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Global Warming Summits Aim to Frame Climate Policy

September 27, 2007 at 6:25 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: At the State Department today, representatives of the world’s largest greenhouse-gas-emitting countries gathered for a conference called by President Bush. The Bush administration has long favored voluntary measures to address the problem, with individual countries making their own decisions about how to act.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened today’s summit.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: Let me stress that this is not a one-size-fits-all effort. Every country will make its own decisions, reflecting its own needs and its own interests, its own sources of energy and its own domestic environment. We must be committed to addressing climate change in a way that does not starve economies of the energy they need to grow.

JEFFREY BROWN: On Monday, the United Nations hosted a gathering on the same issue. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon presented a different approach, based on global action and mandatory targets.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General: National action alone is insufficient. No nation can address this challenge on its own. No region can insulate itself from this climate change. That is why we need to confront climate change within a global framework, one that guarantees the highest level of international community that is necessary.

Analysis from Climate Experts

Harlan Watson
U.S. State Dept.
This meeting was not -- it was not at all intended to distract from or to compete with the current U.S. process, but rather bring together a group of countries to reach a new framework agreement.

JEFFREY BROWN: The international community meets again in December to begin talks on a new treaty to combat global warming. The first pact, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire in 2012. The Bush administration rejected U.S. participation in 2001.

And now, the views of negotiators past and present about how the U.S. and the world should tackle climate change. Harlan Watson is the senior climate negotiator for the U.S. at the State Department. Former Senator Timothy Wirth is the president of the U.N. Foundation and Better World Fund. He represented the Clinton administration during U.N. climate negotiations in 1995.

Harlan Watson, to start off just with the fact of these conferences, a lot of people were wondering why the Bush administration wanted to have its own, whether you were trying to create a separate path towards negotiations?

HARLAN WATSON, Chief Climate Negotiator, State Department: No, absolutely not. As the president proposed this meeting on May 31st of this year as a contribution to the United Nations framework, to reach an agreement on the United Nations, the current framework on climate change.

This is endorsed by the Group of Eight leaders in June, in the meeting in Germany. Secretary Rice also made very clear in her remarks Monday at the U.N., as well as today, that we expect an agreement to be reached under United Nations. This meeting was not -- it was not at all intended to distract from or to compete with the current U.S. process, but rather bring together a group of countries to reach a new framework agreement.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tim Wirth, start there. How do you see these two separate conferences, playing with or against one another?

TIMOTHY WIRTH, President, U.N. Foundation and Better World Fund: I think it's important to note that, when she spoke in New York on Monday, Secretary Rice endorsed the fact that there had to be this continuing negotiation in December, a global negotiation, and that the U.S. would be part of it. That's a step in the right direction.

The fact that the U.S., however, continues to say that it's not going to be committed to a timetable, it's not going to be committed to caps, and it's not going to be committed, you know, to any kind of a joint process belies the fact that there is, obviously, a need for international negotiation. And you have to have international agreement, and you have to have international caps.

The U.S. can't go off on its own. When you burn coal in Delhi or burn coal in Denver, we all get warm together. And the world demands absolutely essential and is crying for U.S. leadership and U.S. engagement in this overall process.

U.S.-led effort on climate change

Timothy Worth
United Nations Foundation
We're in a world where people are emitting all over the globe. It's sort of like a speeding problem. You know, we're emitting much too much carbon. We're going much too fast. And you don't set a speed limit through voluntary limits.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Watson, is the U.S. trying to go it alone through conferences and other approaches like this?

HARLAN WATSON: No, absolutely not. As the president emphasized and as the secretary has restated, our intention is, again, in bringing together this group of countries, which is two-thirds of the world's economy, four-fifths of the world's energy and emissions, that we're really trying to reach a consensus on how to move forward. And that's what this is all about. It's to reach a consensus on how to address climate change after the Kyoto Protocol binding provisions expire in 2012.

JEFFREY BROWN: In what specific way, though, is the administration trying to do what Secretary Rice said today -- we had in our news summary -- cut the Gordian knot that she sees there. What specific approaches are you putting forward?

HARLAN WATSON: Well, specifically what we hope to -- what we hope to come to agreement out of, not only start the process in this meeting, but through a series of meetings over the next year, is to, first of all, try to get an agreement on a long-term, a global goal, a 2050-type goal to help guide actions, and also to send signals to the investment community, because it's going to require a tremendous amount of investment in clean energy technologies.

The second piece of that is to help urge countries, including the United States -- we're a part of that -- to establish midterm targets towards reaching that long-term goal, through national programs and policies.

