December 6 Press Conference by the Delegation of the United StatesHarlan L. Watson, Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative and Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation
Thirteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
December 6, 2007
Good afternoon. I would like to start this afternoon’s press conference by referring to a fact sheet we have distributed here in Bali that describes how the United States is working with the Government of Indonesia to address climate change, energy security and clean development.
The programs highlighted in the fact sheet exemplify how the United States—through the U.S. International Agency for International Development (USAID), the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other agencies—engages on a bilateral basis with countries around the world to address the challenge of global climate change. I would like to underscore that non-governmental organizations and the private sector play a key role in the design and implementation of these bilateral programs.
I would like to make an important addition to the fact sheet you have in hand and to share with you that bilateral talks are beginning on a debt-for-nature agreement with the Government of Indonesia under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. The U.S. has allocated $19.6 million for these negotiations.
This update on our engagement with Indonesia is an example of how the United States collaborates with developing country partners in a broad range of activities designed to better understand climate and its implications for development and to build resilience to climate variability and change. These activities include analyzing data from Earth observations, developing decision support tools, and integrating climate information into development programs and projects.
All of these activities assist countries in developing stronger institutional capacity and more flexible and resilient economies that have the ability to address both the challenges and the opportunities presented by changing climatic conditions.
Good governance, sustainable economic growth, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation go hand in hand. Well-governed societies are inherently more resilient and adaptable to changing economic, social or environmental conditions of all kinds. The best way to address climate variability and change is through sustainable economic growth that takes place in a manner that preserves the environment for future generations.
The ultimate goal of adaptation is to develop flexible and resilient societies and economies. A diverse, robust, and open economy can better withstand many types of disruptions, including those related to climate events. The greatest progress will be assured through strategies that together improve energy security, alleviate poverty, reduce harmful air pollution, and reduce greenhouse gases.
Moving again to our engagement with Indonesia as an example of how the U.S. is working bilaterally to advance adaptation, I’d like to cite two additional activities funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and undertaken through an annual $9 million cooperative agreement between NOAA and Columbia University for climate research and applied adaptation activities around the world:
· In Indonesia’s critical rice-producing district of Indramayu, where highly variable rainfall frequently affects livelihoods, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, or IRI, has partnered with the agriculture office, the meteorological service, local government agricultural experts and other local stakeholders to develop climate information and decision-making tools for irrigation water scheduling, credit availability, and to help guide farmers crop decisions in managing climate risks.
· IRI is also working with Indonesian provincial government offices, CARE Indonesia, and other stakeholders involved in addressing food insecurity in Nusa Tengarra Timur, where significant assistance is required to prevent widespread malnutrition in low rainfall years.
Climate change is a serious long term issue, requiring sustained action over many generations by both developed and developing countries. Developing and deploying innovative technologies that are cleaner and more efficient is the key to addressing our climate challenge.
Finally, I would note that the Major Economies process by President Bush aims to strengthen international cooperation and, in particular to develop and deploy transformational energy technologies. Our host, Indonesia, is one of the sixteen other Major Economies that has joined with the United States to participate in this process.
Thank you and I welcome your questions.
Question: I was wondering how the action in the U.S. Senate overnight on the greenhouse gas emissions bill affects your negotiations here or your efforts?
Dr. Watson: I do understand action in the Senate committee has been completed. I don’t know the details, but in our process, a vote or a movement of a bill out of committee does not ensure its ultimate passage. We’re pleased the Senate has taken the action. Again, I don’t know the details, but we’ll not alter our posture here.
Question: There seems to be increasing pressure here for rich countries to take the lead in battling climate change, specifically with mandatory emissions cuts. Now, is the U.S in any position where it’s going to change its position on this with losing their key ally in Australia and with this pressure in this conference?
Dr. Watson: No, we’re not changing our position.
Question: Back in end of September this year the U.S. hosted a meeting of 16 major economies in the hope to come up with a post-2012 deal of some sort. It didn’t, but it said it would include the Bali meeting outcome. To which degree will whatever comes up in Bali influence the U.S. position?
