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Learning to live with global warming

Where's the Obama administration's policy on climate change?

A worker walks along a railway track at a coking factory in Changzhi, Shanxi province, Aug. 28, 2009. The third World Climate Conference in Geneva this week, which gathered together some 2,500 delegates and 50 heads of state from the far corners of the planet, is essentially an admission that some of the nastier effects of climate change are already here, and we might as well learn to live with them. (Reuters)

GENEVA — As the White House point person on the issue of climate change, Sherburne “Shere” Abbott arrived this week at a meeting in advance of the U.N.’s climate change conference which will take place in December in Copenhagen.

As she posed for photographers Monday while cutting a large red ribbon to inaugurate a booth extolling NASA’s role in providing satellites to monitor weather, she assured a small group of reporters about the need for action and Obama’s determination to get back in the game of dealing with the global perils of climate change.

"The new development is that we are now fully engaged and we want to take a leadership role," she said.

GlobalPost had a chance to sit down briefly with Abbott about a more complex set of questions that surround the Obama administration’s policies on climate change, or as many critics might suggest, the lack thereof.

It wasn’t easy to get answers out of her.

Abbott’s official title is Associate Director for Energy and Environment in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology.  She is effectively Obama’s go-to person to explain the science that underlies the administration’s take on climate change.

She flew into Geneva this week for WCC-3, the acronym for the third World Climate Conference, hosted by the World Meteorological Organization. She will have significant impact on the U.S. research and development budget on climate change which she said will more than double in 2010 to $150 billion to be paid out over the next 10 years. She stresses that the administration sees climate change as a long-term threat that is not going to go away.

“It may not affect my generation as much as that of our children and our grandchildren,” she said, “but the message is that it is real, and it is here.”   

For Abbott, the Geneva meeting provided a chance for early exposure to an increasingly contentious debate in which the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases is often seen as something of a villain.

While passionate on the threat of climate change, Abbott was skimpy on the details of what the administration realistically expects to accomplish.

Asked about which research direction seems the most promising, she said that the administration is approaching the problem on multiple fronts.  

“There is no single solution,” she said, “other than to make the shift towards a clean energy economy.”

The focus of the week-long meeting is on adapting to global warming — not stopping it.
The trickier issues ranging from emission capping and trading to making technology transfers inexpensive enough for emerging super-emitters like China and India to afford them is being reserved for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in Copenhagen on Dec. 7-18.