. Thank you.


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