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U.S. official pushes for global climate watch system

Saturday, June 28, 2003

PARIS -- The United States is accelerating its push for other countries to help develop a global climate watch system to monitor environmental threats like El Nino or rising sea levels, a U.S. official said Friday.

During a weeklong trip in Europe, Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tackled an environmental debate in which the United States has often been at odds with other countries in recent years.

Lautenbacher said current observation methods, such as those involving satellites or floating buoys on the seas, don't provide a complete picture of environmental threats.

"We need to reach the next level of observing systems ... to make wise policy decisions in the future," he told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, summing up the message of his trip to Germany, England and France.

While dozens of monitoring systems exist in the United States alone, U.S. officials want both developed and developing nations to unite behind a global system to watch environmental changes.

Information collection

Part of the problem, Lautenbacher said, is that nations don't always share the environmental information they collect or that the means of collection differ from one country to another.

The push builds on the U.S. administration's belief that scientific information isn't complete enough to accurately determine the breath of threats to the environment.

The United States has rejected the 1997 Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas reduction, which dozens of countries signed, saying it is too costly for the economy and relies on uncertain environmental forecasts.

Lautenbacher defended U.S. environmental policies. "The world has misunderstood or not fully absorbed what the U.S. is doing on the International Treaty for Climate Change," he said.

Lautenbacher's trip was also intended to build support for an Earth Observation Summit in Washington on July 31.

Early this month, leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations expressed support for finding new ways to scrutinize environmental patterns.

Environment ministers and officials from both G-8 nations and other countries are expected to start work on a 10-year plan toward building a high-tech global climate watch system. Some 25 countries have already agreed to attend, Lautenbacher said.

Lautenbacher also met with officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Paris. The United States is rejoining UNESCO after pulling out 18 years ago to protest alleged mismanagement and political slants.

The NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.


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