James R. Mahoney, Ph.D., director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, spoke to reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about the CCSP program.
Question: How do you answer critics who say the goal of the CCSP is to delay dealing with climate-change issues?
Answer: I don’t think any serious critics should say the program is an excuse for delay.
The goal of the program is to produce the best possible information to respond to short-term and long-term challenges of climate change. There are many parts of the goal. Number one, we are concerned to understand the range and scope of climate change and better understand the relationship between anthropogenic [human-induced] influences and natural variability.
Number two, we are trying to have the best possible view about causes of climate change in the long term as well as the short term.
Number three, we are trying to develop an optimum response strategy that involves both mitigation — that is, the reduction of greenhouse gases — as well as adaptation, in some cases.
We are very positive … that it would be foolish to stop the research and investigation into a better understanding of climate change. We will live with this issue for many decades. We need better answers to questions about the ultimate choices of technology that would be necessary to address some of climate-change issues.
My response to the criticism is that, I have to say, it is in the eye of the beholder. We’re extremely active, more active than ever in the history of these studies, in the U.S., in moving to produce information and results to make them available to the world community.
Q: What is your opinion of the studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
A: I have very high regard for IPCC studies and the whole methodology. I note that the United States has provided more of the scientific experts to participate in the IPCC than any other country. The United States fully supports this.
When President Bush took office, one of his early actions was to request the National Academy of Science to form a special committee and give the administration the science academy’s views about the IPCC third assessment, [which contained world scientists’ views on global warming as of 2001, the latest in a series of five-year updates]. The academy’s views are the cornerstone of the administration’s views going forward.
I think it important to mention two parts of that. One, the IPCC recognizes that anthropogenic sources are likely responsible for a significant amount of what we observe as global climate change, but the IPCC and the National Academy of Science also pointed out that there are very major uncertainties in some of these findings. …
The view that we take is that we place very high regard on what IPCC has done, and we note that IPCC itself points out the need for better understanding in many areas. We are trying to advance that.
Q: Does the administration feel pressed to do something on environmental issues with the 2004 presidential election approaching?
A: The Bush administration has made very large investments in the development of new technology, which will be absolutely necessary to address long-term climate change issues. … We have a large, continuing investment in science, and we have very large investments in many international, bilateral and multilateral agreements.
More specifically, President Bush has committed the U.S. to an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas-emission intensity, which is a productivity measure, by the year 2012. The Bush administration is moving very vigorously to cause this to happen.