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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

Press Conference
Jonathan Pershing
Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Cancun, Mexico
December 1, 2010


Full Video»

DR. PERSHING: Thank you all for coming, glad to see you again. We decided we’d tried to be fairly frequent in these so while there’s not a great deal of change since I saw you last, I thought it would be useful to give you an update on how we see things moving. So let me do that first, with an update about where the negotiations stand.

Before I do that I wanted to do one additional thing. That is an advantage of having the podium. I know that many of you are spending your time here but there, as you probably know, is also a large exhibit space at Cancun Messe. The United States has got a space there. We brought a number of our experts from the U.S. down to make presentations; have a series of panel discussions on a variety of different issues covering what the U.S. is doing at home, technology developments underway, scientific developments underway in the United States and I think that might be of quite broad interest. A lot of it will be webcast live. If you’re interested in taking a look at it the information is available and the webcasts will be available at, so you’ll have information, quite a lot of breadth of information, both on U.S. programs and U.S. activities.

We turn for just a minute to the negotiations and what is going on.

In the last couple of days the focus has been really a combination of formal opening statements and then the initial round of exchanges between countries on a quite wide range of issues under consideration.

We are now about to start diving into greater detail, we’ll start working in smaller groups and we’ll begin to negotiate specific texts of the decisions. The negotiations will primarily take place in contact groups, will be under the guidance of facilitators who have been tasked to help find consensus. Today, and likely the rest of this week and next week, we’ll be focusing intensely on working toward this agreement.

Where is the U.S. in all of this? Some of you might not have been here on Monday, so I want to reiterate just a few of the comments I made then. We are committed to achieving a successful outcome here in Cancun that builds on the progress made last year in Copenhagen and takes another step forward in our collective approach to the climate challenge.

We are seeking a balanced package of decisions, one that preserves the balance of the Accord from Copenhagen, which was something that our President, along with many other world leaders, directly negotiated and to which a large majority of the world's nations have subscribed. Agreements here in Cancun should make progress on all of the key issues—mitigation, transparency, financing, adaptation, technology, and forests, or as it’s known here, REDD.

To get to this outcome, which advances the global effort to mitigate climate change, we are prepared to be pragmatic and flexible. Others must be too. Just as there is a way forward to make progress on such things as a Green Fund and REDD, there is equally a way forward with transparency and with anchoring mitigation commitments.

Capturing progress in all elements of the negotiations, maintaining the carefully crafted balance of the Copenhagen Accord and moving one step closer to meeting this challenge is absolutely doable.

There are many encouraging proposals already on the table that could help lead to agreement on a set of robust decisions. These include proposals to start standing up a Green Fund with governance systems that will encourage donors to contribute, to create a new technology mechanism that takes advantage of existing fora and global technology expertise, to start implementing significant mitigation commitments, to put in place a system of transparency and accountability -- the so-called MRV and ICA provisions -- and to make real progress on adaptation and on forest protection. Decisions in each of these areas would establish blueprints guiding our next steps to a fully operational package.

Success here will require all Parties to move forward, for all Parties to take the necessary steps to agree to these decisions. The United States will spare no effort to work with our international partners to reach this outcome. There is no reason we cannot get full, robust operational decisions in all of these areas. But all Parties have to be pragmatic, not allow ideology to stand in the way of progress, and recognize that the only way forward is with a balanced package of decisions. The environment cannot afford for us to delay and wrangle over issues on which we can now, and should now, agree.

Thank you and I am very happy to answer any questions.

QUESTION: On Monday you talked about progress with China, and that you’d seen them in the halls. I just wondered if there’s been any progress there in the last couple of days and if you have had some talks?

DR. PERSHING: We have not since then had a formal bilateral discussion. We are working on arranging the time. Both of us are trying to juggle schedules. The sessions, though, where we’ve seen each other have certainly been very concrete, very cordial, but there’s been no formal discussion.

QUESTION: What issue of the ones you just mentioned is likely to be worked on first with China?

DR. PERSHING: I think that for us the question really is about how we can get this outcome that I think both of us are interested in having. What’s the package? How do you put together a deal that covers all of these areas? And that’s the area that we’ll focus on, and then the elements within it are areas we have to work with them to achieve.

QUESTION: Could you comment on what the United States is doing in these negotiations to advance the REDD process? And related to that is transparency. You spoke about transparency. Right now the United States is in the process of developing a regulatory regime for carbon dioxide through the Environmental Protection Agency. And the question is being raised by some, why would it not be a good idea to harmonize U.S. regulatory standards to fit the accounting that is being proposed for land use change and such in these international negotiations and process as well. If you could comment on those both please.

