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

Ninth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-9)

Dr. Harlan Watson, Head of U.S. Delegation and Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative
Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
Press Briefing
Milan Italy
December 1, 2003

Moderator: Good afternoon and welcome to the press briefing of the U.S. delegation. We are going to be giving you an overview of U. S. global climate change policy with a focus on U.S. advancements in climate science. I’d like to introduce the two briefers today. To my immediate left to provide you with an update on U. S. climate change policy is Dr. Harlan Watson. He is the head of the U. S. delegation. Dr. Watson is Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative with the U. S. Department of State. To his left to speak about U.S. advancements in climate science is Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher who is Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Following their brief opening remarks we will be pleased to answer your questions.

Dr. Watson: Thank you all for coming and for the opportunity to discuss the United States climate change policy. Climate change is an issue of great importance to the United States. We are taking concrete actions and we are investing billions of dollars annually to address global climate change. We are also fully engaged internationally and are leading major multilateral and bilateral climate change initiatives with our developing country partners. President Bush’s climate change policy reaffirms the U. S. commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and has three basic components designed to address both the near-term and long-term aspects of this global challenge.

The first component involves a series of near-term actions aimed at slowing the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions. The President set a national goal of reducing U. S. greenhouse gas intensity, (that’s greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of Gross Domestic Product) by 18% over the next ten years, a 30% improvement over business as usual. Like an absolute emissions target required under the Kyoto Protocol, an intensity reduction target of this magnitude does require real effort. Meeting the President’s commitment will achieve more than 500 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions over the next ten years, 2002-2012. That’s roughly an amount equal to taking 70 million autos off U. S. highways.

The second component involves laying the ground-work for both current and future action through substantial investments in science and technology and institutions. We need better science to promote better decision-making. We need better technology to slow greenhouse emissions growth and we need better institutions to enable us to pursue the lowest-cost emissions reduction opportunities.

The third component is international cooperation which is of critical importance to the development of any effective and efficient global response to the complex and long-term challenge of climate change. This includes bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation of both near-term efforts to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and longer-term science and technology initiatives. Since June of 2001 the United States has concluded some thirteen bilateral climate change partnerships, including agreements with the European Union and our host nation here, Italy.

With regard to technology there is a growing realization that existing energy technologies even with substantial improvements cannot meet the growing global demand for energy while delivering the necessary emissions reductions. We need to develop and deploy revolutionary changes in the technologies of energy production, distribution, storage, conversion and use. Some examples of these include carbon sequestration, hydrogen and advance nuclear technologies. And as I emphasize, the U. S. is not only pursuing these domestically but is leading three major multinational, international technology efforts.

First there’s the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum launched by the United States in June of this year in Washington involving thirteen nations and the European Commission to advance technologies that capture and store carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

Second, the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy was initiated by the United States last month in Washington; it was also referred to by Minister Matteoli in his remarks. This initiative involves fifteen nations and the European Commission to coordinate multilateral research and develop programs to accelerate the transition to a global hydrogen economy.

And third, under the U. S.-led Generation IV Program ten nations are working on new fission reactor designs that will be safer and more economical and securer, and it will produce new products, such as hydrogen.

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

I would now like to turn to Admiral Lautenbacher to address the U. S. Climate Change Science Program as well as the third major U. S. initiative launched this year, which was the Earth Observation Summit. Thank you, Admiral Lautenbacher.

Admiral Lautenbacher: Thank you. Now it is indeed a great pleasure to be with you to describe much of the work that is going on in the United States regarding climate change science. We have, in the past two years, undertaken a very comprehensive effort to build a ten-year plan for climate change science investigation. This plan was based on a federal government coordinated interagency effort. It was then refined by holding a national-level workshop of over thirteen to fourteen hundred individuals, the largest workshop that has ever been held in this area, including participation from 34 nations. The resulting ten-year plan has been published and reviewed by our National Academy of Sciences; it will continue to be reviewed by our National Academy of Sciences as we work on the urgent questions and uncertainties remaining in climate change science.

One of the main issues that comes out of the Climate Change Science Plan is the need for Earth Observations. We have a significant number of holes in the Earth Observation System that we have for climate today. It is confirmed in the second adequacy report which will be presented during the Conference of Parties -- nine that we are involved in. There are significant holes both in the atmosphere, terrestrial systems and ocean observing systems. They reflect on our ability to adequately characterize the state of the climate and the environment we live in today, as well as to determine what that will be in the future. The United States has contributed a world-wide effort to begin a global observing system which will include more than climate, which will include environmental observing, it will include areas that will cover agriculture, energy, water, commerce, transportation, all of the issues that underlie the sustainable development of the world. That effort began on July the 31st in Washington with a ministerial level summit meeting of some 34 nations and 20 international organizations. The group called GEO (Group on Earth Observations) was established as a result of that summit and just had their second meeting in Baveno. I am coming from that meeting and I wish to report increasing progress on the ability to gain consensus among the nations of the world to build a global Earth Observing System to fill in the gaps that we have today and to be able to predict the future with much more reliability, as well as to honor the obligations that have been made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the last G8 communiqué which made earth observing one of the three major science and technology initiatives of the G8. We believe that with the fulfillment of a Global Earth Observing System we will be much better able to manage our environment, manage resources in a sustainable way and to improve our ability to support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you, very much. We’re now ready to take any questions that you may have. I understand there’s some roving mikes that are around, so that if you would like to ask a question, please raise your hand and I would also ask, please, that you identify yourself before you ask the question by name and news organization. Do we have any questions today?

