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Diplomacy in Action

Daily Briefing at the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Special Briefing
Jonathan Pershing
Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Cancun, Mexico
November 29, 2010


Full Video»

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much and welcome, thanks very much for coming out. I am glad to see everyone here. I am always pleased to have the press. I think it reflects the interest the global community has in this issue and so appreciate all of you being here for this conference. I think we are all here for the same purposes. Today is the opening day of COP 16. On behalf of the U.S., I would like very much to thank our Mexican friends and neighbors, both for their very warm hospitality but as much for their enormous effort they have put in over the past year, and more, in preparing for this session. The effort by President Calderon, Minister Espinosa, Mr. Elvira, the entire team has been remarkable, very extensive, not just in preparing for this conference and trying to create agreement, even leading us to this session, but as much for the example that they are setting with actions here at home in combating climate change.

The United States arrives here eager to work with our international partners, to take another important step forward in our collective efforts to meet the growing climate challenge. Throughout the year, our sights have been set on trying to find a way to build on the progress made last year in Copenhagen - and in particular in the Copenhagen Accord. In Copenhagen, through the direct participation of many of the world’s leaders, including President Obama, progress was made on all key elements of the negotiations.

At the heart of the Accord, on the one hand, was a crucial agreement among both developed and developing countries to implement a set of mitigation targets or actions, and to do so in an internationally transparent manner. On the other hand, there were critical provisions for financing for developing countries in order to support, mitigation, adaptation, technology, forest protection and preservation, known as REDD in this context. Taken together these two pieces reflect and create a landmark, balanced agreement which accommodated and created broad support.

What we are seeking here in Cancun is a balanced package of decisions that will build on this agreement. Such decisions, which preserve the balance of the Accord, will be a positive and very meaningful outcome. If Parties here are prepared to take the necessary steps forward, I think we can achieve this goal.

Specifically, I think that if countries take a determined and pragmatic view, we can make progress on anchoring mitigation pledges; we can make progress on putting in place a system of measurement reporting and verification, including international consultations and analysis; we can make progress on creating a Green Fund; we can make progress on creating a new technology mechanism; and we can make progress on adaptation and on REDD. Balanced advances in all of these would be an important contribution to dealing with the climate change problem. However, as we have said all year, moving ahead on a few issues deemed by some to be easy, or holding off on others deemed by some to be difficult, is not a path for success.

A balanced package is within our reach. To grasp it we must be pragmatic, we must be flexible, and we must stand behind the underpinnings of what our leaders agreed to last year. The United States is standing behind the commitments we made in Copenhagen. We remain committed to President Obama’s pledge announced in Copenhagen last year, for a working reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in a range of 17% below the 2005 levels by 2020. We are also aggressively working to deliver on our fast start commitment, beginning with our 2010 financing. We have worked to secure a large package of funding with a total contribution in 2010 fiscal year of about $1.7 billion. This represents an enormous increase of climate finance to help developing countries with projects ranging from adaptation activities in small island states to helping Andean nations address the impacts of tropical glacier retreat, to clean energy programs in Africa. This funding is one example of how we are holding up our end of the balance.

We expect to have a number of high-level officials participating in the session and attending here in Cancun. The head of the delegation at the high-level session next week will be U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. The U.S. will also be represented by the Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu, the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley. These individuals will be participating in events that underscore our own collective and their agency’s specific role in transitions to clean energy economies and securing a comprehensive global response to this challenge.

So let me repeat, we are extremely eager to make progress here in Cancun, and we are determined to do everything we can to ensure that happens. Thank you very much and I will be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you believe we can make a progress here on anchoring mitigation pledges; putting in place a system of verification and reporting; creating a Green Fund, a new technology mechanism; on adaptation; and on REDD. Assuming that is a balanced outcome in your view, which of those appears to be the most difficult? And which worries you the most as far as achieving an outcome?

