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U.S. Climate Negotiators Justify Bush Position to the World

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, December 9, 2004 (ENS) - The United States is doing its part in the battle against climate change, a senior climate negotiator for the U.S. State Department said at the ongoing conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). His assertion was made in the face of the widespread belief here that the U.S. is working to undermine global efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases linked to the warming climate.

Although the United States will not ratify the Kyoto climate protocol, the Bush administration is making as strong an effort as any other country to deal with climate change, Dr. Harlan Watson told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday.

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Dr. Harlan Watson is alternate head of the U.S. delegation to the conference. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotations Bulletin)
"We believe we match or exceed what any other country in the world is doing to address climate change and the need to control greenhouse gas emissions," Watson said.

"If the U.S. is doing so many things to reduce emissions as they say here, why do you think there are so many negative opinions about the Bush administration that seems to be like the bad boy," asked a Brazilian reporter.

"I'm not sure why we are considered the bad boys," Watson replied.

The United States is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to address climate change, Watson explained. The first prong in the U.S. strategy is to reduce carbon intensity - the amount of carbon emissions generated per dollar of economic output - and consequently to reduce emissions.

"Second, we are making substantial investments in science and technology and institutions designed to address both climate change in the near term and in the long term," Watson told the international press.

The senior official, who is the alternate head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting, said the United States is spending about $5 billion annually on science and technology projects, including solar and renewable energy technologies, and advanced technologies such as nuclear fission and fusion.

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Conference President Ginés Mario Gonzalez Garcia, minister of health and environment, Argentina, reminds delegates that this is the last session prior to the entry into force of the Protocol and the first session of a new chapter devoted to taking action. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The United States has established partnership arrangements with other nations in pursuit of those technological breakthroughs - the third element of the U.S. strategy.

"We have well over 200 projects with our partners addressing climate change science, clean energy technologies, Earth observations, and so forth," said Watson.

But U.S. partnerships are less in evidence here than resistance to Bush administration policies. Much criticism followed Watson's motion on Tuesday to delete agenda items referring to the inputs of UNFCCC to other intergovernmental processes such as the Kobe World Conference on Disaster Reduction and the Barbados Plan of Action to deal with the problems of Small Island States.

The upcoming implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is the main agenda item at the conference. The protocol, an amendment to the UNFCCC, was negotiated in December 1997 and is due to enter into force on February 16, 2005.

The United States signed but did not ratify that agreement, which imposes legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on industrialized countries.

In Buenos Aires, the United States is coming under intense criticism from nongovernmental organizations and some governments because with five percent of the world's population, the U.S. emits 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, which raise the temperature globally.

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Greenpeace ark in downtown Buenos Aires (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Greenpeace placed a "climate ark" in downtown Buenos Aires to protest what the organization views as U.S. failure to address global warming.

A dancer who wore the mask of President George Bush performed in the street to the song "Singin' in the Rain" to protest what Greenpeace says is American destruction of Argentina's climate. With rain, wind, and a giant photo of recent floods in Argentina, the activist dancer dramatized the dramatic growth of precipitation in Argentina, which Greenpeace blames on U.S. inaction to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

A spokesman for Greenpeace Argentina says the Bush administration is "isolated from reality, in an irresponsible and immoral attitude."

Watson said the United States might not be in accord on the Kyoto Protocol, but it has taken actions to reduce emissions and control climate change.

The United States and partners are working to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors, new methods for the capture and storage of fossil fuel emissions, and the technologies and support structure to move society toward a hydrogen energy based economy.

"We have a very strong partnership among 10 countries and the EURATOM on the Generation IV International Forum which is working to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors, which will be safer and more economic and secure, from a proliferation standpoint," Watson said.

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, with 16 countries and the European Commission, "is working on technologies that will allow the capture and storage, in a safe and environmental manner, of emissions from fossil fuel burning plants," he said.

Led by the United States, Watson said, the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy with 16 countries and the European Commission is working to advance the global transition to a hydrogen economy.

And most recently, the Methane-to-Markets Partnership where 13 countries joined the United States this summer to launch an innovative program that will be targeted on reducing methane emissions, which is the second most important greenhouse gas, the climate negotiator said. The U.S. committed some $53 million to the Partnership over the next five years.

At a side event to the conference on Wednesday, Ahsha Tribble of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) introduced the Strategic Plan of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, which she said aims to reduce scientific uncertainty relating to climate change.

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A member of the U.S. delegation, NOAA's Ahsha Tribble focuses on U.S. climate change science. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
David Conover of the U.S. Energy Department noted the "ambitious" research and development agenda of his department’s Climate Change Technology Program. He said energy efficiency is the largest area of investment in the program, and said tax incentives are used to promote energy efficiency.

Noting that the agricultural sector both contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and is vulnerable to climate change, Bruce Knight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture spoke of the need to mitigate the impact of climate change on farmers and identify their role in reducing emissions.

Larisa Dobriansky, deputy assistant secretary for national energy policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, introduced Climate Vision, a voluntary program including 13 partner associations that represent 90 percent of U.S. industrial emissions. She said the program aims to examine climate technology needs, evaluate possible funding mechanisms, and promote research and development and technology diffusion.

Susan Wickwire of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described her agency's voluntary climate change programs, saying that they seek to address inefficiencies in the market and provide information, technical assistance, and recognition for environmental leadership.

Noting the high cost of the Climate Change Science Program, one participant questioned whether the United States should not have relied on science emerging from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and instead spent the money directly on mitigation efforts.

Watson said that the IPCC’s outputs "do not represent the final word."

Another participant observed that, even if the Bush administration's target of reducing greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent by 2012 is met, overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 14 percent from 2002-2012, to reach greenhouse gas emission levels of 32 percent above the 1990 baseline.

Another delegate pointed out that uncertainty among U.S. corporations over the status of early action credits and baselines for action might be a hurdle to their involvement in voluntary agreements.



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