Monday, March 30, 2009

U.S. Climate Change Posture Changes On International Stage

Mar 29: The first round of United Nations-backed negotiations designed to culminate in an ambitious new international climate change treaty in Copenhagen in December got underway on March 29, in Bonn, Germany, for the first of a series of three sessions aimed at producing a draft document to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period to reducing greenhouse gas emissions ends in 2012. More than 2,000 delegates from government, business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions were expected to attend the nine-day meeting. The meetings are officially known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) Under the Convention.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said, “This first negotiating session this year is critical for moving the world closer to a political solution to climate change. The clock is ticking down and countries still have much work to cover." Discussions on greenhouse gas emissions reductions to be achieved by industrialized countries after 2012 will center on issues relating to the scale of the reductions, improvements to emissions trading and the Kyoto Protocol's carbon offset mechanisms, as well as concerns relating to land-use change and forestry.

Todd Stern, U.S. Department of State, Special Envoy for Climate Change addressed the delegates and said, "As the President’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, I want to say on behalf of President Obama and his entire team that we are very glad to be back, we want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us. . . You will not hear anyone on my team cast doubt upon or downplay the threat of global climate change. The science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction -- or inadequate actions -- are unacceptable.

"But along with this challenge comes a great opportunity. By transforming to a low-carbon economy, we can stimulate global economic growth and put ourselves on a path of sustainable development for the 21st century. I would go so far as to say that those who hang back and cling to a high-carbon path will be economic losers in the end because with the scientific facts of global warming getting worse and worse, high-carbon products and production methods will not be viable for long. My central belief is this: that to succeed in containing climate change we must be guided by both science and pragmatism.

"Only if we are flexible and pragmatic, respecting each others’ different circumstances and concerns, will we be able to make strong and decisive progress. Too much time has been lost over the years locked in sterile debates. Now, as we face a gathering danger, let us focus on finding the common ground that can lead to agreement, rather than holding our ground on fixed positions. None of us has a monopoly on truth."

Stern suggested five building blocks for a foundation to "a strong agreement in Copenhagen" including: (1) a long-range vision that is guided by science; (2) America itself cannot provide the solution, but there is no solution without America; (3) there must be a global response, with truly significant actions by all major economies; (4) to establish a structure to ensure that significant funds flow to developing countries; (5) an agreement that is supported not simply by negotiators, but by the people we serve so it will enter into force with all countries participating.

He said, "Let me speak frankly here: it is in no one’s interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won’t gain sufficient support at home in all of our countries, including my own. . . too often when we start negotiating, we find heads being pulled back into their shells like turtles and an atmosphere that is more contentious than collaborative. I think that our challenge as negotiators is to try to capitalize on the creative energy and dynamism we see at the national level and that gets those heads popping back out of their shells. What matters after all is that we get on a viable, ambitious path to mid-century so we can solve the problem. And that we start now. Stalemate is not an option."

Stern indicated in his remarks that President Obama is working actively with key members of Congress to implement a nationwide cap and trade program that would cut emissions by more than 15% from current levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. He said, "Our Environmental Protection Agency is paving the way for more stringent standards for auto emissions and other regulatory measures. And the President is pursuing a ten year, $150 billion investment program for clean energy research, development, and deployment to speed key technologies to market and make the mitigation effort easier for all countries in the coming decades. This overall effort, especially the centerpiece cap and trade program, will largely set the level of the mid-term target and the longer-term pathway that the United States will take for reducing carbon emissions."

Access a release from the UN (
click here). Access the complete opening statement from Stern (click here). Access the State Department website for Climate Change for more information (click here). Access links to detailed information, documents and webcasts of the meetings of the Working Groups (click here). Access a UNFCCC release on the meeting (click here). Access the complete opening statement of Yvo de Boer (click here). [*Climate]