US Says No Shift in Climate Change Stance
Author: Gerard Wynn
Germany wants G8 countries at a meeting it hosts next month to agree to halve climate-warming carbon emissions by 2050 and promote carbon trading as a way to penalise greenhouse gas emissions.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also wants the United States to take a tough stand, and global warming featured at his farewell summit with US President George W. Bush in Washington on Thursday.
But such demands on the world's biggest carbon emitter are set to fall on deaf ears.
"We don't believe targets and timetables are important, or a global cap and trade system," Watson told Reuters, speaking on the fringes of a UN hosted climate change meeting in Bonn.
"It's important not to jeopardise economic growth."
Watson also rejected the idea of a long-term target, say to halve or more greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.
Two weeks ago a major report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that to avoid climate changes which the European Union says would be dangerous, carbon dioxide emissions should at least halve by 2050.
"That's not on our agenda," said Watson.
"The IPCC came out with a range of scenarios, a long-term target is a political not a scientific objective."
Cap and trade carbon markets work by requiring the likes of heavy industry to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases.
In this way they drive up the cost of burning fossil fuels such as coal to produce electricity, and so favour low or zero carbon alternatives like wind and solar energy.
"Around half of our electricity is generated by coal and we don't have substitutes so it becomes an energy security issue," said Watson. "Renewables are growing rapidly but are still only a small percentage."
Technologies which would cut coal's carbon emissions, for example by burying these underground using carbon capture and storage (CCS), were still more than 10 years away from commercial deployment, he said.
"So cap and trade, given our energy mix and the state of our technology, would only drive up the price of electricity."
The European Union has chosen the cap and trade route and says by penalising carbon emissions it will promote potentially lucrative clean energy technologies of the future.
The US approach will remain to fund such technologies through public spending, said Watson, who said such support would rise to US$5.7 billion in 2008 from US$5 billion this year.
The United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol citing a risk to jobs, but has signed up to the parent Convention on Climate Change whose signatories are meeting this week to discuss extending Kyoto beyond 2012.
Watson rejected any prospect of opening talks later this year at a climate summit in Indonesia on amending the rules of how Kyoto works, a vital step to extend the pact.
"Certainly it would be premature to open negotiations under the Convention," he said.