Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Without Developing World Commitment, A Solution Is Impossible

Dec 15: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged international negotiators in Copenhagen to reach a "broad operational agreement to combat climate change." In an op-ed published by the International Herald Tribune, the Secretary laid out a way forward that will promote sustainable development by moving the world toward a low-carbon economy. Secretary Clinton is currently on her way to Copenhagen to attend the climate change conference. The so-called "high level segment" of the conference began on December 15.

In her op-ed she said, "A successful agreement depends upon a number of core elements, but two are shaping up to be essential: first, that all major economies set forth strong national actions and resolve to implement them; and second, that they agree to a system that enables full transparency and creates confidence that national actions are in fact being implemented."

She said further, "Our world is on an unsustainable path that threatens not only our environment, but our economies and our security. It is time to launch a broad operational accord on climate change that will set us on a new course. . . It is no secret that the United States turned a blind eye to climate change for too long. But now, under President Obama’s leadership, we are taking responsibility and taking action.

"Already, the Obama administration has done more at home to promote clean energy and address climate change than ever before in our history. We are investing more than $80 billion in clean energy and working with Congress to advance comprehensive climate and energy legislation. And we have announced our intention to cut our emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and ultimately in line with final climate and energy legislation. In light of the president’s goals, the expected pathway in pending legislation would extend those cuts to 30 percent by 2025, 42 percent by 2030, and more than 80 percent by 2050. These are the kind of strong national actions that a successful agreement requires.

"So there should be no doubt about our commitment. We have come to Copenhagen ready to take the steps necessary to achieve a comprehensive and operational new agreement that will provide a foundation for long-term, sustainable economic growth. This needs to be a common effort. All major economies, developed and developing, need to take robust and transparent action to reduce their carbon emissions. Of course, the actions required of the developed and major developing countries will not be identical, but we must all do our part.

The simple fact is that nearly all of the growth in emissions in the next 20 years will come from the developing world. Without their participation and commitment, a solution is impossible. Some are concerned that a strong agreement on climate change will undermine the efforts of developing nations to build their economies, but the opposite is true. This is an opportunity to drive investment and job creation around the world, while bringing energy services to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor.

"That is why United States is supporting an accord that both complements and promotes sustainable development by moving the world toward a low-carbon economy. The accord we seek will provide generous financial and technological support for developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. And we are prepared to join an effort to mobilize fast-start funding that will ramp up to $10 billion in 2012 to support the adaptation and mitigation efforts of countries in need.

"We can all see the way forward that has emerged from months of negotiations: decisive national action, an operational accord that internationalizes those commitments, assistance for nations that are the most vulnerable and least prepared to meet the effects of climate change, and standards of transparency that provide credibility to the entire process. The United States is ready to embrace this path, and we hope that the rest of the world will rally around it this week."

At yesterday's (December 15) press briefing in Copenhagen by Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change and Head of the United States Delegation, in response to a question stating that the "U.S. wouldn’t sign up to Kyoto or Kyoto with another name. Is that still your position?" Stern responded, "That is definitely still our position. That doesn’t mean that there are – that there aren’t some elements of the Kyoto Protocol that would still be relevant. I mean there’s some really important elements of the Kyoto Protocol that the United States wrote, even though we didn’t end up in the agreement. So all of the whole architecture of emissions trading and the so-called clean development mechanism, which is - you know, allows the purchase of offsets from developing countries. All of those are ideas and provisions that were created by the U.S. and which actually, interestingly, although this is past history, but which the EU fought quite hard against back in 1997. Then, of course, the U.S. went in another direction and then didn’t end up there, and the EU, to its credit did, and put in place emissions trading and a lot of other things. So, there are provisions, certainly, from Kyoto that we’d be very comfortable with. But in terms of the overall Kyoto architecture, no."

In response to a question regarding how does the U.S. reconcile it's commitment to greenhouse gas reduction of 17% below 2005 levels with scientists’ recommendations, who say that developed countries need to reduce emission by 25 to 40 %, relative to 1990? And the U.S. commitment is equivalent to a 3% reduction from 1990.

Stern responded, "I actually absolutely can reconcile it, and here’s the reason. I think that the 25 to 40 % reduction below 1990 was included in what has become a kind of iconic chart in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the scientific body. And that sets forth a good pathway for essentially holding emissions to around 450 parts per million, which is designed to give us a decent chance of holding temperature increases to 2 degrees above preindustrial. It’s not the only pathway, at all. There are a whole lot of other pathways that can get you there. We have -- our proposal and the legislation that’s pending in Congress would take us, decade by decade -- about 20% every decade -- to an 80% reduction. Actually, 80% below 1990, 83% below 2005 -- which would be right on target with what we would need to do. There is all kinds of scientific work that -- the President’s science advisor, John Holdren is actually here; I’m sure [he] would be happy to talk to you about this in Copenhagen -- has laid out a whole set of other pathways that can get you where you need to go. The difference -- just so you can sort of again have the frame in mind -- the difference between the pathway that the U.S. has charted and the pathway that would involve starting at that 25 to 40 % below 1990 -- the difference between that and what we’re doing is about 1 part per million in 2050. So I think that we’re on a very good path."

On the critical question regarding commitments from China, the question was asked: "It seems as though one of the real potential showstoppers here is between the U.S. and China. And I’m wondering if you could sort of help us think of a way to get out of the fact that China seems resolutely not wanting to put in paper – in writing – its domestic announcement. And the U.S. is obviously resolutely insisting upon that as a condition of an agreement here."

Stern responded, "It is an issue. It’s a big issue. You know, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. I think that from our point of view, you can’t even begin to have an environmentally-sound agreement without the adequate and significant participation of China. Look, I have said on many occasions about China and many of the other major developing countries that I think they are doing a great deal. If you go to China you will see a really significant amount of activity, a significant amount of engagement on this issue. But if we are going to have an international agreement, as opposed to a bunch of individual countries doing their own domestic thing, but an international agreement where countries come together to work together, then they have got to be prepared to put what they are doing into that international agreement. I actually think that we’re going to get there with China, but you know -- don’t know for sure yet. But it is a tough issue. But it is just one that I think is necessary in order to have an environmentally-sound agreement."

Access the full text of Secretary Clinton's op-ed (
click here). Access the complete and very informative press briefing with Todd Stern (click here). Access the UNFCCC website for links to all documents and videos of all press briefings (click here). Access the U.S. Department of State Copenhagen website for text and video of U.S. press briefings and various releases (click here).