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. The REDD issue, as many people have been following it, is very, very significant. If you combine the land use change and the forests, they account respectively for the better part of a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a huge share of the total that includes agriculture and forestry and a variety of shifts in the way we use land around the world. It’s become a significant issue, a significant opportunity in these negotiations. Last year in Copenhagen, the United States joined in a partnership with a group of other countries, currently numbering on the order of fifty, which includes almost all of the major forested nations around the world. It’s a partnership to begin to develop both methodologies to identify why we’re looking at such rapid reductions in [forests], what are the drivers of it, how can we do work collectively to reduce the impacts of deforestation and how can we avoid it in the future. And what does that mean in terms of sustainability in the land-use sector more widely. To that end, we are part in this partnership, of a nearly $5 billion dollar package to which the United States has committed over a three-year period, as part of our prompt start effort of one billion dollars over the three years. In the fiscal year 2010 we have put up on the State Department website as well as on an international website made available by the Dutch government, information about all of our projects and programs which details specifically where we’re working on the land-use change and forestry activities. A number of recent elements of those have been quite significant. Many of you know that President Obama was recently in Indonesia, and that is one of the key forest areas that is undergoing significant deforestation. In his visit, he made very clear our very strong support through this partnership and through bilateral work to address deforestation there. We are also working on the Amazon basin and in the Congo basin, which with Indonesia are the three largest forested regions in the tropical forests in the world. We are developing programs for spatial monitoring, for monitoring from space about deforestation, programs that examine what might be done for monitoring and verification that will help us develop robust regimes; a very aggressive program.

On the issue of transparency, the United States believes this is going to be one of the key elements moving forward. It’s somewhat technical. People say, “Well, what does it matter if you have the same rules or different rules.” We would argue that they need to be robust rules. And they may apply differently in different places. So for example, a tropical forest might have different characteristics than a peat northland forest. In fact they are quite different. The same rules would not apply. The United States Department of Agriculture on regular basis updates its inventories; they tend to do individual plot samples, which make possible over a period of years an examination of how the trends in U.S. forests work. Would we demand that same thing for all developing countries? It may not be necessary. There may be other means that they choose to do that; they could both be satisfactory. For us the issue is robustness. The issue is full transparency; not identical. Furthermore, in many cases they probably will converge. There are going to be certain standards that will all begin to apply. And over time I think many of the U.S. standards will come into bear. One of the things that is quite interesting is that the global community is using standards from 1996. The intergovernmental panel in 1996 developed a series of recommendations on inventories. They’re used in the Kyoto protocol. The United States is not part of that agreement. We’re actually using standards developed by the same body 10 years later in 2006. Should we revert to the ones that are 10 years old? That just doesn't seem the right choice. Over time there’s likely to be convergence. But our sense right now the key is to make them clear and robust are fully transparent.

QUESTION: Talking with some delegates, I heard that the position of the U.S. is slowing down the process by insisting on this balanced package that you refer to. I wonder if you could explain to us what the advantages of having a balanced package is as opposed to focusing on the low-hanging fruit and leaving the tougher things for a little bit later in these meetings or 2011?

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. I think the heart of this discussion is really what we are trying to do with the environment. We are not trying for the environment to create a financial mechanism. We are trying to provide resources to help countries mitigate. We are not trying in this effort to create a committee to talk about adaptation. We are trying to put on the ground programs that make a difference in countries. Many of you have followed what has been going on recently in Latin America. There have been huge floods in Colombia. The head of the Colombian delegation was delayed coming up, because of the effort she is also responsible for domestically to manage those questions. That’s an adaptation problem. It’s not about a committee in the United Nations. If we put off the things about mitigation, the things about action, and say we’ll pick up the low-hanging fruit which is the establishment of an institution, we are not working on the problem in an appropriate manner. We need to do all of these things. We need to commit to the mitigation side. It needs to be transparent because that will build confidence that all countries are moving and will be able to take next steps. It needs to be coupled with financial support, because we are not providing support for anything, we are providing support for those mitigations efforts.

We need to move on technology. It is not independent, it is linked. It is the way that you make the mitigation actions less costly and more effective. And it is not just technology for mitigation. It is technology for adaptation and we need to move both on the technology and on the policies and practices.

And we don’t leave out the REDD discussions, that’s not just low-hanging fruit. That requires a level of clear information about what the monitoring programs are so we can guarantee the environmental effectiveness. The package is not disentangled, the package is connected. We move on it collectively because that is the solution. You can’t pull out a piece and say, “Hah, I’ve got it, everything else can wait and still be moving forward successfully.”

QUESTION: The Japanese Prime Minister announced on Monday that it would have no part in a continued Kyoto Protocol, Kyoto Protocol number two. It would have no association with that. To what extent does that resonate with U.S. own policy on Kyoto?

DR. PERSHING: As I think all of you know, the United States is not and has never been a Party to the Kyoto Protocol. And so we’re not actively taking part in those discussions here in these negotiations. I understand that’s being discussed in previous discussions, in previous press conferences with both Mexico and others. I don’t really have any comment to make on it. It is an issue in the discussion. There are two tracks here in the negotiation. But Japan’s been quite clear and I think it’s very much within any country’s right to decide how it wants to move forward. It happens to be a choice that Japan has made, and the group of Parties now has to deal with how it moves forward.

