State Dept.'s McMurray outlines U.S. efforts to address global warming internationally

With China surpassing the United States in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this year, the push to reduce emissions internationally is in full force. During today's OnPoint, Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department, discusses U.S. efforts to address climate change abroad. McMurray discusses the most prominent challenges facing the world as countries try to address climate change. She explains why investment in cleaner technologies is important and discusses the threat of deforestation posed by the increasing demand for biofuels.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science at the State Department. Assistant Secretary McMurray, thanks for coming on the show.

Claudia McMurray: It's great to be here, thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Prior to the G8 summit, the president announced a new climate plan. He's calling for the world's 15 largest emitters of greenhouse gases to meet in the U.S. at the end of this year. Why is this necessary if the Bali talks are going to happen just a couple of months after that? Why not focus on a post-Kyoto roadmap as is the goal for Bali?

Claudia McMurray: Well, first of all, the president wants to focus on that same road map and feed his own process into what the U.N. will be doing. I think that became very clear after the G8 summit. But what we thought, and the president in particular was very conscious of, is that there are 180 some countries that belong to the U.N. framework convention so up. That's a lot of countries to be talking about this issue with and it's a complicated issue. We thought we would pull together the countries that have the biggest impact on energy and the biggest impact on emissions and see what we could agree to among those countries first, and then bring it to the rest of the countries in the U.N. convention. And hopefully that will be a more efficient way of using our time than simply trying to get all those countries to agree at the outset.

Monica Trauzzi: So at any point, do the Bali talks lose significance because of these meetings at the president is planning on?

Claudia McMurray: Absolutely not. I think the president wants to be helpful with the process. I think everyone has agreed this is extremely complicated. This has huge impacts on the economy of all of our countries. And so he wants to try and make the process move a little bit more smoothly. And we've committed to feeding this into Bali and to the future U.N. meetings that will go on this year and next.

Monica Trauzzi: As we look forward, what role do you see the Asia-Pacific Partnership playing?

Claudia McMurray: Well, I think, first of all, is we established this about a year and a half ago and it was groundbreaking at the time. What we sought to do was to engage China and India, two of the hottest, most dynamic economies that are growing also in the emissions category. We wanted to bring private companies in to spur investment in those countries. I think we'll continue to do our work there. We need to have Congress' help to get funding to move forward with that, but we would continue to do that while we're talking about the post-Kyoto framework as well.

Monica Trauzzi: What would you consider to be some of the biggest challenges ahead of us and the rest of the world as we try to address climate change?

Claudia McMurray: Well, I think the president has quite clearly put the big challenge on the table, which is all of these countries want to continue to grow and to prosper. And how to we do that and balance the energy and environmental concerns that come with that? I think, if you look specifically at the U.S. and China, we have a very distinct challenge and that's on coal. Both of our countries rely very heavily on coal and I think we want to continue to do that because it's such a plentiful resource. But what we've got to do is push the technology there, especially in the power sector, to make sure that we can use coal but use it in the most efficient and clean way possible.

Monica Trauzzi: How much collaboration is happening there in searching for clean coal technology?

Claudia McMurray: A lot. I think you mentioned the Asia-Pacific Partnership already, that's an area we've got a number of industrial sectors we're looking at there. But we're really looking very closely at power generation and coal as the keys to the solution for greenhouse gas emissions. I also should mention that Secretary Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary, has just recently concluded a major strategic economic dialogue session with the Chinese a couple of weeks ago. And at that session we got the Chinese to agree to push technology in two ways, the deal with coal in particular. One is to work through the World Trade Organization to try and knock down the barriers that we have for technology, because right now we've got a number of good technologies that we would like to move to China. But because of tariff barriers and because of other obstacles we can't get them into China at the moment. So that's one thing, we've agreed to work together globally with other countries, and you'll also see that in the G8 leader's statement. And then secondly, we have asked that China do what we've done, which is to look for policy incentives to push clean coal technology as far as possible, as quickly as possible.

Monica Trauzzi: And beyond China, who else is involved in the strategic economic dialogue and how do you plan to integrate energy and environment issues into a broader economic strategy?

Claudia McMurray: Well, I think the U.S. and China, the strategic economic dialogue is focused on our relationship. And, obviously, it's economic, so there are a number of issues dealing with trade and currency that are front and center. But energy and the environment became quite an important one in the last session. I think we've now taken that bilateral relationship though and moved it into the Asia-Pacific Partnership though. I think other partnerships now exist a deal with energy, but there probably will be more created. Again, if you look at the G8 statement there's quite a number of sentences that are addressing the need for more technology, the need for public-private partnerships. So I think you'll see more of that, not just focused on China, but other growing economies around the world.

Monica Trauzzi: And beyond China, what are some of the projects at the State Department has going on in order to encourage developing countries to invest in cleaner technologies?

Claudia McMurray: Well, one partnership in particular that is quite important, it's called the Methane to Markets Partnership. Methane is also a greenhouse gas and is actually much more potent than carbon dioxide. And with our Environmental Protection Agency, we, at state, have fostered a number of partnerships, not just in Asia, but all around the world to encourage the emissions that come from whether it be landfills, coal mines, other kind of industrial practices, instead of having them go out into the atmosphere and create a greenhouse gas problem, to capture them and then to actually get a double benefit to use it for generation of power. So it's something that's quite exciting. The technology is very well developed there. We're really good at it in the U.S. and we're trying to share our knowledge with other countries.

Monica Trauzzi: How closely tied do you think the U.S. security interests are to the environment and climate change?

Claudia McMurray: Well, I think it's something that we're just starting to look at. We've had a debate in the Security Council is recently, led by the British, to discuss the issue. I think, broadly, you look at the issues, humanitarian crises, migration problems, drought, starvation, all those, if they're not -- if we don't plan for the impacts of climate change properly we could be faced with a number of problems like that, competition for resources, all of those things are things that we need to be thinking about.

Monica Trauzzi: The demand for biofuels is causing some concern in terms of deforestation. Brazil has been careful in trying to preserve the Amazon, but as their demand grows for biofuels, what are you anticipating might happen there? And what steps is the U.S. taking to sort of evade any issues that might occur?

Claudia McMurray: Well, it's interesting, part of my portfolio, in addition to the environmental issues as you mentioned, is science. We have 40 some bilateral agreements with other countries saying that we cooperate on science and technology issues. And I can tell you, to a country, every country that's come in under those agreements this year and talked to us has said, "Please help us in the area of biofuels." Whether it's that they, the country, wants help in developing their own industry or whether it's Brazil or Indonesia or Malaysia who see that there are challenges associated with building such industry and how you balance it with the environment at the same time. So, we're trying to use our knowledge and our relationships to help make sure that those industries are -- that they grow in a sustainable way, that they don't cause yet another environmental problem at the same time.

Monica Trauzzi: Are there lessons to be learned here by the U.S. as our need for biofuels increases?

Claudia McMurray: I think so. We obviously have a slightly different case, we grow corn, it's a big country, we have a lot of room, but there are still challenges. There are still things that we need to think about as far as how big we're going to let that industry grow and what impact it's going to have on other parts of the economy. So, we're learning lessons and we're trying to share those with other countries. I think Brazil already has shown quite a good example for other countries. So we've tried to bring lots of countries together to discuss this in various forums -- and I think you'll see more of it because there's such an interest in this part of the energy mix.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Claudia McMurray: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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