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. I think the broad question is that there are issues in each one of these that need resolution. None of these items has moved forward sufficiently to be resolved today. Some are further along than others. One of the things that we came to this meeting for was to see a text called conference room paper, released by the Chair of the AWG-LCA, of the group that is looking at long-term cooperative activities, led by Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe. In that text she only put a place-holder for the discussions on mitigation and MRV, so clearly we don’t have much to work yet in that discussion. We have a lot of work to do to finish that up. In the finance area, we have got a fairly more developed text, but it still presents some quite different options that Parties have to resolve. So there is some work to be done there. In other areas, she has proposed what she thinks might be some compromises. I am not sure they work for the Parties, and so we will have to find a way for the negotiations this week to resolve those. So, my sense is there will be a process for each one of these activities, and this process will move forward more or less in parallel in the key areas.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. You said that you stand behind your 17% pledge made in Copenhagen. But the exact wording of that 17% says it needs to be backed up by U.S. domestic legislation and given the results of the recent Congressional elections that seems further away. How can you convince your fellow negotiators that the U.S. will be able to achieve the 17% without legislation?

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. I think the broad issue that we are committing to is for 2020. We were explicit in the framing of the commitment and we continue to be explicit in the characterization of the commitment. I think it is remarkably premature for people to say, nine months after you made it, when your first efforts to make legislation move did not succeed, you think that you have to back away. We are not. The President was explicit. We continue to think legislation is the right approach. We think it may be not necessarily be only comprehensive legislation, but perhaps elements in energy or elements in other environmental activities that could also move us in that direction. But it could be complemented by programs in regulation, programs that deal with Executive Orders that the President can issue, programs that are underway at the state level, and frankly shifts in the U.S. energy sector. One of the things that appear to be coming along is significant improvement in our supplies of shale gas, which could perhaps move in place of coal and further reduce U.S. emissions. The EPA, for example, is considering regulations that may examine the environmental consequences of that and make that possible. All of those as a package he was quite confident that we could move forward and that is what we are sharing with countries.

I would also note that this has been a year in which a lot has happened. The U.S. has not only sought to work on legislation. We have sought to work on regulatory programs; and sought to work on the spending of our funding to move out of the recession, out of the economic decline, with an economic stimulus. We are working on renewables; and working on efficiency. These are all moving forward and reducing U.S. emissions.

QUESTION: If significant progress isn’t made on the issues you mentioned, REDD and finance and so forth, what do you see for the future of the U.N. process? Is it time, would it be time to move on to other things more aggressively?

MR. PERSHING: I am struck that you would ask the question as we start the process instead of as when we end the process. My own sense is that this is the first day. I was taken by the comments made by President Calderon, by the comments made by Minister Espinosa, by the comments made by Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary, and by the general conversation that we’ve heard in the corridors and among individuals we’ve spoken with over the past couple of days. Our own sense is this degree of optimism and interest in moving forward. It seems certainly premature to forecast the demise of this process. I can imagine a statement from Mark Twain here, right? “The evidence of my demise is much anticipated, but certainly premature.” I would know that it’s not an easy process; that we did not come out of Tianjin with a full success; that we’ve had the procedural difficulties and substantive difficulties. But my sense is that we have very good chairs and very good president here with Mexico. And so, we’re optimistic we can work through many if not all of these. Let’s talk about this later in the week and see how things are doing.

QUESTION: Wanted to ask you, how much are you willing to compromise on those issues? Which is the base to keep going even in the BASIC countries? India is supporting the U.S. line, so how far are you willing to compromise, or only issues of transparency?

DR. PERSHING: Thank you very much. I think that there are a number of pieces to your question. We’re all thinking where the United States might be on the ICA side. My own thinking about it is that India is less aligning itself with the U.S. side than aligning itself with the view that was taken by the leaders of all the states when they agreed, so it includes not just the U.S. but China and South Africa and Brazil and Europe. There’s a consensus I think that’s very, very broad and becoming deeper; that it’s extremely important to have a clear sense of understanding about what countries are delivering, what they are doing. How do you know? How do you create confidence in the process and for one country in the actions of the other country? And the best way to do that is through a procedure in which that becomes public and transparent. Our sense has been that there’s been a lot of movement over the course of the last couple of months. Minister Ramesh has been very active in this debate, but a number of others have also been very active in this discussion. Our hope is that the work that was done in this intercessional period will come forward in this negotiation here under the LCA conversation and be something that can be adopted quite widely. We think that there does not need to be much compromise on the part of any Party. Our sense is that it’s a question of each Party understanding what’s to be done. What does it look like? We already have in the Framework of the Convention a commitment by all Parties to report on their emissions. The frequency is open. Our sense is that the bigger you are the more significant your emissions, it might be useful to have more frequent reporting. We do it annually. Would it be expected annually from all countries? Well many countries already do it annually, so it’s not a huge lift, but perhaps every two years might be acceptable. That’s fine.

