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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
Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Cancun, Mexico
December 8, 2010


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MR. STERN: I’m not going to make any particular opening statement today. There’s a lot of work going on. It continues. We are working hard. Let me just take questions and we’ll go from there. Thanks.

QUESTION: What is your opinion about the statements made today by Cuba in the morning meetings regarding intentions to eliminate the Kyoto Protocol, to cancel any chances for a second period of the Kyoto Protocol? I know the United States is not part of the Kyoto Protocol, but I would like to know if it is important for the U.S. delegation that the Kyoto Protocol remains alive after Cancun.

MR. STERN: Thank you, I didn’t hear the Cuban declaration actually, but let me take your general question. The United States obviously is not part of the Kyoto Protocol. We don’t participate in that very important part of the negotiations. It’s important to the overall outcome that can be achieved here. So it is the way--whether the dispute can get resolved, is important to us, but we are just not, we are not really playing in it. So I’m not going to take a position on whether it’s important for the Kyoto Protocol to go on or not go on. I leave that to Kyoto Parties. Thanks.

QUESTION: On the issue of having a legally binding status for the LCA. Is the U.S. looking at a language on the issue of legally binding status for the LCA and what would it be agreeable to introducing the phrase of “legally binding outcome” as part of the text there, and what is the level that you have on this phrase, or are you clear that there should be no form before substance in this case?

MR. STERN: That was actually quite an interesting question. There are really two questions imbedded in that question. The first one is the more straightforward piece about what language might be, might come out of an agreement here with respect to a legally binding outcome in the future.

Look we’ve had a pretty consistent position on this, which is that anything that is said about a legally binding outcome in the future must make it clear, very clear that that’s a legally binding outcome that would apply to at least all the major countries, including the emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and so forth. And when I say very clear, what I mean by that is that simply saying legally binding, is -- you need to make clear that it is legally binding in effectively in a similar way to all countries. Because the Kyoto Protocol is legally binding on developing countries, it’s just that is such a level, the things that are legally binding for them are so completely general that it doesn’t really turn into any real obligations. So to the extent that we are signing on to legally binding obligations, then the same thing would need to hold for at least the emerging economies. So, I don’t know what language is going to end up coming out of here, but that’s what would be necessary from the point of view of the United States.

You then asked a question about form before substance or substance before form in essence. I think it is a good question because our orientation -- there are many, many countries all around the world who care deeply about there being a legal treaty in this area. We’ve taken a position -- again not that we are opposed to it, it would need those kind of parameters that I just defined -- but we have also said. “Let’s not do nothing, let’s not be hung up for year after year after year” while we are not able to get to that kind of an outcome because I think frankly that the clarity that I’m talking about is not something that emerging economies are ready to do yet. I’m not criticizing them in this regard, by the way. I’m just stating an observation. So let’s set up a Green Fund and make it operational, let’s set up a technology mechanism and get technology disseminating and getting shared, let’s have a REDD program up and running, let’s get an adaptation program moving, let’s get our serious pledges, even if they’re not legally binding, they are real pledges and governments care about them and governments intend to carry them out. Let’s get those anchored in this agreement and let’s have a transparency system that gets up and running, all of those things can happen over the course of now and next year. And I think over time you will build up confidence, you can have a working system and you will have a better chance to transition into a legal outcome over time. And the other way around is just to keep holding your breath until you get a legal agreement and not do anything and that’s not what we would do.

QUESTION: During an NGO press conference earlier today the U.S. was criticized for trying to dodge language containing words like “targets” and “commitments.” Can you just clarify the U.S. position on these things?

MR. STERN: We are not trying to dodge language like “targets” at all. No, we have been completely supportive about that. We were last year in Copenhagen and we still are. Let me give you a little bit of a broader answer to what is at least embedded in your question. It is a critical point for us, I think for many countries, but certainly for us, that the mitigation undertaking, submissions, pledges, whatever you want to call them from last year get embedded in, or anchored in or captured by what we do this year. The signature achievement for us of the Copenhagen Accord was that all the major economies agreed to implement national actions, national targets on the side of developed countries; national actions on the side of developing countries. And by the way many developing countries that were not major economies also did that, but the signature achievement was that all major countries agreed to implement actions. And we can’t lose that this year. We can’t agree to language that is going to bury that. The transparency issue flows from that. The transparency issue is kind of step two. Then you’re reporting on those things that you undertook, but nobody should think that we’re all about transparency. It’s the actions and targets and then it’s the reporting on them. Those two things are absolutely, integrally linked. So those two things have to happen. Those were the things that were central, and as I said, the central achievement from our perspective on the Copenhagen Accord. Now in addition, the Copenhagen Accord included enormously important promises with respect to funding, technology, adaptation, REDD and so forth for the benefit of developing countries and that also is for sure a very important part of the Copenhagen Accord, but those two elements at the front that I just described are absolute signature elements and we are not going to see those go by the way side. We can’t. That was just central on our view.

QUESTION: There are five ad hoc working groups working at the moment. Can you tell us whether there is a lead or an initiative in one of those groups from the U.S.?

MR STERN: I’m not sure I understand the question. There are a number of groups working. There are negotiations going on on finance and technology and shared vision and all of the main issues of this negotiation. The U.S., like other countries, is negotiating and offering language and reacting to language that others offer. That’s kind of the shape of what’s going on right now. I don’t think anybody is walking in kind of with some kind of all-new initiatives. It’s more a matter of trying to find language that all sides can agree to. There are inevitably going to be compromises from what might be ideal for any one country. And the real question of the negotiation now -- it’s the question of any negotiation at this time, 48 hours or 60 hours away from the end -- is whether countries can come together and find something that doesn’t cross anybody’s red lines. That’s always critical, and that can kind of snake its way through the minefields in order to get to a result. You can just look at the world of international negotiations, sometimes that happens and sometimes that doesn’t happen. People always ask me if I’m optimistic or pessimistic, and I always give the same answer which is: neither. I’m in the middle and we’re doing our very best. We’re very committed in the U.S. to try to get a robust result here. And we’re working with every imaginable Party trying to get that done.

