Web Extra Wednesday, December 4

Bush officials weigh climate change options

Yesterday, Bush administration officials said the president is open to changing his current approach to climate change issues, given the right kind of data.

"This administration is open to facts," John Marburger, assistant to the president for science and technology, said at a three-day climate change workshop in Washington. "The better the scientific case is for doing something, the more likely there is to be policy changes. This is not an administration that shuts off its ears and its common sense. That's why we're doing this."

The workshop, sponsored by the 13-agency U.S. Climate Change Science Program, is bringing together more than 1,200 scientists, industry representatives and lobbyists to discuss the direction of climate change research as outlined in a 177-page draft strategic plan. The Strategic Plan Climate Change Science Program incorporates the U.S. Global Change Research Program (an interagency program initiated by the first President Bush in 1992) and the Climate Change Research Initiative (initiated in June 2001) as a response to President Bush's call to use the best scientific data available to aid him in developing a "well-reasoned" climate change strategy.

Speaking on the opening day of the workshop, officials stressed that the administration's strategy already has a sound start, with $4.5 billion invested in climate change research for fiscal year 2003. They also highlighted the goal President Bush set last year to improve the energy efficiency of the U.S. economy 18 percent over the next 10 years, by lowering the carbon dioxide.

This 2012 target date is coincidentally the same as that of the Kyoto Protocol. Other than the United States, almost all developed countries are supporting the treaty, which requires countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2012. Russia has promised to ratify the treaty next year.

During that same ten-year period, researchers project a 30 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the United States due to population and economic growth if no actions are taken, explained Jim Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Therefore, he said, the President's goal is "using the science results developed over the next year, two years, four years to guide whether we need to move more rapidly."

Marburger said he expects that findings from climate change research and technology will result in change in the president's policy before 2012. But, he said, the administration first needs the more adequate data. "The purpose of the Global Change Research Program was not necessarily to produce decision-analysis tools, like scenarios or modeling," he said. "So you tended to have thematic research programs, focusing on oceans or the response of corals to global warming, for example, but you don't necessarily have a coherent set of science tools to analyze scenarios for, let's say, the impact of global warming on some part of the world that you're concerned about. The tools that we have are incomplete."

Responsible decision-making is possible, Marburger said, with the right data. "The cost of technological changes is so great that any responsible government has to understand as well as it can what the possible implications are."

Dan Lashof, science director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that the Bush administration is still not responsible in its response to climate change. "Their policy remains to just continue doing research and let the emisssions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase. And we know, more than enough, that is not a responsible approach to global warming," Lashof says. The strategic plan, he says, explicitely ignores a decade of research that the administration itself had accepted as part of last year's U.S. Climate Action Report. "This latest research plan really seems to be an attempt to turn the clock back 10 years and pretend that we're starting almost from scratch in looking at the problem of global warming."

At yesterday's workshop, Patrick Obasi, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said that while the United States is making improvements in increasing the amount of investment in climate change research, he hopes to see more action taken soon to reduce the risks posed from global warming worldwide. And, he added, "I think that something will be done."

Obasi would like to see the United States join in partnership with the rest of the world, especially the Kyoto Protocol, or perhaps find a less expensive method to reach the same end point. The United States, he said, "has the same objective as the rest of the world."

Lisa M. Pinsker

Visit the Climate Change Science Program Web site for more information on the workshop and the draft strategic plan. The main purpose of the three-day workshop is to get feedback from scientists on the strategic plan, which is open for public comment until January 13. The workshop features plenary sessions by U.S. science agency representatives and breakout sessions led by academic, agency and research organization scientists on a range of topics, including the carbon cycle and climate data management systems.

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