Dr. Watson: You’re right, the Major Economies Process will involve a series of meetings. The first one was held at the end of September in Washington. We had that meeting and it’s our intention to have several future meetings. I believe the next one will probably be scheduled at the end of January and then there will be subsequent meetings. But the idea was to have that process informed by what occurs here in Bali. Again, we’re not trying to detract from United Nations process. The purpose of the Major Economies process rather, is to help accelerate progress under the Framework Convention, so we will be informed by the outcome here in moving forward.
Question: Apparently Australia’s new government has signed up or given indications that it will approve the wording that was agreed in Vienna that developed countries should aim for cuts of between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 -- the Kyoto countries. Would United States agree to that language? And when will you define what types of cuts you are willing to look at in the longer-term please?
Dr. Watson: With regard to the latter part of your question, Alister, we hope that coming out of the Major Economics Process, which we hope will be completed sometime next year, are some specific numbers. I don’t want to speak for those countries that signed on to the decision coming out of Vienna. I think it is subject to interpretation on exactly what was agreed to. I would refer you to Australia specifically on that. I don’t want to speak for them.
Question: We heard the COP yesterday discussing the Russian proposal which seems to involve “no-lose” target for developing countries, which would mean they could set a baseline and trade emissions if they come in under the baseline but risk no penalty, if they come out above that baseline. What are your views on this proposal, and what kind of concessions would you be willing to give to meet developing countries -- to meeting them, when they take on, possibly, such targets?
Dr Watson: Well, with regard to the Russian proposal, that’s been considered as a Kyoto Protocol item. We’re observers in that process, so we’ve not formally taken a position on that. We think that many aspects of the Russian proposal have merit. I would imagine that Russia will be very interested in whatever process, or Bali Roadmap, or whatever is agreed to, that the Russian proposal might be part of that. When we see it in the appropriate context, then we will take a formal position on it. I’m saying our initial reaction is very positive. I’m not going to get into the game of what’s going to be required of developing countries or developed countries. Once again, what we want to do is to initiate a process here. We’ll reach those conclusions by the end of 2009, and we don’t need to get into the numbers game at the front end. That’s something that will develop over time.
Question: I want to follow up on the first question regarding the approval by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee of the Warner-Lieberman legislation. I’m not sure I heard you correctly but I believe you said -- after saying you don’t know the details and that the committee action will not change the US position here -- I think you said, “we’re pleased the Senate has taken this action.” Is that correct?
Dr. Watson: Well, we’re always pleased to be informed by whatever action the Congress has taken. That’s not an endorsement of the legislation -- don’t misinterpret it.
Question: What exactly is it about this action that pleases the Administration?
Dr. Watson: This has been an area of contention for quite a long time in the committee, and the committee has finally acted. So, it provides more clarity of the situation.
Question: I’d like to know what you think of China’s stance on this Bali conference. Obviously China is very important for post-Kyoto but it seems to be they want to keep the Kyoto Protocol as it is and they are reluctant to say what kind of new framework they’d like to have.
Dr. Watson: Let me say what I understand of China’s position, and I think it’s widely shared by many is that the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group, the AWG, should continue. As I understand China’s position, just coming from our initial informal contact group on the Bali Roadmap -- it has a long title -- with regard to implementation of the Convention, is that they also want to enhance implementation of the Convention itself. They’ve laid out a number of elements, some of which are very helpful. We think we can find much common ground. We may have some differences when we get down to the details. But again, we look forward to working positively with China in this, as we move forward here.
Question: If not by a fund, how does the U.S. funding technology transfer?
