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US environment adviser discusses energy, clim -

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US environment adviser discusses energy, climate policy

Broadcast: 20/08/2007

Reporter: Tony Jones

Senior White House environment adviser James L Connaughton talks about the US policy on energy
security and climate change.

Transcript

TONY JONES: James Connaughton is the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, coordinating
policies for the Bush administration. He's effectively the chief adviser to the President on
greenhouse gases and other environmental issues. He's currently in Australia to discuss US policy
on energy security, climate change and international efforts in the Asia Pacific region. James
Connaughton, welcome to Lateline.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Thanks, Tony.

TONY JONES: How important will the issue of climate change be at the APEC meeting in Sydney next
month?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well the issue of energy security climate as an integrated issue will actually
be on the agenda for the first time. I think that's a real signal of Prime Minister Howard's
commitment to advancing this issue in the region.

TONY JONES: What can we expect, though? I know you've had meetings with Alexander Downer today, is
there likely to be any kind of joint US-Australian initiative emerge there?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: I think what you'll see is the APEC meeting is going to provide a very important
foundation for the meetings that follow in the UN. The UN framework convention on climate change -
this will be the first time the APEC leaders will come together on a set of common areas of
priority with a work to improve energy security and find pathways to reducing greenhouse gases.

TONY JONES: But is there going to be anything specific that - you know we've got an election coming
up, Mr Howard knows that climate change is a serious issue in voters' minds. Do you expect there'll
be a joint initiative between the US, between the President and Mr Howard, to put it frankly?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well, we've been... actually this will be the President, Mr Howard and the other
APEC leaders. So this is much bigger than just the US and Australia, and we'll be focusing on key
areas of common interest. The issue of deforestation, which I think Australia has put on the map in
the region in partnership with Indonesia and a few other countries. We'll be looking at issues
related to efficiency, related to how we advance technologies. We're dealing with coal, which is
highly CO2 emitting, as well as how to deal with a new generation of transportation fuels. These
will be among the range of issues that we'll be laying out, if you will, a common framework and a
common agenda for APEC to work cooperatively on.

TONY JONES: The big picture for John Howard is he's announced this publicly that he wants to see a
new Kyoto, in other words, a new international agreement that takes all the major polluters in,
including China and India.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well it was Prime Minister Howard working with President Bush and the leaders of
China, India, Korea and Japan that first forged the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development
and Climate. That was done two years ago. That partnership has laid a very nice foundation for then
a broader conversation among this group that will be convening in Washington, that will really try
to break down the problem into its component parts and tackle it sector by sector, technology by
technology, and develop national plans that will include binding measures to address this important
issue.

TONY JONES: So that meeting is late following, is in fact, in late September, after the APEC
meeting, is that right?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: That's right, we'll have the APEC meeting, then the leaders will get together at
the UN General Assembly, September 24. And then shortly after that meeting, we'll be having
leaders' representatives who will meet several times over the course of the next year to see if, in
fact, we can develop a new framework by the end of next year and bring that into the UN.

TONY JONES: Bearing in mind Australia may well by then be in the middle of an election campaign, do
you have any guarantees Mr Howard will be there, or will it be one of his ministers?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well the leaders will be getting together at the UN General Assembly meeting,
and I think the timing of your election will make a difference as to whether Mr Howard will attend.
I've already spoken with Alexander Downer and he expects to be there and he's certainly capable of
carrying the weight of this issue.

TONY JONES: So Mr Downer will be at the Washington meeting?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Yes, he expressed that he intends to be there.

TONY JONES: All right. Now the US has refused at any stage to sign up to anything that looks like
it's mandatory, that would be legally binding. What does the future hold in terms of that and in
terms of targets for greenhouse gas emissions as far as the US is concerned?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well actually that's not quite correct. What we've done in the US is we have
pursued a wider range of policies that includes some very consequential mandatory policies. The
President's desire for new mandatory fuel economy regulations, which would be unprecedented in
America and actually unprecedented in the world. Up to 4 per cent improvement per year for the next
10 years, his mandatory program [is] to replace 20 per cent of fuel with alternative fuels. Now
that's a cap in trade program that will be weighted on the energy content of the fuel and the
greenhouse gas content of the fuel and again, it's 35 billion gallons replacing gasoline. Huge.

We've also supported mandatory appliance standards, and those are good old-fashioned technology
standards, and we work with states to set mandatory requirements for renewable power as well as for
new efficiency in building codes - up to 30 per cent. So these are all mandatory programs. So we're
not afraid of mandatory, we want the right policies for the right jobs.

TONY JONES: Okay, but what about mandatory targets set country by country for reducing carbon
emissions?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: This is what we're hoping to develop in the course of the major economies
process. We're going to try to work with China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, along with the
major developed countries and see if we can create a new set of strategies in each country to
tackle their own emissions in accordance with their own national circumstances.

