Wednesday, December 15, 2010

State Department Briefing On Cancun Climate Change Conference

Dec 14: Todd Stern, the Department of State Special Envoy for Climate Change, who just returned from the major UN Climate Change Conference in CancĂșn, Mexico, that ended on Saturday provided a press briefing in Washington, DC. Over the last two weeks, representatives from more than 190 nations met in Cancun for the 16th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16) with the goal of reaching new agreements to advance the collective efforts to meet this challenge [See WIMS 12/13/10]. In the early morning hours of Saturday in Cancun, Stern said, "the parties largely achieved that goal. This result was fundamentally consistent with U.S. objectives. Throughout the year, our strategic vision was to consolidate and elaborate on the progress made last year in Copenhagen by many of the world's leaders, including President Obama, and to have such outcome fully endorsed by the Conference of the Parties, all the nations to the Climate Treaty, as the Copenhagen Accord obviously was not."
    Stern continued, "The resulting Cancun agreement advances each of the core elements of the Copenhagen Accord. Specifically, it anchors the accord's mitigation pledges by both developed and developing countries in a parallel manner. It outlines a system of transparency with substantial detail and content, including international consultations and analysis; that was the negotiated phrase from the Copenhagen Accord. And this will provide confidence that a country's pledges are being carried out and help the world keep track of the track that we're on in terms of reducing emissions. The agreement in Cancun also launches a new Green Climate Fund with a process for setting it up, creates a framework to reduce deforestation in developing countries, establishes a so-called technology mechanism which includes -- will include a new technology executive committee and a climate technology center and network, and it will also set up a framework and committee to promote international cooperation and action on adaptation.
    In response to a question stating that the Cancun meeting basically punted the hardest issue, mandatory emissions caps until next year, Stern said, "The issue that was rolled over to next year is what happens in the Kyoto Protocol track. . . there are simultaneously two negotiating tracks going forward. One is the Kyoto Protocol track, which doesn't involve the United States, because we're not part of it. And the issue there is will there be a second so-called commitment period of Kyoto, the first being 2008-12. . . Kyoto is not the larger agreement that covers -- that includes emission commitments from the U.S., China, India, Brazil, et cetera. On that track, at the moment, while there may be something -- some kind of legal treaty down the road, that's not happening, I think, anytime soon for the reason that we're not prepared to enter into legally binding commitments to reduce our emissions unless China, India, and so forth, are also prepared to do that. And at the moment, they're not. . ."

    In response to a question regarding India's role at Cancun, how it went and all, Stern said, "I think India played, actually, a particularly constructive role in Cancun. I think that India was very much faithful to its own national interests and faithful to its role in the G-77, but at the same time creatively looking for solutions to difficult issues in the negotiation in a way that could bring in both developing countries -- and by the way, developing countries are not a monolithic group at this point, there's all sorts of different -- there's the large ones, there's Africans and least developed nations and island states and so forth. I think India really played a particularly constructive role in trying to find solutions that would bring everybody to the table. And one good example of that is on the issue of transparency, which was very important. . ."
    In response to a question that a U.K. scientists said "there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995," Stern said, "Well, I'm not a scientist, so I'm not going to comment on it and I'm not familiar with exactly what he said. I think that if you look at the warming that has been recorded on a steady basis for over the last 20 years or so, you will see a very significant rise in temperatures over time. We have -- and I think if you look at the last 20 years, you have something like the 15 or 18 warmest years in history having happened during that period. So. . . I think there is a very, very broad consensus of scientists who see a marked warming trend, and again, a very large percentage of scientists who study in this area who attribute that to human activity."
    In response to a question about what does the U.S. need to do in the next year to move the process forward in light of the fact that a number of senators have expressed concern about even "modest international financing commitments by the U.S.," Stern said, "With respect to financing, look, the financial promises that were made in the first instance in Copenhagen and continued in the Cancun agreements are extremely important. I mean, they're – they are a core part of the deal. Obviously, the fiscal situation is exceedingly tough in the U.S. It's tough in Europe and other places as well. And we are going to have to do the best we possibly can to carry out, to make good on the – in the first instance, the fast start pledge that was part of Copenhagen and reiterated here. In the second instance, to work with parties to set up a good structure of the good architecture for the new Green Fund that has been agreed on. And then in the slightly longer-term front, to continue thinking through how sources can be put together for the $100 billion – the commitment to the goal of mobilizing that money from all sources, public and private, that we made by 2020. . ."
    In response to a question about the U.S. position on China's involvement in the negotiations, Stern said, "Our position on China is that China needs to make significant reductions in its emissions. But for China or other developing countries, at this stage, those are going to be relative reductions. . . whether it's China or India or others, are growing at 6, 8, 10 percent, you can't slam the brakes on completely and say you've got to be making absolute reductions tomorrow. It just – it couldn't work. . . the critical direction that we need to move on is to separate growth from the path of emissions, so that growth goes up but emissions can still go down. . . We're not calling -- I mean, it's not so much that we're calling on China or India to make legally binding commitments right now. What we're saying is we will do legally binding commitments only if they are symmetrical, if the emerging market countries do that also. If they're not ready to do it, it's not so much that we're criticizing that, it's just that we say in that – if that's where we are globally, then we need to push forward in the kind of politically binding structure that we're doing now. . ." 
    Access the complete State Department briefing (click here).