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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2004

Press Conference -- Delegation of the United States

Retired Naval Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Administrator of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
and Dr. Harlan L. Watson, Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative and Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation
Tenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 13, 2004

Adm. Lautenbacher: Thank you very much. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you today. I am delighted to be part of the U.S. delegation and the COP-10 meeting. My purpose today is to talk to you about the great progress that has been made in creating the Global Earth Observing System of Systems, commonly now known as GEOSS.

It was just a year and a half ago that the United States invited 34 nations to come to Washington, D.C. to discuss an effort to link thousands of technical observing nodes and systems together to produce information that would help form a fundamental basis for improving the environment, for improving the economies of the world and to bring about the kind of things that we all feel are very important based on the World Summit on Sustainable Development agenda items.

It has an enormous impact on climate and climate change science and the ability to produce the kind of sound policies and sound decisions that every nation needs to go into the future.

That effort that started with 34 nations is now up to 53 countries and the European Commission and also 33 international organizations and intergovernmental organizations that today both operate observing systems as well as user organizations that need this data to provide the best possible foundations for areas such as agriculture, energy, clean water, transportation, air quality, coastal zone management, and planning and development for the future in all nations.

The system itself will come about with a ten-year plan that is being developed. But, I want to emphasize that many of these technological marvels that we talk about in the system are present today and providing information. What we need to do is take it to the next level, to ensure the coverage is uniform for the globe, that we cover many of the systems and parts of the Earth that are not covered today and that will provide the information not only in terms of data but as end-use products to developing nations, as well in order that we can have a better standard of living and better economies.

The latest GEOSS effort took place in Ottawa. Canada hosted the last meeting just a few weeks ago. At this meeting we created a document that we will present to the ministers of the countries that were involved, in Brussels in February, which will be a ten-year implementation plan for GEOSS, the Global Earth Observing System of Systems.

In that plan we highlight nine benefit areas. They are:

  • reducing loss of life and property from natural and human induced disasters; 
  • understanding environmental factors affecting the human health and well-being; 
  • improving the management of energy resources; 
  • understanding, assessing, predicting, mitigating and adapting to climate variability and change; 
  • improving water resource management through better understanding of the water cycle; 
  • improving weather information, forecasting and warning; 
  •  improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems; 
  • supporting sustainable agriculture and combating desertification; 
  •  understanding, monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

Those are the nine major areas that the 54 nations and the 33 international organizations have agreed upon as major benefits of linking together earth observing systems.

The revolutionary part of this, I think, is not necessarily the technology; it is the agreement of nations to come together to share data and to provide inputs into systems that will allow us to make better decisions and to have the kind of proper science we need for huge issues such as are being discussed today in this COP-10 meeting - in terms of climate. And you all know that climate affects all the other areas that I mentioned there. But, this is an important baseline for it.

In the United States we have done some analysis that shows that information such as this underpins at least 30% of our economy, over three trillion dollars depends on this kind of information. So it is not just a science project to determine what is going to happen a hundred years from now, it is a project that allows us to make economic decisions both internally in the government as well as in the private sector. All of the sectors that are sensitive to the environment depend on understanding what is going on and having accurate data and information in every country.

This is something that cannot be built by one country alone; obviously it requires access, and it requires agreements. And, that is probably the hardest part -- to get international agreement to share data.

We have an easy time connecting computers today. We can hook up everybody’s computers, and we can send the information around the world. But we need agreements from the nations of the world to share this data easily and readily and to build the kind of products that are needed for capacity-building in developing nations.

This is a project that will do that. I am very enthusiastic about it. It is the first time that we have brought this kind of information into the ministerial and policy-making level of the nations of the world. Scientists have thought about this for many years. But, it is now in the purview of the policy-makers, and it is very exciting.

The next step, as I mentioned, will be Earth Observing Summitnumber three, in Brussels on February 16. It will be hosted by the European Union, and it will be the third in a series. The United States hosted the first summit a year and a half ago. The Japanese hosted the second summit this last April in Tokyo. Prime Minister Koizumi led that effort. And, the third summit -- where we hope to be able to approve a ten-year plan -- will come about February 16 of next year.