BBC World Service: At previous meetings of this kind your delegation has recently been quite small and quite shy. Here you’re in large numbers. You’re coming to us. You’re giving the first press conference of the meeting. Is this a change of attitude, and, if so, what is it?

Dr. Watson: I am shorter than average, I guess, and sometimes I am shy. No, actually, our delegate, we are blessed this time certainly, to take advantage of Admiral Lautenbacher’s meeting nearby, in Baveno. He has not, in the past, been a member of our delegation, but we’re certainly pleased that he could join with us for the first couple of days of the meeting. Actually our delegation is roughly the same size it has always been. Since The Hague where I believe we were over 100, but basically, no, we have the same size. I don’t believe we’ve been particularly shy, but we do believe that we have undertaken significant actions over the last couple of years and particularly, last year. The Admiral mentioned the Earth Observation Summit in July. We’ve also hosted the Ministerial on Hydrogen last month in Washington and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in February of this year, so there have been three significant international initiatives that the United States has launched over the last year. We did certainly want to take the opportunity to make people aware of them.

Reuters: I wonder how you’d respond to the criticism that all this emphasis on new technology and hydrogen, etc. is really just an effort to postpone or push off into the future dealing with the problem. You know, one wonders how soon these technologies will really be available and how soon they will really start to make an impact. And to what extent is the Bush Administration committed to Conservation as opposed to New Technologies?

Dr. Watson: Yes, and that’s a very good question. It would be a valid criticism if we weren’t taking all the near-term actions that we are. As I mentioned before, I brushed over that, but certainly meeting the President’s commitment to enhancing our greenhouse gas, reducing our greenhouse gas intensity over the next ten years is going to require significant effort, and is requiring significant investment, particularly in terms of tax incentives. The President has proposed some five billion dollars over the next five to ten years. The tax incentives are up for consideration by Congress now and actually that incentive package is larger than what the President had proposed. Once again we’re using that to encourage use of renewable energy, energy efficiency technologies, as well as certainly promoting use of hybrid vehicles and other fuel efficient vehicles.

We’re also taking major actions, regulatory actions, for example most recently this year in enhancing the fuel economy standards for light trucks. This is something that has not happened in many, many years. The Administration has taken the initiative on that front also. And, we’ve launched a series of new, voluntary programs, building upon voluntary programs which were initiated essentially ten years ago under the first Bush Administration, and worked on under the previous administration. We’ve launched the Climate VISION Program which is engaging our industrial sectors, which account for roughly between 45 and 50% of our total emissions. We’re working with trade associations. Through those trade associations, individual industrial sectors are taking on voluntary commitments to either reduce their growth of greenhouse gas emissions or certainly to slow that growth.

Similarly, our Environmental Protection Agency has launched a similar program called Climate Leaders working with individual corporations and companies. We’re also making similar pledges. Many of those are Fortune 500 companies and many of those do have significant emissions and they are making significant commitments, not through command and control, but through voluntary actions to reduce those emissions. So we have a whole series of actions going on in the near- to mid-term to address the issue, but, we really believe that the way forward is, in the long run, is to promote the development of new technologies. That’s why we’re particularly high-lighting this, those. But I do want to emphasize that we, the United States, would match our record with anybody else’s in the world on what we’re doing domestically in the near-term.

Moderator: I might just add that many of the programs that Dr. Watson just referred to are detailed in Fact Sheets in the Press Kit which I think most of you have picked up on the way in, so we have more information on those programs. Can we have another question there, please?

Bloomberg: Following up from your answer about the whole voluntary issue, what happens in 2012 to measure and monitor the targeted matters. It’s something to have a target and it’s another thing, at the end of the day, to say we didn’t meet it and why. Yet, it’s more than an incentive, at the end of the day. But also, internationally, and if you’re a still saying that the U. S. has it’s own voluntary system, what is there to encourage other countries and other polluting industries to take action, if it’s all done on a voluntary basis?

Dr. Watson: Well, I want to emphasize that it’s not all done on a voluntary basis because we have rigorous environmental standards, the Clean Air Standards, Clean Water Standards, etc. -- probably more than most, not the most rigorous in the world, certainly the most rigorously enforced. And so we’ll certainly be enforcing those where we have legislative authority, but, under the Framework Convention itself I want to emphasize that the United States, as well as all Annex I parties, all developed country parties to the Framework Convention are required to submit an annual inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions. We do that not only on a national basis, but we also make estimates of those by sectors, so we will be able to keep very good track on a year by year basis of the progress that we’re making towards the President’s goal.