Japan and France have a lot of nuclear, so they'll be focusing on other issues. In America and
China we use a lot of coal. So we're going to be putting a heavy priority on how to make power from
coal with no emissions. So you'll see a mix of strategies but you'll see a whole series of
mandatory measures, incentives as well as technology partnerships that will advance this issue.

TONY JONES: And what about global targets? Will you see global targets? Will that be part of this
framework?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well we have joined with our counterparts in the G8 to make a commitment to
establishing a long-term global goal for significantly reducing emissions. We are hopeful that
China, India and the other major emerging economies can come on board with a shared vision of a
level of ambition that we all need to achieve over the long-term. So we hope that will be part of
the package.

TONY JONES: What's the global target that you think is necessary by 2050?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: We're going to have a very deliberate process that will look at our current
technology pathways, look at reasonable expectations for technology breakthroughs and then set a
number in accordance with that. We need to actually work through our common understanding of that
potential, and also because countries like China and India have been naturally resistant to this
kind of commitment.

So we want to be sure we do it deliberately and in consultation with everybody and find consensus
on that goal.

TONY JONES: What do you think of the 50 per cent target by 2050 which is the commonly-expressed
target?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well we've got different targets proposed by Japan, by the EU and Canada. So
we'll take a look at those. 50 per cent is very aggressive. We want China - I'm sorry, Japan - to
sit down and explain to us its thinking behind that goal. Europe will explain to us its thinking
behind its proposal.

TONY JONES: Which is higher?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Which is more stringent, but theirs really relates to Europe, it doesn't really
take into account what's going on in the Asia Pacific region. So that's why this is more
complicated than it would appear and we want to be sure we have a deliberate process.

TONY JONES: Let me put it this way - could you imagine this administration agreeing to a target
like 50 per cent by 2050?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: President Bush has committed as part of his proposed initiative to the
establishment of a long-term goal that will produce a significant net reduction in emissions.

TONY JONES: But we don't know what that is?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: What that number is - stay tuned. Hopefully we'll have consensus by the end of
next year.

TONY JONES: James Connaughton, let me ask a fundamental question. Do you agree with this
proposition that I'm about to put - greenhouse gases are accumulating in [the] earth's atmosphere
as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and sub-surface ocean
temperatures to rise?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: That sounds very much like a statement out of the National Academy of Sciences
that President Bush commissioned back in 2001. That's been our long-standing view.

TONY JONES: So you have no doubt, the administration has no doubt, that man-made global warming is
actually happening and it's leading to climate change?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: This is a point we've been making clear for five years. Others try to rephrase
what we say, but the President's been clear on that for some time.

TONY JONES: One of the people that rephrased that of course was your own deputy, Phillip Cooney,
back in 2003, as you know, when he was editing a whole series of climate change documents that were
coming from different departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency. I mean, do you
decry that editing of documents and the changes that he made?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Actually I strongly supported it. What Mr Cooney was doing was he was receiving
edits from a number of different agencies and what he was working to do was to make sure the
documents conformed precisely with the science that was given to us by the National Academy of
Sciences. So if you actually look at the editorial suggestions Mr Cooney was making, they track
nearly verbatim with language out of the National Academy of Sciences report that the President
commissioned.

TONY JONES: Let's look at one of them because he took that very line, that greenhouse gases are
accumulating in the earth's atmosphere etcetera - as I just quoted to you - and he edited it out of
the critical report on the environment back in 2003. So he took that line out and changed it
completely to have another meaning?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well actually, I don't know the specific change you're referring to, But I do
know the process that Mr Cooney followed. And if he took that line out and replaced it with another
line, I can assure you that that line would have come verbatim from the National Academy of
Sciences report.

TONY JONES: Not according to the EPA scientist who rose up in uproar against him and wrote a memo
saying that he'd distorted the science. This is what he wrote - 'some activities emit greenhouse
gases and other substances that directly or indirectly may affect the balance of incoming and
outgoing radiation, thereby potentially affecting climate on regional and global scales'. Now those
two sentences sound completely different. One is totally unambiguous and a suggestion that human
activity causes global warming, which is exactly what you agree with, and the other is really so
ambiguous as to mean nothing?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well you need to be careful because you're suggesting language that is actually
given to us by the scientists. The scientists are very careful to provide their top-line statement
and then provide qualifications to that statement. And so that's exactly what occurred in this
process and it occurs in all the inter-agency processes. Scientists are pretty good about not
leaving out the qualifications to their conclusions. Many policy people tend to like to simplify
and we need to be careful in the documents we provide to the public that they reflect what the
scientists are giving us.

TONY JONES: Well you'd be aware presumably that that was an EPA report and it was revealed that
senior EPA scientists were furious about that change. They claim that Mr Cooney's edited text
didn't reflect scientific consensus and quote, 'may leave the impression that cooling is as much of
an issue as global warming'.

