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U.S. Climate Negotiator Touts Technology for GHG Fight

When it comes to cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, targets and timetables are not the way, not for the United States and not for developing countries either, according to Harlan Watson, the Bush administration's top international climate-change negotiator.

Speaking to reporters in Washington at a Platts forum Tuesday, Watson said that for developing countries, such as China, climate-change initiatives that impinge on economic growth are a nonstarter. He said that countries such as China, India and South Africa have made "a heck of a lot" of progress in addressing climate change. However, their emissions are still growing because their economies are still growing rapidly.

For these countries and the United States, Watson said technological advances in areas such as carbon sequestration, nuclear and solar power are critical. "We believe that's the way to go rather than talking about short-term targets and timetables."

In the United States, Watson said a cap-and-trade emissions control mechanism for carbon dioxide emissions would only serve to drive up electricity and other energy prices as it would drive up the cost of coal. He said capping GHG emissions is not the same as capping sulfur emissions, something that was successfully done in the 1990s. Watson said that in the case of sulfur technology was readily available to accomplish the goal and the United States had ample low-sulfur coal supplies available in the Powder River Basin, easily transportable to markets thanks to railroad deregulation.

In the case of carbon, there is no low-carbon coal, and natural gas is not available in plentiful enough quantities to make fuel switching the answer. Hence, cap and trade would drive up the cost of coal and hinder economic growth, he said.

Watson outlined events at last month's UN global warming conference in Nairobi, Kenya, last month. One sticking point in the negotiations was in the area of technology transfer. The Bush administration views technological advances as critical to reducing emissions without affecting the economy negatively. Watson said that in Nairobi a vote was taken on whether to allow the UN's climate change technology transfer group to sunset as it was scheduled to do after five years. The vote was to keep the group around for one more year and reconsider its future again next year.

Watson said that developing and developed countries were at loggerheads when it came to technology transfer to combat climate change. China voiced support for a mechanism under which a fund would be established to buy proprietary technology and then set it free in the public domain, which is something the developed countries found unattractive.

He said a number of developing countries have said they would be willing to reduce deforestation in exchange for emissions credits in a scheme that would be akin to the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, under which countries set aside forests from harvesting in exchange for external debt reduction.

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