Moderator: I wanted to mention to all of you if we have another question I’ll certainly take it, but I wanted to take a moment to say that we have an exhibit on the U. S. Climate Science Program and other science initiatives out in the foyer in the front here, on the first floor, and we will be going there immediately after this press briefing, if you would like to join us to see the exhibit you are more than welcome to do so. Do we have any more questions today? Yes.

Question: I wanted to ask about the efforts of some individual American states who I believe are now bringing in targets and policies a bit more in the Kyoto style. What is the Federal Government’s attitude to these initiatives by individual States?

Dr. Watson: Under the federal system we view the states as a great laboratory to test new ideas and we certainly welcome those activities. The Federal Government neither encourages or discourages those efforts as long as they’re consistent certainly with federal law and, as long as there is no conflict with that, we certainly welcome the experiments that the states are doing. We believe we’ll learn a lot from those efforts and certainly we hope the states will share their experiences not only with the Federal Government but, actually, venues like this.

Conservation News Service: Can you quickly outline how the emissions of the United States have developed over the last few years? Have they grown? Have they gone down? What is the perspective for the next two years?

Dr. Watson: Actually, between 1999 and 2001, the U. S. emissions were flat. From 2000 to 2001 we actually declined by about 1% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions, however that was due to a less than robust economy. They slightly rebounded in the latest estimates I’ve seen for 2002. So in the last three years or so we’ve been relatively stable. In fact, our growth over the last three years is very comparable to what’s gone on in with many countries in the EU and actually less than many of those. Over the period, of course, particularly of the robust growth of the United States economy during the middle to later 1990s while there was considerable growth in emissions following the major growth of our economy, I think our emissions grew something in the order of 13 to 14% over that time. So, clearly, there’s a tight link between economic growth and our emissions. This is true, it’s almost universally true throughout the world and it’s one of the reasons that we are really looking at new technology to delink the growth in energy use…from the emissions growth that is its traditional accompaniment.

Question: So, overall, if I understand you correctly, the growth since 1998 is about 13-14% and how do you… why do you link GDP growth and emission growth when at the same time you are propagating new technologies, which, of course, would then allow GDP growth without emission growth? There seems to be a bit of contradiction there.

Dr. Watson: No, there’s no contradiction. It takes a long time. We’re talking about technologies which are not on the shelf that need to be developed. And it takes time to turn over capital stock and so on for these technologies to penetrate into our energy system.

Question: I was just…..he talked a bit about verifying global warming science. Just to what extent does the U. S. think that people “crying wolf” over possible global warming over the next century and to what extent does the U.S. at this point acknowledge or think that there is a real threat of warming and to what extent? We’ve heard talk of that there might be global warming of as much as six degrees centigrade over the next century with cataclysmic consequences for glaciers and sea-levels and do you think those assessments are exaggerated?

Admiral Lautenbacher: From a science perspective there still remains a great deal of uncertainty in our ability to understand what is going on today. Models that you look at that project these effects one hundred years into the future are clearly suspect. I go back to the example of the Club of Rome in 1972 when they predicted that in the year 2000 we would have no more oil or any fossil fuels to burn because we would have used them all up. Those were based on what we would today call very primitive models. It has been pointed out to me that I should not cite them because they were so primitive that we shouldn’t even consider them. But I would point out that with where we are today in climate change science, running the models that we have to predict exactly what the circumstances will be in 30 years, is problematic. We need more fundamental understanding of how the systems work today. You mentioned greenhouse gases. We have just published a paper in NOAA which shows that global methane emission has been flat. Methane is about 20% of the greenhouse gas potential in the atmosphere and there is wide variation from year to year. It is difficult to get trends in any climate data, but methane has been flat for four years, whereas most of the models say that methane is going to increase forever as we continue human activity. So, I am not saying that the models are now incorrect or the models are correct. I am pointing out that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the parameters that we look at to try to predict the future. And we need to be careful because when we invest a great deal of money in either mitigation or adaptation we may not get a second chance. It will take a great deal of effort to be able to respond to some of the potential consequences that we see today. We want to make sure that our investments are well-placed. Thank you.

Il Gazzette: Could you tell me approximately how many firms did agree to undertake those voluntary programs of reductions so far?

Dr. Watson: That’s a good question. I don’t have that right off the top of my head. I know there are over forty companies for example in Climate Leaders. We do have twelve sectors representing several thousand firms that are taking part within Climate VISION and, I believe, there are other voluntary programs we have underway that our Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency operate and I believe there are over 7000 was the last number I had in those. We’ll try to get that figure for you.

Moderator: We have time for one more question. If not, thank you very much for coming and for those of you who would like to join us we’re going straight down this corridor to inaugurate our exhibit. Thank you very much.


Released on December 1, 2003

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