That was a memo uncovered by congressional investigators, as you possibly know.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Of course I know. But what's fascinating to me is that the documents in their
final form were signed off on by the President's science adviser, Dr Jack Marburger, and the
documents in their final form with Mr Cooney's edits, the ones accepted, were signed off by Dr Jim
Mahoney, who's the head of the climate science program. What you tend to see in some of these
criticisms from scientists and often other non-scientists is their own particular bent on how they
want to express something. What we're trying to do is forge the scientific presentation of their
general consensus.

TONY JONES: Mr Cooney's bent, you don't believe, was in any way or his objectivity was any way
influenced by the fact that he used to be a lobbyist for the American petroleum industries before
he joined your staff?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: No, I know it wasn't, actually. Mr Cooney was a government servant of high
professional integrity. Everything he did he worked through the President's science adviser and Dr
Jim Mahoney. Most of his suggestions were taken, some of them were not, and that was the ordinary
course of the process. That happens to my edits. I'll look at something and say, 'is that quite
right?' And I'll suggest it and Dr Marburger will say, 'no Jim, this is the way it should be
stated', and I'll say, 'great'.

TONY JONES: But he fundamentally disagreed with the line from the eminent scientists of the
national science academy that you agreed with earlier, that's my point.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: No, actually what I think he was aiming at was there was an incomplete statement
in what was presented and he provided the more complete statement than the National Academy of
Sciences provided.

TONY JONES: Were you aware that when he was at the American Petroleum Institute, according to a
plan that they had that was entered into evidence at other congressional oversight committees, that
they had? Under his - during his time, there's a deliberate strategy to quote, 'to sow doubt about
global warming'.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well I think as you look through the 90s there was a lot of back and forth on
the science and the science has evolved. President Bush has dedicated more than $2 billion each
year to the advancement of the science following the priorities given to us by the National Academy
of Sciences. Now let's look at the net effect of that. The net effect of that, the President made
that clear just this past year, the science has advanced and our understanding has deepened, as
well as the opportunities for tackling this problem. So there's a lot of fun and back and forth and
the political process likes to get into the science debate. That's great, but the President's
focused on solutions. The solutions are a new generation of coal electricity that has no emissions,
a new generation of coal powered electricity that has no emission. A new generation of
transportation fuels that will replace gasoline with sustainable biofuels. A new generation of
appliances and new buildings that are going to help us reduce energy loads. That's where we should
be focused. And the skirmishes between scientists and the skirmishes between policy people, it's a
great distraction, but we're focused on the solutions.

TONY JONES: These were extraordinarily vicious skirmishes, weren't they? I mean, it was said by
your opponents that sleeper cells from the fossil fuel industries are actually being put inside the
administration to distort policy?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: I think that's an outrage and the policy speaks for itself. I mean here we have
an individual who used to work in the American petroleum institute but he worked with me on
policies that were going to make vehicles more fuel efficient. He worked with me on a program
that's now taking the world by storm on how to capture methane profitably and reduce a potent air
pollutant greenhouse gas because he actually knows what he's talking about. He worked on the
climate strategy that gave rise to this new policy on alternative fuels and as importantly, he came
up with the strategy that's going to help us deliver money to our farmers to help us sequester
carbon. Here's a guy that had a lot of practical know-how and we put it to good use in developing
solutions, not just to the greenhouse issue but developed solutions the energy security problem we
all face as well. So I'm disappointed Phil left. I'd love to have him back on my staff because
here's a guy who knows how to have the job done.

TONY JONES: He was forced to resign, wasn't he, after the New York Times revealed how he'd edited
this document?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: No that's not true at all. In fact, I asked Phil to stay. He moved on, he moved
to Texas and took care of his family. His kids are going to college and as I said, I'd gladly have
him back because he was a first-rate government servant and he knew how to come up with solutions
rather than bickering over the problem.

TONY JONES: So rather than bicker over the problem or over these details, would you now say, does
the administration now believe that the argument over whether humans are causing global warming and
climate change is actually over?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Well on that particular issue, the President made that clear in a speech in June
of 2001 before Phil Cooney and I even came into our jobs. So again there's been much
misrepresentation of the President's own views on this.

TONY JONES: So the argument's over?

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: He's consistent with that ever since. We are doing a lot of research on the
issue of the nature of impacts related to climate change. That's in accordance with the science
priority plan that a group of 1,200 scientists around the globe helped us pull together. So we know
a lot and we have a lot more to learn on the science. But as I indicated, most of my time is spent
on designing solutions to this problem and that's where we should all be spending our time.

TONY JONES: James Connaughton, it's been fascinating to talk to you. We thank you for coming in to
and spending this time with us tonight on Lateline.

JAMES CONNAUGHTON: Thank you so much.