Tackling climate change globally

This past week, officials from many countries, including Greece and the United States, met in Dubai at the ministerial forum of the UN Environment Program to address some of the major environmental challenges that our planet faces. Their discussion on clean and renewable energy gives me an opportunity to explain the United States’ policies regarding energy, the environment and, in particular, climate change. Air pollution and climate change are at the forefront of our global environmental concerns. Some believe the United States is unwilling to address climate change. Not so. We have the same goals as the rest of the world but we believe there are more effective ways to achieve them. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol set arbitrary and mandatory emission targets for industrialized nations but had no targets for developing countries and no provisions for finding technological solutions. Our analysis was that implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would have been very harmful for the United States’ economy. Given the size of our economy, our implementation of the protocol would have had a severe impact on the global economy as well. An economic slump would also prevent investment in technologies needed to address critical environmental issues. In response, the United States proposed that economic growth should be part of the strategy to address climate change. Only economic growth provides the resources for investments in science and technology that offer the greatest potential for reversing greenhouse gas accumulation. The United States is taking both domestic and international steps to address climate change. Our approach is threefold: immediately reducing greenhouse gas intensity, making major investments in science and technology, and cooperating internationally to develop an effective global response. President Bush made a commitment to cut the country’s greenhouse gas intensity (how much we emit per unit of economic activity) by 18 percent through 2012, which means an annual cut of 1.95 percent in emissions intensity. Toward that goal, we are making real and accelerated progress. The intensity of US emissions declined by 2.3 percent in 2003, and by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2004. In comparison, almost 13 out of the 15 original EU signatories of the Kyoto Protocol are likely to miss their 2010 emissions targets, and in a number of these countries the intensity of the emissions are going up. Domestically, we invested nearly $5.8 billion (4.86 billion euros) in 2005 – an increase of 14 percent – in scientific research and advanced technologies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For 2006, President Bush has proposed $5.5 billion (4.6 billion euros) for climate change activities, as well as $3.6 billion (3 billion euros) in tax incentives over five years to spur the use of clean and renewable energy by businesses. As President Bush noted in his State of the Union address a few days ago, by investing in revolutionary solar and wind technologies, hydrogen fuel and emissions-free coal plants, we can dramatically improve our environment. Internationally, the United States is working on a multilateral basis to address the challenge of climate change. We have been a committed party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change since 1992 and we are its largest financial contributor. Through international networks and partnerships – including 15 bilateral and six major multilateral agreements – we are investing funds, resources and expertise in confronting climate change. Europe and America are joining forces through the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum and the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy, striving to perfect carbon capture and storage and make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles commercially available by 2020. In addition, we are working together on making wind and solar power systems more cost effective. These cleaner energy technologies will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. More recently, we joined Australia, China, India, Korea and Japan in creating a new Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development and climate change. These countries represent nearly 50 percent of global population, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The partnership will contribute to our efforts to develop and deploy cleaner, more efficient technologies to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change concerns. President Bush requested $52 million (43.6 million euros) in his budget proposal to support this initiative. The policies and objectives that the United States share with the rest of the world far outweigh any differences we may have. Our common challenge is to address climate change while promoting development. We firmly believe that a healthy climate, a growing world economy and a steady reduction in poverty are goals that are mutually reinforcing, rather than mutually exclusive. Addressing one priority while ignoring the others makes progress on all three less likely. It is time to make our partnerships work and to invest in our future and the future of our children, today. (1) Charles P. Ries is the US ambassador to Greece.