TCS Daily

'A More Orderly Process'

By James K. Glassman - August 21, 2002 12:00 AM

Editor's note: The following is an interview with Dr. Harlan Watson, the U. S. State Department's Senior Climate Change Negotiator and Special Representative. TCS Host James K. Glassman conducted the interview. Watson is leaving today for Johannesburg, South Africa as part of the U.S. government's delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Mr. Glassman: The Bush Administration has made it clear that it's not going to seek Senate ratification of the multilateral Kyoto treaty. And yet the Administration is seeking bilateral agreements dealing with climate issues. Why is the bilateral approach better than the multilateral U.N. venture?

Dr. Watson: Let me say up front that we are committed to working within the framework of the [Climate Change] Convention and continue to participate in that. However, if and when the Kyoto protocol enters into force, we will not be participants in that because we're not going to be a party to the protocol.

And quite frankly, the multinational framework and multilateral framework is a rather difficult arena. You typically have over 180 countries participating. And it's very difficult to really accomplish that much within the multilateral arena. We believe that by engaging other countries on a one-on-one basis we can actually make more progress and actually take actions, move forward.

A big part of that, of course, consists of our programs in the areas of science and technology. In particular teaming up with a number of our partners where both sides have strengths and weaknesses so that both sides can benefit.

Mr. Glassman: What are some of those bilateral agreements because I don't think a lot of people appreciate them?

Dr. Watson: Since I got here last September, there had been a few initial conversations. And, of course, 9/11 came and bilaterals got placed on the back burner. Certainly we have ongoing bilaterals with Japan, the European Union, Italy, Australia, and Canada. That's among developed countries. And, then, Central American countries - Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. And, then, most recently China, India, and South Korea.

Mr. Glassman: Let's talk about China, which is now the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. During the Clinton Administration, the Chinese government complained that ventures with the U.S. on curbing pollution and improving clean energy didn't include aid funds, such as those the Europeans and Japanese provided. But China is a potential military rival. Are there problems with technology transferred to them?

Dr. Watson: Well, certainly we haven't actually gotten down to that level of detail. Right now we're talking more in the research stage. Yes, there clearly will be difficulties and problems on that front, I'm sure, perhaps when we get down to the specifics in the specific technologies.

You are right about aid funds: The USAID does not operate in China and I, quite frankly, don't know if it's a matter of policy or if it's a Congressional prohibition. So that is the difference between our approach and other countries that would be operating in China. There's been a lot of activity, more on the informal levels - scientist-to-scientist types of activities going on. The Department of Energy has a number of things going on there as do a number of the other science agencies.

Mr. Glassman: In your bilateral agreements with developing countries it seems that they really can't afford the kind of renewable energy sources that are popular with the green groups, such as solar power or wind power. But what kinds of energy are you talking about helping to develop through technology transfers?

Dr. Watson: Right now most of our discussions have been more in the applied technology development area. The Chinese are, of course, very interested in some of the clean coal technologies. Obviously, they're sitting on a very large reservoir of coal there so there's been interest in that area. And there's obviously, I think, an interest in the nuclear arena. But that obviously carries its own set of restrictions.

Mr. Glassman: Right. So, for example, India is interested in nuclear plants but it could create problems with Pakistan.

Dr. Watson: Yes. I know, obviously, you've heard India's very interested in expanding their nuclear power component. Once again, they're sitting on a huge reservoir of coal but it's very low quality and high ash.

Mr. Glassman: So is your focus on clean coal?

Dr. Watson: Well that's certainly going to be one of them. There's certainly a lot of interest, I would say, around the world. I think there's a realization that fossil fuels in general and coal in particular are going to be important energy sources for probably decades to come. I mean that's the reality. So the question is, how do you clean it up? There is a lot of interest in both the developed and developing world on some of the carbon captures and sequestration technologies and other technology developments in that arena.

Mr. Glassman: Back to the question of India for a moment. Will the Administration support nuclear power? I mean, for instance, nuclear power in India? Or have you made a decision?

Dr. Watson: No, we really haven't. Quite frankly, our initial discussions have not gotten around to the specific technologies yet. So that issue really has not come up. But certainly this Administration is very favorable towards nuclear power as opposed to the last administration. And we do believe that nuclear has to play a key role in any energy mix.

Mr. Glassman: Right. Does the fact that you are negotiating these bilateral agreements that involve reductions in carbon emissions - or increases in carbon capture - mean that the Administration thinks that the science of climate change is a settled issue and that man-made emissions from burning fossil fuels pose a severe threat to world living conditions?

Dr. Watson: Well there are a number of factors in that. Clearly it is recognized as a factor. The question is, what other factors are there? How do you tease out the human versus the natural components?

Part of our focus is on the clean coal technology. That has to due with air quality factors, seeing as air quality is more of a concern in a number of countries than climate change. I'm sure you've been to Beijing and when you're not getting dust, well you're getting the coal. There are certainly a lot of incentive in many countries - particularly China and India, which do rely heavily on coal - to try to clean things up regardless of what the climate change impacts are.

Mr. Glassman: The Administration has made much of increasing energy intensity. How do you respond to complaints by environmentalists that this approach does not really reduce total emissions and that total emissions are the problem?

Dr. Watson: Well you have to start somewhere. We need to bring emissions down from what they otherwise would be. But first you have to go slow, obviously, before you can stop. So it's a more orderly process. Obviously, it recognizes the fact that it takes time to turn over capital stock and get new technologies on line.

Mr. Glassman: Let's say that down the road the science ultimately demonstrates conclusively that human generated greenhouse gas emissions haven't really played very much of a role in climate change - as some of us think the data already show - do you think that some good still will have come from these bilateral accords?

Dr. Watson: Well, yes. Clearly we're going into this with a 'no regrets' type of policy, which goes back, I guess, to President George H.W. Bush's administration. In other words, take steps that would make sense anyway.

For example, take air quality. Improve air quality you get health benefits from that. Also there are a lot of quality issues regarding energy production and so on. And take the steps that you would get benefit from anyway. Anything you can do to help those countries, such as China and India, improve the quality of their coal facilities and the burning of coal will obviously have benefits both in air quality and, of course, the health benefits that go along with that.

Mr. Glassman: Well that's great. I really appreciate this Dr. Watson.

Dr. Watson: My pleasure.



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