QUESTION: Just now you mentioned that some nations, actually every nation I think, have already taken some steps dealing with the usual, despite some setbacks in the international arena. And I want to ask you, what is the situation back in the United States? And also, in these past few days I noticed in a lot of circumstances people have okayed Chinese twelfth five-year plan. And there are seven clean energy or clean technology industries highly promoted in that twelfth five-year plan. I don’t know back in the United States what is the perspective on China’s initiative. Will there be any cooperation between the two countries on this type of issue? Thanks.

MR STERN: Very good question. There’s a lot of action going on in the United States. President Obama came in at the beginning and decided to commit more than ten percent of our overall stimulus to green technology, green investments, tax incentives and the like. And that was about $90 billion dollars. So it’s a very, very large amount. I always tell people by comparison, typically not in that kind of stimulus situation, but typically there’s about $4 billion dollars that get invested in clean energy R&D in the United States. So this was a huge investment and it is having impacts all across our economy. Between 2008 and 2011the U.S. will double its use of renewable energy, for example. So there’s a lot going on there. The EPA has acted in an extremely vigorous way with respect to the transportation sector, which is about a third of all of our greenhouse gas emissions. EPA is also, first of all they are extending those -- those regulations go up to 2016 and now it’s working on the regulations that will take effect after that. So we’ve moved up to 35 miles per gallon and now they’re looking at regulations that would go somewhere between 62 and 47 miles per gallon, haven’t decided yet. Also looking at regulations that would apply to so-called stationary sources like power plants. There’s a number of other regulations that EPA is looking at they would have in effect as well.

In addition, I am sure we don’t know exactly what the shape of legislative efforts are going to be. We obviously had a big legislative effort that didn’t succeed in the end last year. But even though that one didn’t succeed, I’m sure there will be other efforts, probably smaller-sized than that one, but that will get going. So there is a lot of activity. By the way, that’s all at the federal level. There’s a tremendous amount of activity going on at the state level. California -- which, I forget the number, I don’t know, I think California is about the size of the eighth biggest country in the world, there’s over 50 million people in California -- is putting in place its own cap and trade system. So one sixth of the population of the United States and probably a larger share of our economy actually will be covered by a cap and trade system, although just at the state level. Many states have renewable electricity standards and things like that and there will be more of that at the federal level as well.

Our perspective on China, I am sure that most Americans are not that aware of it, but for people who are aware –and certainly us- those of us who follow it and those of us who work on this issue here for the United States have an enormous respect for what China is doing domestically. I learned about this, I visited my very good friend Xie Zhenhua in China in October and I went on a field trip with him to his home town Tianjin, and we visited factories, and the Tianjin climate center and various places. We know that China is doing a great deal with respect to increasing energy efficiency, renewable energy and so forth. There is more to be done, China is a powerhouse economy and its emissions trajectory, even with all the good work it is doing, is still enormously high, that is a fact of life. But China is certainly making serious efforts to deal with it, and I hope, absolutely hope that the United States and China can cooperate together. I think we have very good channels of communication; there already is a lot of cooperation between China and the U.S. on these issues, probably led for the U.S. by the Department of Energy, but many players are involved. EPA has a very strong working relationship with China. Yes, I think there will be a lot of cooperation in the future and there needs to be.

QUESTION: I am wondering what kind of language the U.S. would like to see in the agreement regarding, whether current emission pledges match up to the commitment made to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. And as a follow-on from that is there any situation in which the U.S. would consider raising its own commitment in order to meet that gap?

MR. STERN: I am not going to get into specific language of what might and might not be in the agreement. All of these things as you might imagine are the subject of debate and negotiation. What I do think is that the two degree goal is an important one. I think, in fact that two degrees in and of itself does not have any importance. What is important is that we try to guide our actions by what science is telling us, so two degrees is sometimes looked at as a little more talismanic than I think it ought to be, but the important thing is to track science. Science might tell us as we go forward that 2 degrees is too high, it might tell us that 2.2 is okay, we will see as we go forward, but I think two degrees is a good goal to be in the agreement. I think that we built into the Copenhagen Accord, and there are provisions for something similar in this agreement, a review period after several years, to take a look at basically how the world is doing with respect to two degrees, and what science is telling us and so forth. I guess it is our view that that is the best way to proceed. I do not really think that most major countries having just gone through the effort, whether it is China or India, or Brazil, or the United States, or Europe, or wherever, having just gone through the effort to come up with a national target or a national plan, is going to, a year later, say “we’ll scrap that and we will do something more.” I do not think that quickly that is going to happen, but there should certainly be a review period that is meant to keep us linked to the science.

QUESTION: I would like to know how closely the U.S. delegation coordinates with the White House from here. Or to be more precise, if President Obama is in any way directly involved in the negotiations, or will he be towards the end of the Summit?

MR. STERN: I keep very closely linked to the White House not just at these negotiations, but I work very closely with the White House all year long. It was true in Copenhagen, it has been true throughout the whole year, it was true shortly before I came here, it has been true by telephone while I have been here. I work very closely with the White House. I am an old White House guy, actually, from the Clinton administration. So, my inclination is always to stay well linked to the White House which is exactly as it should be, so yes I do, and President Obama is abreast of what is going on. The short answer is yes.

Thank you.

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