Tuesday, December 06, 2011

U.S. Climate Change Envoy Details U.S. COP17 Agenda

Dec 6: The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, arrived in Durban, South Africa for the beginning of the second week of the major United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17/CMP7 meeting being held from November 28 – December 9, 2011. In this critical second week the parties will attempt to decide the future of an international agreement on climate change and the details of methods to assist developing nations and halt the rise of the Earth's temperature. Stern held a press briefing on December 5, outlining the U.S. position and responded to questions from reporters.
    Stern said in part, "The U.S. is committed to working with our partners to make Durban a success, and for us a balanced package in Durban includes two main elements, two main elements of this negotiation, I think, in general. One is to carry out the agreements that were reached in last year's Cancun negotiation which was a very important negotiation that included for the first time, in an agreement adopted by the COP, undertakings by all the major economies, and many players beyond that, actually, to reduce their emissions as well as a transparency regime, an agreement to set up a Green Climate Fund, a technology center network, an adaptation committee and so forth. So there are important elements of what should become the architecture of an international climate system, and we did those things last year in the sense of agreeing to do them and now we need to follow through and do them. And what can happen this year in Durban is to take important steps to do the guidelines of the transparency system, get the Green Fund going, get the technology center going and so forth, and there will obviously still be further work in the coming year to make those, to get those things fully up and running. But there is important work to be done in that regard here, and that's probably the highest priority for the United States.
    "The second set of issues swirls around the Kyoto Protocol, what happens with respect to a potential second commitment period and the closely related issue of what might or might not be said about some future regime. So that's also an issue of a good deal of intensity and focus, and there will be a lot of discussion about that as we go forward this week." He then responded to questions. A sampling of the Q&A is included below.
    Question: Can you explain how, how the U.S. hopes to reach that or when we might see an explanation of how the U.S. hopes to reach that goal without a domestic legislation. And secondly, and until that is produced, why should other countries, you know adhere to, to, or answer to the things that the U.S. is concerned about until they show how you're going to cut carbon yourself.
    Answer: "There has been very aggressive action taken with respect to the entire transportation sector, which is more than a third of our total emissions. . . EPA is also in the process of doing regulations for stationary sources under the Clean Air Act. Those are things like power plants and so those are two very important elements. . . investment in green technology, some $90 billion, which has gone for renewables, for efficiency, for building a smart grid. . . I think it's quite plausible that there will need to be legislation on the road to 2020. . . I think we are trying to help move this negotiation into a paradigm that makes sense for the future. . . the U.S is a big player, and there are a lot of other big players, and there's a lot of small players who are very important, so I think that negotiation will continue. . ."
    Question: Over the weekend, Minister Xie of China said, and repeated again this morning, that China was willing to enter into a binding international treaty on climate after 2020 if five conditions were met, I think you're familiar with the five. Do you consider this a step forward, a step back, or a step sideways for China?
    Answer: "This is what I would say generally about a legally binding agreement. What matters in order for there to be a legally binding agreement at such time as that might happen, whenever that may be, it's going to be absolutely critical that all the major players, and China obviously is one of them. At this point China is 70 percent larger than the United States in carbon from energy, which is not everything, but it's most of greenhouse gases, and rising rapidly, which is just a testament to their extraordinary economy. It's no criticism, it's just a fact.

    "So, in order for there to be a legally binding agreement that makes sense, all the major players are going to have to be in with obligations, with commitments that have the same legal force. It doesn't mean they have to be exactly the same thing, but they have to apply with the same legal effect to all parties. And that means there's no conditionality, they're not conditional on receiving technology or financing, there's no trap doors, there's no Swiss cheese in that kind of an agreement. So that's imperative, and there are many parties who talk about a legally binding agreement, which would be kind of consistent with the structure that they see in the Bali Roadmap under which developed countries have legally, mandatory obligations, and developing countries have what are called in the somewhat arcane lexicon of this business, NAMAs -- Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions -- which are understood to be voluntary actions. So a legally binding agreement that is premised on that kind of division would not make any sense.

    "China has not been willing to do the kind of legally binding agreement that I'm talking about. It would also incidentally -- any future legally binding agreement -- could not be premised on a 1992 division of countries. It just doesn't make any sense. The world has changed dramatically since 1992, so to the extent that there is any division of countries in an agreement going forward, it would have to evolve dynamically to reflect the changes in economic and emissions growth over the years."

    On December 6, Stern held another briefing. In response to a question regarding the future of the Kyoto Protocol he said, ". . .it is very kind of normal in this climate change world from the perspective of press, observers, and sort of everybody who is involved to think about the legal-bindingness as the kind of sole indicator of what is important or significant. And we don't agree with that.

    "It is an element and, in the right circumstances, it might be a good element. But it is certainly not the only element. And you know, as I have said on many occasions, when you look at Cancun, you look at Kyoto right now, let's assume, as I said that Kyoto goes forward in some fashion in Durban, it is likely to cover somewhere in the vicinity of 15 percent of global emissions.

    "Cancun includes submissions, either targets or actions from developed and developing countries. I have lost track of the exact number of countries, but it is upwards of 80 or more countries, who made submissions and more than 80 percent of global emissions being covered. And these weren't kind of casual, you know, we'll think about doing X, Y or Z. These were, it was first of all made under the, in the context of a decision of the COP last year. Made under a legally binding treaty—the Framework Convention—and they are serious submissions that I think all the countries who made them intend to carry them out. . ."

    Access the complete December 5 transcript of the press briefing and the Q&A's (click here). Access the complete December 6 transcript of the press briefing and the Q&A's (click here). Access a complete index of day-by-day briefing session webcasts on-demand including Todd Stern's December 5 & 6 briefing (click here). Access the U.S. State Department COP17 website for details on the U.S. activities (click here). Access links to complete information from the UNFCCC website (click here). Access the CO.NX digital diplomacy team website with the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. Department of State for a back-stage pass to COP17 (click here). [#Climate]