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The U.S. Role in Climate Change

Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview with Sally Althy, Sky TV
Washington, DC
April 5, 2007

Sky TV: Earlier this week, EU Commissioner Dimas, Environment Minister, said that "The U.S. should end its negative attitude towards international negotiations on a new climate change pact." What's your reaction to that?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: Well, I think that it is unfortunate to have a comment like that, especially if people are in the midst of trying to address the issue constructively. We are very committed to addressing greenhouse gas emissions. We are making efforts to reduce them. We are working together with the German EU presidency to do so; the German G-8 presidency, as well. We have made tremendous investments in reducing greenhouse gases by developing new technologies; putting efforts into science and research, and then trying to see those technologies deployed in the marketplace. The U.S. results have been comparable to those of Europe. If you go to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, for instance, and look at the data there, the most recent period for which they have comparative data is 2000 to 2004. There, you see the United States had modest growth in emissions during that period, about 1.3%. The EU 25 also had a modest growth in emissions, about 2.1% during that time. I think we both are making progress, trying to do the same things; reducing the growth in emissions, and ultimately trying to reverse it. And whether a country is a member of the Kyoto Treaty or takes part in the Kyoto process or not, we have the same objectives and the same goals, which is to reduce the emissions. And we are making progress toward that goal.

Sky TV: Now, I know you don't want to talk specifically about the on-going negotiations in Brussels. But, how important is this report and, if it is as bad as we expect it to be, what do you think the U.S. will take from it? How seriously are you taking it, and will you act upon it in terms of concrete policy?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: Well, these are scientists getting together to examine the issues that they can look as to what is actually happening with greenhouse gas emissions and with climate change. It is very important data that all of our governments will need to use. It takes you back to the same policy questions; which is where, I think, we and the EU, we and the German presidency, and many others, are all in the same place, which is that we recognize that climate change is an issue of great concern for all of us. We all share an objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are taking steps to do so. We are all making some progress in doing so, and we want to continue that progress.

Sky TV: So how much more progress are you prepared to make?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: Well, we have put about $29 billion over the last 6 years into research and development of cleaner technologies, of climate science. That's more than any other country has put into this. Just as a comparison, some country's GDP is less than $29 billion. This is an enormous amount of money we've put into addressing this challenge...

Sky TV: But isn't that only right given...

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: of course, of course...

Sky TV: ...given how much America wastes in inverted commerce and how much America contributes to climate change...

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: ...Well, we have the largest economy in the world. Of course, it is natural that we are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions largely track each other. The trick is to make economic growth and economic activity less greenhouse gas intensive. If you go back to this period of 2000-2004, the U.S. was, during that time, increasing the size of its economy; about $1.9 trillion. It's the equivalent of adding Italy to the U.S. economy. At that same time, we have this relatively slow growth, 1.3% in our emissions. If you look at the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy, it reduced by 7.5% during that period of time. So, we are really leading the world in breaking that linkage between greenhouse gas and economic growth and activity, which all of us want and need; its jobs, its health, its welfare for our people, and at the same time, reducing the greenhouse gas impact of that.

Sky TV: Why do you think it is that most people have the impression that American is doing very little to contribute to...(inaudible)...Is it about getting your message across?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Volker: I think largely that's true. We have not done the best job in presenting our own policies, and I think that's something we need to do a better job of doing. Another, though, is that people had equated the issue of dealing with climate change with the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is one means of addressing climate change issues. It's a global treaty that establishes the objective, or tries to put together, a global cap and trade system. That's one way to go about it. But, another way to look at this is that if you have an economy, and it produces greenhouse gases, and you want to reduce that, you essentially have three options. You can cut the size of your economy, which none of us want to do. You can shift a part of your economy to another country, so it doesn't show up on your books. That is partly what this cap and trade thing is about. Or, you can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions through different, cleaner technologies. That is where we are putting our money and our effort and making a great deal of progress.

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