U.S. Climate Change Policies Part of Broader Development Agenda

Washington - The United States believes climate change is an important issue and incorporates its climate policies into a broader sustainable development agenda, according to the State Department's senior climate negotiator, Harlan Watson.

Countries in the developing world are focused on economic growth and providing for the health, education and other needs of their citizens, and the United States believes that climate policies should recognize and complement these priorities Watson said in a webchat on climate change February 27.

“[W]e believe that economic growth is the solution, not the problem. Economic growth will provide the resources needed to invest and deploy newer and cleaner technologies,” he said.

The subject of the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), came up very quickly in the webchat. Countries that ratified this protocol committed to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases.

Watson said that even though the United States has not signed the protocol, and even though developing-country signatories, such as India and China, are exempt from requirements to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, all three nations, in fact, are working to cut their carbon emissions.  He added that if the United States were to abide by the emissions-reduction requirements of the protocol, it would cost an estimated $400 billion per year and the loss of nearly 5 million jobs.

The United States has joined 187 nations in the UNFCCC, Watson said. “We believe this is the appropriate multilateral form to address the issue,” Watson said. He added the United States is working with other countries “in a variety of other fora including the G8 and other bilateral and multilateral partnerships, all of which contribute to the goals and objectives of the convention.” 

Watson said that most of the world's countries are "working to develop and deploy cleaner and more efficient technologies that will reduce emissions."  They are doing this, he said, for a variety of reasons, among them enhancing energy security and combating air pollution, but all are working toward the same goal.

“Climate has changed throughout the Earth's history due to natural causes alone. However, we do realize that modern society is having an impact and we are working to reduce that effectively,” Watson said.

“We are working on a broad portfolio of cleaner technologies including energy efficiency, clean coal, nuclear, and renewables,” to reduce that impact, he said.

Although the United States is spending about $3 billion annually to develop and deploy new and cleaner technologies to address climate change, "money alone does not guarantee success,” he said. Another key is providing the proper incentives to the private sector because it has both the expertise and the resources needed for success.

Watson, in response to several questions about China, said the United States is working bilaterally and through multilateral technology partnerships with China to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

A major U.S. effort, Watson wrote, is through the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.  There, the United States collaborates with China, Australia, India, South Korea and Japan "to develop and deploy cleaner technologies that will improve energy security and reduce harmful air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions." These six economies make up about half the world's economic output, have about half the world's population and consume about half of the world's energy, he said. (See related article.)

Under President Bush “the U.S. has in place over 60 federal programs and has spent over $29 billion on climate change programs,” Watson said. Those programs reflect the fact that climate change “is an issue for major segments of the American public and this is being reflected in a focus by the U.S. Congress.”

A transcript of Watson's webchat, as well as information about upcoming webchats, is available on USINFO’s Webchat Station.

For more information about U.S. clean energy programs, see the eJournal Clean Energy Solutions.

For additional information on U.S. policies on climate change, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.