QUESTION: Could you please talk about MRV in respect to India and China. How faraway do you think the U.S. from India and China’s position and whether it’s likely to have an outcome on MRV in Cancun?

DR. PERSHING: It’s always hard on day three of a fourteen day conference to speak about likelihoods, a little kind of early in it. We are just now getting into the formal discussions, or I should say the informal discussions on these detailed questions. The first one was held yesterday, but it was a procedural discussion. There was no substantive conversation. That will be this afternoon. So, I can’t really tell you exactly where countries are. What I can tell is where they have been coming in. And coming in, it was quite clear that we were converging. But we’ve not yet reached agreement. And the next ten days will determine whether or not we can reach that agreement. We think it’s doable. We think that the kinds of things that we are seeking make sense and in many cases are being done by both India and by China in other fora. They have domestic value. So, for example, countries that are working on policies which both India and China and the U.S. are, have enormous value in understanding how their performance is going. That internal measurement and metric is helpful and comparing themselves about expectations and performance with others through an international process also brings value. And these countries do it in other fora. We’re quite hopeful that can move forward, but that’s the negotiation for the next two weeks.

QUESTION: President Lula said today that COP16 is not going to reach any important results and that important leaders are not coming here. I would like you to comment on that please.

DR. PERSHING: It is always hard for a negotiator to comment on a comment from a head of State. I personally think that the process will reach results, and I think there will be conclusions coming out. I am very hopeful they will continue to make progress toward the goal that I know that he shares, that Brazil shares. Certainly Brazilian negotiators are working for the same goal that we are working for, which is a robust outcome that continues to finally address the climate change problem. I think all of us, all of us, participating around the world in these negotiations, recognize the seriousness of the climate change problem, the threat that it poses to countries everywhere, and are making a good effort to move forward and certainly I do hope there will be an outcome from this session that moves us that way.

QUESTION: Can you just tell us and give us some clue about any compromise that the United States might be prepared to make on mitigation given this is the hottest year ever, and given what is going on in Latin America, and given all the other crises which are taking place, since I don’t think there has been many compromises which you have made.

DR. PERSHING: It is always kind of an interesting thing to think about where one sits in the process and my own sense about the system is that when you sit inside of it, compromises seem to be ripe, seem to be frequent, seem to be significant, and I don’t think there is any distinction now this year than last year. The things the U.S. sought going into the process in Copenhagen were not what came out, but we think the deal that came out of Copenhagen moved us forward. The things that we are seeking going in I am trying to outline in the answers to these questions; we hope they will come out, because those are things that we think will make a difference in solving the problem. If the details are different we will have to see what they are, before we can know whether or not we’d accept the outcome.

QUESTION: You said that you can’t take a meeting with the Chinese delegation, but if it is possible to hold such reunion is it possible to have an agreement between United States and China itself more than the meeting, you know what I mean. And by the other part, is it possible to have more commitments from the United States, because many people are saying that the United States is not having commitments enough. Thank you.

DR. PERSHING: The answer to the first question is no. We are not here to have a negotiation bilaterally. We are here to have a negotiation as part of a global effort to resolve this issue and to work on the next steps on the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that context, we and China are significant partners and both of us major Parties to the outcome that we are seeking, and there is no likely solution if we ourselves can’t find some agreement. But the outcome will not be an outcome between the two of us; it will be an outcome in which the two of us participate in a global agreement.

The second question has very much to do with what is going on in the U.S. and the commitments that we’ve made, and the efforts that have been followed through, and the perceived adequacy of those efforts. I would say two things about it. The first one is that there is an enormous amount going on in the U.S. and that people should be very clear about the depth and the breadth of those actions. One of the reasons I provided information about the side events that we’re running at the Center that we are hosting is that it is an effort that we are trying to make to bring some of that information to the world. People, I think, often don’t have the kind of insight into what is going on, because they are coming from other countries and don’t have easy access. We are trying to make that information more public because it is very, very substantial. It covers programs in the agricultural sector, in the forest sector, in industry, in energy, in transport, in new technology; there are hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the U.S. in the public and private sector, specifically working on these kinds of questions. Issues related to efficiency, programs that manage alternative energy, ideas that can change housing stock, programs that address land-use and forestry and sequestration and soils, new technology options that deal with the technologies of the future in all of these sectors. Huge investments are being made across the board; we need to be more public in sharing those.

The President has also made and we continue to affirm the commitment that we made in Copenhagen last year. We are not moving away from that, that is a public statement that we stand behind. Clearly the next steps for implementing that are going to have to go through Congress, through regulation, through executive order; we will work on all of those tracks, all of those avenues at home to implement those programs and meet that commitment. It is very significant. It is a significant change from the business-as-usual course that we had been on for the past decades, and it is that shift that we are trying to move quickly and to encourage the rest of the world to also move on. And we add up our commitment and the other commitments they get us a long way toward the ultimate objective that we are seeking which is to combat the threat of climate change.

Thank you.

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