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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 6, 2007

Press Briefing on the Second International Panel on Climate Change
Via Teleconference

6:04 A.M. EDT


Dr. Sharon Hays, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Jim Connaughton, Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality

DR. HAYS: Welcome, everyone and thanks to all of you who are joining us at a very early hour in the United States.

I want to give you a little bit of background on the report, go over some of what I consider to be the key findings, since I realize that many of you probably haven't seen the report itself, and then we'll open it up to questions.

So we're here to talk to you about the International Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, second working group report, which just wrapped up discussions of the summary for policymakers. This report is the second in a series of four reports that will make up the IPCC's fourth assessment report. Now, these are all reports on the science of climate change, and the second working group contribution - the one that we just have been working on - is on the impacts of climate change.

I think it's important to remember that each of these reports comes in two parts. There is an underlying technical report, which is a very large, thousand-page or greater document, that is written by scientists around the world and which reflects a compilation, a summary of the existing literature on the topic of the report. And then a second piece, which is a much shorter document, called the summary for policymakers. And that's on the order of, in this case, about 20 pages.

So it's the summary for policymakers that we just completed discussions on, and this is a discussion that involves government delegations and takes place over the course of a week - so we've been working on this for the past four days.

The United States was very pleased to be a part of this process, finalizing the report. I think it's important to note that the underlying report, the technical document represents the work of many, many scientists from around the world who, in this case, were summarizing an evolving body of knowledge in this field of climate change impacts. And it's a very dense, technical document.

We think that the summary document reflects a very robust reflection of this underlying technical report. So let me go through and tell you what I believe to be the key findings of the summary for policymakers, which, again, reflects this underlying technical document.

In terms of key findings, there is section of the report on actual observations - so what sciences are actually observing in terms of climate change impacts. And the bottom line there is that climate change is having impacts on natural systems - so plants, animals, ecosystems, and human systems - and the example of a human system would be agriculture for example - and that scientists are able to measure and monitor these impacts that are occurring in different places around the world.

Now, a second part of the report then is on projections, projections of the range of different impacts that scientists believe may happen in the future. And the key message there, I think, is that these projected impacts are expected to get more pronounced at higher temperatures. I think there's a couple of additional facts to note, in terms of this projection of this range of future impacts, including the fact that not all projected impacts are negative. And particularly higher potential future temperatures, the range of projected impacts becomes increasingly negative and there are significant impacts that are possible.

In terms of - another, sort of, key message here is that climate change is clearly a global challenge and we all recognize that it requires global solutions. But most impacts of climate change will be felt very regionally. It's true that some parts of the world are more vulnerable than others - for example, Africa, small islands, the Polar Regions and so forth. So there's also a review of discussion in the report about going forward, what happens and the key role of adaptation. And we know that societies are going to need to and, indeed, are able to lessen the impacts of climate change through adaptation. It also is true that not all regions of the world have the same capacity to adapt. And I think it's also important to point out that in some cases, natural adaptation is also occurring.

So these are all things that scientists have studied over the last five years, six years, since the last assessment report came out. The science here represents an evolving body of knowledge and a very robust area of research across all of these different topics.

So with that in mind, I think we'll go right into questions and all three of us are here to answer whatever questions you have.

Q What, specifically, do you mean, Dr. Hays, by "adaptation"? What, specifically, must happen, or do you project will happen?

DR. HAYS: Okay, well - adaptation, let me explain what adaptation is. It has a very formal meaning within the IPCC, but basically it's things that natural or human systems view in response to expected climate change, which moderates the projected harm and, so, lessens the impacts.

And in terms of adaptation - I mean, there's many examples. For example, flooding is a potential impact of climate change, and adaptation can involve different development polices - so not building in some areas that are likely to be flooded, or the building of levies, that sort of thing.

Q There was a graph in the final draft that showed different outcomes for coastal flooding by 2080, with and without adaptation efforts. And do you know if that survived in the final version?

DR. HAYS: There is a table in the final version of the report that shows a range of different impacts over different temperatures in many different areas, including coastal areas, agriculture and so forth.

Q This was one - this was a specific graph that had, like, how many millions of people would be displaced per year in 2080, it was for different temperature ranges versus with and without adaptation investments. Does that sound familiar?

DR. HAYS: It's hard to know - the figure numbers and so forth have changed over the course of the discussions and just the evolution of the summary document. But there is a table in this document that shows, over different temperatures, the range of projected impacts, and some of those projected impacts include adaptation and some don't.

Q From what I recall, there was a (inaudible) issue that there was lot less impact, if there was sort of the same investment in adaptation in coastal areas as there is now, in a proportion to the economy - that the impact drops from something like 100 million people a year displaced to 10 million.

DR. HAYS: That's generally true that adaptation can definitely help lessen the impacts that occur.

Q I have a question, when they have these tables, do they also have - tell us what the ranges are of uncertainty and how much credence we can put into these numbers that are stated in the table?