The second question: What kind of reporting do you have? What reporting do you provide? Already we have an obligation for all countries in this process to report on their inventories. They’re up on the website of the Convention. They’re available on many different forms by NGOs. We think there should be more reporting; not just on your inventories, but also on your actions. And, in fact, in some ways the first step to do that has already been taken by almost every country in the world. They’ve provided reports and communications about what they’re doing. We’d like an update on those. Some of those date back to 1994 or earlier. Let’s update them and update them regularly. It’s not a problem. Most people can do this.

And the third part of the question is: how is it reviewed? What’s the process by which the rest of the world looks at what’s been done? And our sense is that we’re already doing that too. Countries already examine each other’s pledges. They’ve been done post Copenhagen and in the process running up to Copenhagen. It was not onerous and it was not intrusive. We think it could be formalized. We think there could be elements that could be detailed. And Minister Ramesh has proposed some options and others proposed options for how to do that. That does not seem to be a lift that is unmanageable. We think we can achieve all of that.

QUESTION: Mr. Pershing, could you speak to this $1.7 billion. The U.S. is so in debt. Was this appropriated by Congress? Or was it part of the Stimulus Package, or where did it come from?

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. It’s divided into a number of different pieces. One piece is what was appropriated by Congress, which was about $1.3 billion. The additional piece actually does go openly through Congress, but it’s essentially loan guarantees that we do to help commercial entities do investments around the world. That’s what Congress agreed. I think we should agree to agree that if we look at the share that the United States is putting in, it seems the appropriate share of the global effort to fight this particular problem and we will continue to work to provide that kind of budgetary support going forward. I would note that it redounds to our credit as well as the international community. The problem that we are trying to solve in this instance is not exclusively a U.S. problem. It is a problem of mitigation around the world. And it is a problem that deals with the adaptation of immediate needs in many of the most vulnerable and the poorest countries around the world. And as a nation with enormous capacity, we think it’s right and appropriate that we should make these kinds of investments. We think that they will be things that we can work off while going forward. They will lead to new technologies. They will lead to jobs at home and jobs internationally, and they will lead to a much lower carbon footprint, which is the goal of this particular process.

QUESTION: Speaking with Christiana Figueres yesterday, she said that the U.S. and China made progress behind the scenes in the most recent talks in Tianjin, China, despite appearances. Do you agree with that? Are the U.S. and China in a better position than it appears from the outside looking in moving forward?

DR. PERSHING: Our relationship with China is extremely important. We are the world’s first and second largest greenhouse gas emitters. We are the world’s first and second largest economies. We both have enormous resources, enormous capacities, and complicated and complex domestic circumstances which drive the actions that we take. I think that a success here will only emerge if we can both come to agreement. We spent a lot of energy in the past month working on those issues where we disagree and trying to resolve them. My sense is we have made progress. I think that it remains to be seen how this meeting comes out. We have seen each other in the corridors already, but the day is young and the week is young. I expect we’ll have a series of discussions with our Chinese colleagues going forward, and look forward a great deal to finding common ground, which I very much think we can achieve. We have a lot of areas of agreement. It’s been very interesting to read some of the press statements coming from the Chinese press and the high-level officials in China. We agree on the problem. I was struck in some sense by the statement made in the opening today by Dr. Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate in atmospheric chemistry, who talked about the problem. When you talk to the Chinese, they agree with that. They understand that. They make that a central piece of their discussions. They agree they should be taking action, as do we. And we look at what they’re doing at home; it’s substantial, as is what we are doing at home. And we take a look at the framing of the next steps, they largely agree. We think this process is the right forum to have those debates. Within all of these areas, it strikes us that there is enormous scope for coming to a specific agreement on the decisions that would comprise a package of next steps. We think we can work with them to make that happen. And we look forward to doing it.

Thank you.

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