Some of those elements are going to certainly be binding. United States already has a number of legally binding domestic programs that address climate change. We have, for example, our renewable fuel standards. We have mandatory standards on auto fuel economy that set a whole series of mandatory programs, as well as voluntary approaches. Those are binding at the national level. And so we hope, again, to encourage all of our countries to do that.

And, third, is really -- we all know in the long-term we need advance technology. We really need, as Secretary Rice has put it, a technology revolution. And we really want to work together on research and developments that are required to advance those technologies and also join hand-in-hand with the private sector, who will have the resources to bring those to the marketplace.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Mr. Wirth, I can see you're trying to jump in here.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, the world has changed since the old world of voluntary commitments. The science is in. We have dramatically changed constituencies in the United States. We have a business community demanding U.S. commitments. You have a developing world in these more recent discussions in New York. You have Mexico, South Africa, for example, Brazil making very, very different kinds of commitments. And everybody's asking, where is the United States? Why isn't the United States making these commitments? And really asking the United States to lead.

Now, maybe there will be something that the president surprises us with when he speaks tomorrow. So far there's been no indication of this kind of U.S. leadership or this kind of U.S. commitment. We hope it's there. Maybe we will again be surprised, but the voluntary approach doesn't work.

You know, we're in a world where people are emitting all over the globe. It's sort of like a speeding problem. You know, we're emitting much too much carbon. We're going much too fast. And you don't set a speed limit through voluntary limits. You have to have collective government action that says, "We're going to cap this. We're going to get a price on carbon. And we're going to move ahead."

Almost everybody in the world is asking for that, and I hope that the U.S. now decides to join up.

The role of developing countries

Harlan Watson
U.S. State Dept.
We're hardly hiding behind China and India. I just do want to make the point, however, that whatever commitments are made need to be realistic and achievable.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Wirth, how do you solve one of the big sticking points all along, which has been the role of some of the large developing countries and the economic issue Secretary Rice again raised this? How do you solve the dilemma of getting China and India and others to make cuts when they argue that they still need to grow their economy? This has been a sticking point for a long time.

TIMOTHY WIRTH: And it remains a sticking point. China had made it very clear on Monday at the session in New York that it's not taking the hard line that it took before. Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico have all said that they are willing to make commitments and start moving in that direction.

Clearly, the U.S. has to lead. The U.S. can no longer hide behind China and India, and India and China can no longer hide behind the U.S. That's why this international negotiation coming up, the climate negotiation coming up in December in Indonesia, is so terribly important.

Everybody has to move; everybody has to make commitments. And I think most of the world believes that the United States is going to have to show the flag. The United States is going to have to be out front as a leader, saying "no" is no longer an adequate policy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Watson, hiding behind China and India is what he said.

HARLAN WATSON: We're hardly hiding behind China and India. I just do want to make the point, however, that whatever commitments are made need to be realistic and achievable. I find it rather, I guess, ironic that the binding commitments that had been arrived to are being touted as key and essential, yet very few countries are meeting their commitments.

And so we don't believe in making up numbers. We believe that the targets are what we say we're going to achieve are achievable and are also not in a way that allows our economy to grow. That's the only way to make progress. Simply making up aspirational goals without a basis to achieve them I think is rather cynical politics.

The science of climate change

Timothy Worth
United Nations Foundation
I think we have to get a price on carbon, and we have to get a cap on carbon, and one way or another. I think there were some very positive developments that came out of the secretary-general's session that he held all day on Monday.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see -- we just have a couple minutes. I want to ask you both briefly here -- do you see with the growing consensus on the science a shift in the last few years politically and in the public that gives you some hope looking forward to these meetings we're talking about, that there will be some consensus?

HARLAN WATSON: Oh, certainly. And I think the attention this week is on the issue. In fact, the attention this year on the issue demonstrates that. The science -- we've had a major report, of course, in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The science is getting solid.

And, again, this is one of the reasons where the president decided now is the time to act. I think there's also been a change in the conversation, a realization that we just can't address climate change alone. We have to address it in a way that allows sustainable development, that allows economies to grow, that really emphasizes the importance of developing the new technologies that we need.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Wirth, what do you see, looking forward?

TIMOTHY WIRTH: Well, I think we have to get a price on carbon, and we have to get a cap on carbon, and one way or another. I think there were some very positive developments that came out of the secretary-general's session that he held all day on Monday. I think there's new political momentum around the world.

I hope that the meeting that the U.S. government is holding at the State Department right now is part of that political momentum. And, certainly, the engagement of the United States of America in the leadership role to which it's historically been involved, the leadership of the U.S. once again would be more than welcome.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Tim Wirth, Harlan Watson, thank you both very much.

HARLAN WATSON: OK, thank you.