DR. HAYS: Yes, there was a good deal of discussion about this, because this is an important issue. I've said a couple of times that the science in this area is evolving and so determinations of the certainty that the sciences feel that they can place on any particular finding is important. And in this summary document there was a lot of care taken by all of the nations involved in the discussion to make sure that the certainty statements in this document -- whether sciences felt they had medium certainty or high certainty or very high certainty about different projected impacts - were accurately reflected.

And this is, I think, a good opportunity to make sure that you understand another really important point in developing these summary documents, and that is that many of the lead scientific authors of the underlying technical report are present during the discussions. And so those scientific authors played a very important role in helping the governments involved in these discussions to make sure that the summary document accurately reflect the scope of all of the information in their much longer technical report.

Q A couple of questions on the impact of this report on administration policy. Does it have any effect at all on the administration's stand on that key issue of mandatory emissions standards? And what effect will this at all have on the administration's overall outlook on global warming?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: This report further underscores what the President has been saying for some time about the seriousness of this challenge, a point the President emphasized in the State of the Union this year of the need to confront the challenge.

When you speak of mandatory programs, I'll just give you two big examples. In the State of the Union, the President announced a dramatic commitment to replacing the U.S.'s gasoline usage by 20 percent over the next 10 years, which will involve a significant new mandate for renewable fuels in our fuel mix, and probably the most substantial improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency through a new regulatory program that has ever been proposed in recent years by any nation.

So those would be two examples of mandatory tools that we think would be extremely valuable in reducing greenhouse gases associated with vehicles, for example. And then our energy act of two years ago included a new mandate for appliances - so, like, (inaudible) going to be 40 mandatory appliance standards. And then we have our states working on mandatory renewable power programs, as well as - there's a whole nationwide movement on mandatory building codes that will be much more stringent, some of them as stringent as 30 percent improvement in building efficiency -- just to give you a flavor of the kinds of regulatory programs that are on the books or being called for.

Q Right, but what about the pressure for mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions that many other countries are going to be pressing for, using this report and others, as a basis going into the G8 summit, sir?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually, all of the major countries, the major countries - the major and many countries have a broad mix of policies that include mandatory reductions, include incentives and include very significant technology (inaudible) of programs and the U.S. is actually leading most of those.

In terms of cap programs, I would just note the renewable fuels program actually is a mandatory cap; it requires a certain amount of renewable fuel to displace gasoline and to produce a significant greenhouse gas reduction. Each nation sort of defines their regulatory objectives in different ways to achieve the greenhouse reduction outcome that they seek.

The President has set a national goal through 2012 of improving our greenhouse gas intensity economy-wide by 18 percent.

Q May I just have one more follow up, please. So is the administration still going to sit out of the Kyoto process?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: I think that would be a gross sort of mischaracterization of the U.S. role internationally. We are leading the way with, actually, dozens of advanced technology partnerships. And in the context of our commitment under the U.N. framework convention on climate change, we are actually engaging the developing countries as well in strategies for significantly reducing greenhouse gases.

Q Does the U.S. owe these regions that are clearly identified in this report as taking outsize risks any particular effort on our own part, because of our historic contribution as the largest single source of these gases over the (inaudible)?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The imperative for working with developing countries is as strong or stronger than it's ever been, in terms of helping them with development. Adaptation at its core is a fundamental component of the development strategy. President Bush has felt strongly from the outset - in fact, he led the way on the Monterey consensus on development back in 2001, on this very significant importance for economic growth, for more rule of law and for smarter strategies for lifting people out of poverty so they're not as vulnerable to those human causes, as well as natural forces that lead to poverty, degradation and disease.

So this report reinforces the efforts, the multi-billion dollar efforts underway to work with developing nations to, again, lift people out of poverty and make their society more resilient to both human and natural forces.

Q I was wondering if you could comment on what the report says about North America and the impacts of climate change on the U.S., specifically.

DR. HAYS: The report has an entire chapter on North America, and there is a section in the summary document that summarizes that chapter, as does the summary under every chapter in the report. You see a range of different impacts. I think some of the ones that are talked about in the summary document - which, of course, is a subset, a small subset of the different impacts that are discussed and the range of impacts that are discussed in the underlying technical report -- that have to do with agriculture, decreases in the snow pack in western mountains - let's see, issues of heat waves in cities and that sort of thing.

Q Those are the ones you see as the most concerning?

DR. HAYS: Those are the ones that are in the summary for policymakers. There is probably a few others - I think there are some on coastal habitats and communities, that sort of thing. That's the reflection of the underlying chapter in the report.

Q What do you see as the most concerning ones for people in the U.S.?

DR. HAYS: I think there is a range of impacts all across not just the U.S., but the world, and we'll be looking at this report, I think, in more detail and getting important information about what not only to continue to address, in terms of the policies that the President has laid out, but also in terms of what to continue to study. As I said, this is evolving science and there's a lot more to learn here.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: I just want to flag, as a policymaker, two examples. One is some of the projections about the positive effects on agriculture, and obviously, now that's positive to think shift and move and that we (inaudible) to shift and move. That adds something that, obviously, agricultural interests pay very significant attention to.