That concludes my opening statement before we open for questions.

Agence France-Presse: Dr. Watson, I just wanted you to, if you could confirm that the U.S. is approving a paper which is circulating around about the seminars, saying in effect that they should not talk about the future and they should only talk about national policies. This is not a U.S. paper, as we understand it, but a paper with which you would agree. Could you confirm this?

Dr. Watson: We were asked by the Argentine Presidency, specifically by Ambassador Estrada, to help clarify our position. We have provided him our paper with a few of our ideas on what we think would be an appropriate terms of reference of the seminar.

We understand that the G-77 has a paper, the EU has one, and I don’t know how many others are floating out there. It is also my understanding that Ambassador Estrada is in the process of meeting with the different groups and trying to reach a compromise on this. We very much look forward to meeting with the Ambassador on this and to be as helpful as we can.

BNA: Dr. Watson, can you elaborate on what the U.S. proposal has in it in terms of what you've seen so far from G-77 and the EU and Ambassador Estrada? What you like about his proposals and what you disagree with?

Dr. Watson: The U.S. proposal is very consistent with what we have been saying: that we believe it is premature to initiate a process that would either explicitly or implicitly imply that we are going to enter the post-2012 negotiations.

I could run through those reasons again, which I will be happy to do. President Bush in February of 2002 announced the 10-year program for the U.S., and we are in the process of implementing the President's program. The President also said that we would be analyzing where we were in 2012. And, of course, that we would be informed, along the way, through science. But, our basic structure is there, and we are working very hard to implement that. At the same time, the Kyoto Parties will be facing the entering into force of the Protocol on February 16, 2005 -- ironically, the same day of the Third Earth Conservation Summit in Brussels -- and there are still many, many pieces of that which need to come together.

I have certainly heard intense discussions on the CDM and its Executive Board, Joint Implementation, and other Kyoto implementation issues. And, of course, various trading systems are being developed, most notably the EU’s. The EU and its Member States are working very hard on that. We take the view that many, many lessons are going to be learned from what Kyoto Parties are going to be doing over the next several years as they work to meet their commitments under the Protocol. We believe as well that the process will be very much informed by actions that non-Kyoto Parties -- the U.S. and others -- will be taking in terms of their national programs. And, we believe having the time to digest some lessons learned prior to rushing into a negotiation process would be very fruitful.

BNA: If the other nations want to discuss post-2012, whether they made a decision on anything or not, just want to talk about it, and the U.S. is not a Kyoto-ratified country, then why would you oppose these seminars?

Dr. Watson: Oh, excuse me, we have made it very clear. We realize that under Article 3.9 of the Protocol, the Kyoto Parties do have to initiate discussions of post-2012 commitments. That is fine. We are certainly not opposing anything that is under the Protocol, and I want to make that clear. It is just when you reach out beyond that -- and pick up the pieces of the Convention -- that we are concerned about.

Washington Times: I have a question for either Adm. Lautenbacher or Dr. Watson. In the past hour, the Pew Center gave a presentation in which they allocated or assigned responsibility for percentages of temperature increase since 1950 to developed countries and developing countries. Now, given the state of climate science, that seems more like an argument a plaintiff’s lawyer might craft than something that is substantial, given the science. Can you articulate what, if any, reasonable (garbled) might exist for such a claim assigning responsibility for temperature rise in a discreet period to developed and developing countries?

Dr. Watson: I will be happy to try to address that and ask Admiral Lautenbacher to come back again on the issue. As you probably know, there is something called the Brazilian proposal that is being considered. I think it has been primarily within the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice.

The Brazilian proposal, as I understand it, is an attempt to assign a historic responsibility for global temperature rise by trying to determine developed and developing country contributions to that. In other words, let us say the Industrial Revolution began, say, 1850. I think that is the typical start year. There is an attempt first to quantify how much developed countries have contributed to any temperature increase since that time, as well as developing countries’ contribution. Then, depending upon which climate change model you would happen to use, you try to assign responsibilities between Annex I [developed] and Non-Annex I [developing] countries. And then, of course, there would be presumably a further attempt to try to divide that pie up further.