Dr. Watson: Well, first of all, let me clarify the fund. President Bush did announce in his speech before the Major Economies Meeting at the end of September that the United States would be coming forward with a clean technology fund proposal. He’s asked Secretary of the Treasury Paulson to take on the formulation of such a fund. Secretary Paulson is talking to a number of countries around the world about it. I know he’s talked to the UK, Japan and other countries on the establishment on such a fund. Again it’s still in formulation, so we do agree that funding is a key component of technology transfer. But also another important component is, I would say, a non-financial piece: trying to reduce, or eliminate, tariff and non-tariff barriers on environmental goods and services. The United States -- I believe with the EU -- tabled a proposal with the WTO last week on 40-some specific technologies. So there are many, many ways to advance technology transfer. Certainly funding is an important component of that, but we also need to identify other barriers which are preventing the flow of the goods and services with tariff and non-tariff barriers being a key one.
Question: I don’t know if you were aware of it, yesterday the American and the European Union announced a list of tax breaks as part of a climate change strategy. And ethanol wasn’t on that list which led the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil to describe it as a show of the “double face” of rich countries when it comes to climate change combat. So, I’d like to have your opinion on that, and also what you think the part of ethanol could be on the combat of climate change.
Dr. Watson: First of all, I’ve just heard what you said -- it’s the first time I’m aware of it, so I’m not going to comment on that since I don’t know any of the details. Certainly both domestically and internationally we think that ethanol and biofuels in general have an important contribution to make in combating climate change, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from road-based transportation --both biofuels including things like ethanol and biodiesel. We are working very hard on that domestically, particularly to develop new technologies to produce biofuels in an environmentally safe and sound manner. We know certainly that the United States and Brazil are the major producers of biofuels in the world. We do work closely together with Brazil in the International Biofuels Forum, for example, in that multilateral context as well as bilaterally. So we’re very strong allies with Brazil in a number of areas of biofuels. But again, I can’t respond to something that I don’t know the details of.
Question: There was a declaration presented by scientists based on the fourth report of the IPCC just an hour ago here. They stated that warming needs to be limited to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. And that to reach this goal, greenhouse gas reductions of 50% below 1990 levels are required until 2050. My question is, does the U.S. agree with this opinion, with this take of the scientific community, and if not, could you explain why you disagree with the scientific community? Thank you.
Dr. Watson: Well first of all, I don’t know who the scientists are. I haven’t seen it. We certainly were heavily involved in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. The United States was the major funder of that work. The work of our scientists probably made the largest contribution globally to that effort. And so we fully respect what it is that came out of those reports. We also approved, on a line-by-line basis, the summary for policymakers of each of the three reports and the most recent synthesis report in Valencia, several weeks ago. So, we’re fully on board with what the IPCC says. But I want to emphasize what the IPCC puts forward is really an assessment of the science. It is not policy prescriptive. The IPCC analyzes a series of scenarios and presents a range of possible outcomes, some of which may have more certainty than others. And so we are not endorsing any particular outcome of that work.
Question: This was a policy proposal by the scientists. It was 200 scientists -- apparently leading scientists of the climate change community.
Dr. Watson: Well, there were thousands of scientists involved in the IPCC. This is the opinion of the 200. Again, I haven’t seen the statement in its context. So, no, I can’t endorse something that I haven’t seen.
Question: I just wanted to ask if you could confirm that you have indeed just sent out invitations to the next meeting of the major emitters, the major economies. And secondly, could you be clear about, are you suggesting that the negotiations on how much a burden the industrialized countries should take on should be moved into those meetings and then be brought back into the UN process once agreement has been reached?
Dr. Watson: Yes, I can confirm that the letter did go out from Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton, who is President Bush’s lead designee in this effort. I believe it was dated December 1. It was sent out to the other Major Economy leaders’ representatives. With regard to the second question, no, we do not expect that process to lead to specific commitments by countries. However, we would expect that process hopefully will inform what countries might be willing to come forward with in a UN process. The United Nations Framework Convention is the place where negotiations occur. We are very keen, of course, as part of the Major Economies Process to the extent we can, get consensus about what a long-term global goal might be. We certainly think that’s important to help guide the effort. We think it would be very helpful to bring that back into the Framework Convention -- the results of that. But once again, this is just to help with the process here under the Framework Convention.