On the negative side, the very real prospect of more coastal flooding is something also of high concern, in terms of land use planning and the planning of expansion along our coasts as more and more of our citizens move to coastal areas. So, you know, that will sort of give you a sense of the bandwidth of things that we have to focus on as policymakers.

DR. HAYS: Thank you. Are there any more questions?

Q Did the U.S. delegation ask for any changes in the summary report? And, if so, what were those?

DR. HAYS: This is a four-day discussion of a document and the U.S. and many other nations were very much engaged in making sure that we took our role very seriously in getting a summary document that accurately reflects the underlying science.

So all of the different issues that the U.S. raised or that the U.S. joined in the discussions on were with this underlying goal in mind. And I think we helped craft a report that robustly reflects the findings of this underlying, very long, technical document.

And I'll just point out that our delegation had a number of scientific and climate experts on it from around the government, including Admiral Lautenbacher's agency, NOAA, and NASA and EPA. So we went into this wanting to make sure that we had a report that reflected the current state of the science and we worked hard, alongside many other nations, to get that.

Q Can you speak about what changes were discussed, what the issues were?

DR. HAYS: There were many - I mean, every aspect of this report generated discussions. So you can really look at the sample summary for policymakers and, essentially, this is line by line approval of the summary document. And there was discussion on almost every line in the report. And that's very, very typical of these discussions.

Q I wanted to follow up on my colleague's question, if I may. What's your sense for how adequate - either from both the U.S. standpoint and globally - how adequate current efforts are to provide adaptation aid to developing countries? And if more effort is needed, are there specific things that people are beginning to think about or talk about, in terms of the ways to get adaptation aid where it needs to go?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The major developed countries currently are deploying billions and billions of dollars towards development assistance. In the last five years I would observe that the organization of those resources has evolved very significantly in two ways. One is toward key priorities. For example, if you look at the global push on health-related development assistance, especially with respect to AIDS and malaria and some of the other disease pathways that can make people vulnerable to changes in their climate, that assistance has gone up dramatically and the U.S. is leading the way on that with the multi-billion dollar additions.

As well, there's been a very significant push both governmentally and by non-governmental organizations toward better capacity of legal systems, financing systems, training people so they can make smarter choices about land use, making agricultural practices more modern. And then, for example, there's been a big push in the last five years for greater access to cleaner drinking water and sanitation systems.

All of these are fundamental things that make humans vulnerable in whatever climate in which they live, whether it's a freezing cold climate or a warm, an incredibly hot tropical climate. These are the essentials that we enjoy in the developed world that actually allows us to live, again, in Polar Regions all the way down to the tip of Florida.

And so I think this report is going to help us focus - you know, these reports tend to concentrate on the significant potential negative impacts so we can begin to focus some of those resources, as well as management strategies toward the most important priorities.

Q I have a question on the U.S. side. Has the administration done any analysis on acts that affect the cost to determine whether (inaudible) there will be more benefits and cost economically?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?

Q Has the administration tallied up the potential benefits or costs to the U.S. economy on the impacts and (inaudible)?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: There is ongoing literature in the academic world, as well as in the government world on different economic analyses. So the U.S. - you know, there is a renowned scientist, economist at Yale, William Nordhaus, who has done a lot of work in this area. And we recently had the Stern report from the UK. So this is an ongoing area of literature. You'll see more of that in the next IPCC report, which deals with some of the economics of policy measures related to climate policy.

So there is no, sort of, specific tally up -- what's going to happen, actually, is you'll begin to see more of a breakdown into specific sectoral areas or regional areas in trying to understand the positive and negative economic consequences.

Q Do you expect this report to change or alter the administration's position on climate change?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: This report reinforces it. You have to understand that much of the underlying science has been produced over the last five years, and this report is an effort to summarize and compile that science. The U.S. is a significant contributor to that science, and we have been taking the science on board over the course of the last five years. In fact, we've been releasing reports in advance of this one. We had a few that came out last year, and we have a whole series of them coming out this year.

So I think the right word is "reinforcement," I think that is of apiece of what underlined the President's State of the Union announcement this year, which really took the world by, you know, too high to claim of this idea that we can, in fact, displace 20 percent of our petroleum usage with fuels and with vehicles that will dramatically cut the greenhouse gases at the same time.

So I think you'll continue to see us advance new policies of a wide variety - these regulatory ones I just mentioned, but also new areas of technological cooperation with key countries like China and India, for example, and try to find low carbon coal. So, again, this groundswell of information is also pushing along a groundswell of additional policies and international cooperation.

DR. HAYS: Thank you. Unfortunately, that's all we have time for today. Thank you for joining the call.

END 6:31 A.M. EDT