We do not think this is a particularly useful exercise because of what we would view as the lack of strong science behind such an attempt. We also believe that arguing about what happened between 1850 and now is not fruitful. Let's look forward, and let's not get bogged down with those old discussions which have occurred -- particularly in the UN -- in the past.

Admiral Lautenbacher: I am not familiar with that proposal, so I do not want to comment on it. But I do want to make a general statement in that when you look at the variety of things that people try to negotiate today, there is great uncertainty in the science as to what backs up those kinds of negotiations. We have to be careful to ground truth what is the fundamental basis of what we know, and then look at the rest of it as speculation and deal with it in that way.

Question: Dr. Watson, could you explain exactly what you're fighting for in the Executive Board? Are you fighting for an observer seat or are you fighting for a full seat? And, what is the legality of this, because obviously you're not a Party of the Kyoto Protocol, so could you explain that to us?

Dr. Watson: I'm sorry I missed the first part.

Question: I understand you are fighting for a seat to be able to continue participating in the Executive Board of the CDM. And I just wanted to understand this because if it is a full seat, how can you be a member if you're not a Party of the Kyoto Protocol? And, if this is an observer seat, could you confirm it? Thank you.

Dr. Watson: Let me again give you some background on that. Our concern has been, first of all, on the transparency of this process in particular. The CDM Executive Board, as you know, has chosen to define "attendance" to its meetings as being able to either watch its meetings on TV in the room next to where the meeting is being held or watching somewhere in the world on streaming video. We believe this is a ludicrous way to define attendance at meetings. We define "attendance" as physical presence, which is its plain meaning.

This is a precedent-setting issue, which could spill over into not only other meetings here, but also into other Conventions and other U.N. processes. That has been our basic problem with the CDM Executive Board. Under the rules of the Board, they have a perfect right to exclude observers, particularly when they are dealing with confidential issues. We understand that. However, they refuse to exercise what is in the rule and instead have what we consider to be an absurd interpretation: that attendance does not mean physical presence, and we have a very hard time understanding that.

That, of course, impacts not only Parties to the Convention, but also NGO's -- whether business or environmental -- and their ability to attend the meetings. We made this point first in New Delhi two years ago when this came up. We were concerned about the transparency of the process. And, I think if you heard many of the other interventions that have taken place in the Plenary, part of the issue is with the operation of CDM Executive Board and how it does deal with the transparency issue.

We realize it is the Parties of the Protocol that will members of the Executive Board, and that we are certainly not going to be members. We're not seeking a seat on it. But, as on any Protocol issue, we are obviously going to defend U.S. interests. We feel that as a Party to the Convention we should have the right to attend, physically, meetings of the Board. We really do not understand what has been the problem with that.

Adm. Lautenbacher: Let me add a couple of things that I forgot to mention earlier. First of all, a very important part of this COP-10 meeting and the basis of it relates to GCOS -- the Global Climate Observing System. It is a project that has been worked on in the SBSTA or the scientific and technical body that underpins the COP meeting. This is a very important effort, and I want to encourage all of the nations that are involved in it to join together to make GCOS a reality. GCOS is a member of the GEOSS -- Global Earth Observing System of Systems. We're trying to raise the profile of that system, because that is the kind of system we need if we are going to be able to do the kinds of negotiations you all are talking about today. But, we don't have the knowledge today on a continuous, sustained basis to be able to develop all these strange allocation issues that are coming up and all of the great theories that come in. So I want to make sure that people understand that the fundamental value of that… the SBSTA body that works for the framework convention.

And another issue that we have seen a lot of press on is the severity of storms and hurricanes and, therefore, everybody's experiencing climate change. That is just not true. There is no scientific direct evidence that connects the storms with climate change. Those are part of normal cycles in the history of the Earth. In the U.S., for instance, in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, that cycle was a cycle that had an average of three major storms per year. It depends on the decadal scientific measurements that you take on the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic oscillation, El Niño. Since then, we have shifted into a different cycle-period, so we are having about eight major storms per year. People need to think about variability and climate change very differently than they do today. That is what I wanted to mention.

Thank you.

Released on December 15, 2004

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