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Looking forward to Poznan, and beyond

Shortly after finishing up this week’s Nature story (subscription required) on the upcoming climate talks in Poland, I finally secured an interview with US Ambassador Harlan Watson, the United States’ chief climate negotiator.

His folks gave me five minutes, and I began with the basics: What is your role in Poznan, given the pending administration change and the resulting shift in US position at the talks? Not surprisingly, if you ask an obvious question, you get an obvious answer. “This administration is in until January,” Watson reminded me.

Fair enough. But in a year like this one, marked by truly historic elections that have ushered in such a radical change in governing philosophy, it’s hard not to dispense with the present and begin thinking about what comes next: Barack Obama. Washington is abuzz with politics these days, very little of which pertains to President George W. Bush and his administration.

Given that President-Elect Obama has already promised to become a leader in the climate talks and overturn eight years of US opposition to mandatory carbon regulations, we’ll likely see the same phenomenon during the talks in Poznan. But in truth, this was never going to be a year for striking deals.

Watson says the US team will continue to work its way through the process, focusing on adaptation, emissions, clean-technology development and the like. “In general, our goal is to move the process along and keep all of the options open for the new administration,” he said.

So goes the peaceful transfer of power, always worth noting.

Keep an eye out for updates. In addition to this week’s overview, I’ll be tracking things from afar next week and then flying into Poznan for the second week of the conference.

Jeff Tollefson

For all the news from the Poznan conference, check out Nature’s main conference blog here.


  1. Report this comment

    Kevin Tuerff said:

    This is disappointing news to hear Mr. Watson is leading the charge again.

    Last year at the UNFCCC in Bali, four of us from EnviroMedia Social Marketing were taking a break in the convention center, when we saw a lonely flier taped to a bulletin board stating, “US Government Briefing for Business- 4 p.m.”

    Although we were a small business representing clean tech advocates, we decided we had every right to attend the briefing. To our surprise, the only other businesses in the room were major oil companies.

    Harlon Watson began delivering the “update” which consisted of a lot of “We don’t know what’s happening next.” It was shocking to me that the world’s greatest country was sitting back waiting for other countries to tell us what the diplomatic strategy was.

    After several minutes of diplomatic gobbledygook, I asked the question no one else was asking, “Is the US delegation at this conference just to listen, or did we come to Bali with IDEAS?”

    Mr. Watson clearly didn’t like my question. He replied, “Of course we have ideas, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them.”

    We all know how well that went over (Boos from the rest of the world).

    If the U.S. takes this same diplomatic position, we are wasting everyone’s time.

    I realize the transition isn’t complete, but let’s tell the world that the U.S. position on climate change, is going to CHANGE. Our next President wants to play an active role in the Copenhagen Protocol. This message will go a long way in improving US international relations.

    We’re on our way to Poznań, where I suppose I’ll have to ask the same question again?

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