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Diplomacy in Action

London Meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate

Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
London, United Kingdom
October 18, 2009


Hello, everybody. I want to thank you all for coming today. I want to extend a special thank you to Ed Miliband and the entire UK government for their hospitality and hosting us, putting us up in the kinds of quarters that we don’t have in the United States, so we’re very pleased to be here.

We’re also very fortunate to hear Prime Minister Brown this morning who exhibited his passion and commitment to this issue.

I must say that I really commend the UK government generally in their dealings. Ed Miliband has shown great leadership on this issue all the way through this year, certainly since I’ve been in my position, and we greatly appreciate it.

I also had the opportunity yesterday to meet Ed’s brother David as well as His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, both of whom share the very impressive commitment and passion for this issue.

So there are 49 days to go until Copenhagen. We think there’s a deal to be done and we’re committed to trying to make that happen. More progress needs to be made, but we think there’s something that can be done.

I think the talks we’ve had in the last two days of what I believe is the sixth session, not including the leader’s session of the MEF, I think the meetings were quite constructive in a number of ways. We focused on many of the essential issues that are going to be required for a deal in Copenhagen.

We heard from Nobuo Tanaka who is Executive Secretary of the IEA as well as Lord Nicholas Stern on implications of various mitigation pathways for reaching a target of holding temperature increase to no more than two degrees.

We had a robust discussion on ways to capture the commitments of countries, countries are making at a national level. We discussed scale-up financing and looked at progress that has been made on eight different technology initiatives that have been taken under the MEF.

We obviously have a lot of work to do. I do think it’s worth taking one moment to look at where we’ve come this year. The United States has done more to promote clean energy and climate change, reducing carbon pollution in the last nine months than at any time in our history. We started with an $80 billion investment as part of our stimulus right off the bat. It includes the strongest vehicle standards ever put in place by the EPA. The EPA has now moved on to start regulating stationary sources such as power plants and large industrial plants. We also are working hard on the centerpiece of all of this which is comprehensive legislation passed through the House of Representatives in record time in May, and the Senate is working on it now.

I would also say if you look around the room in the Major Economies Forum, every country in there including all of the developing countries, are taking significant action or are poised to take significant action. Maybe not everything we need, but quite impressive directionally. I think this is a significant thing. It’s probably something that is directly a response to the fact of these negotiations and I think we should appreciate that effect.

What we’re trying to do in many respects is to get that action reflected in an international agreement. If it doesn’t get reflected in an international agreement we sort of don’t have an agreement, but I’m confident we can do that.

We are not, by the way, suggesting that developing countries’ actions be the same as developed. We’ve never had that position. Developed countries need to make significant reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions against a baseline and with respect to the major developing countries we’re talking about taking actions that would reduce their emissions against their trend line or so-called business as usual.

Ultimately what we’re looking for here is an agreement that does not just limit carbon emissions but is also a development agreement which lays out a safe pathway for sustainable development. We have, as I said, 49 days to go. We need to take advantage of all opportunities to make progress, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do.

I’ll be happy to take questions.

Question: Damien Carrington from the Guardian.

You talked about reflecting the actions and commitments of various nations in the agreement. How do you, on the word binding. [Inaudible] are very averse to the idea [inaudible] binding agreement, and yet how has that been reflected in the agreement?

Mr. Stern: I think the starting point is to get actions that are listed or inscribed. There’s various proposals for that that have been out there for some time now. We spent a good deal of time discussing them. The Australians have a proposal for what they call schedules. The Koreans have a proposal for what they call registries. Those are important and useful contributions and we are in the context of the Major Economies Forum discussing those kinds of proposals and others.

What you’ve raised is certainly an issue and the view of the United States on this point is that there is differentiation in what countries need to do. The differentiation I already explained. But in terms of the willingness of countries to stand behind whatever it is they’re doing, there can’t be differentiation there. It can’t be that the developed countries say we’ll stand behind what we’re doing and the developing countries say we’ll tell you what we’re doing but we won’t stand behind it. So on that point, we’ve still got work to do.

Question: Katy Kashancki from Carbon Finance.

I wanted to ask how could the progress or lack thereof in the Senate affect negotiations in December? Could you put down a number even if the Senate hasn’t adopted its bill?

Mr. Stern: Mostly I want to say that we are working very hard to move the Senate legislation forward and I don’t want to speculate on what happens if it doesn’t go all the way. I testified in the House, it must be two or three weeks ago now, and I was asked about legislation. I said what I think which is we have to bend every effort to getting that legislation moving as far and as fast as we can.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Hill myself in the last couple of weeks. The administration team working hard at that. The President was deeply engaged in getting the bill passed in the House in the spring and will be engaged on this one too. The main thing is we want to move that forward as far as we can and get whatever guidance we can get from it.

Question: [Inaudible].

Do you think [inaudible]?

Mr. Stern: The question is, should the President come to Copenhagen. These meetings are always structured, just as Kyoto was and all the other meetings that have happened since including this one, to be held at the ministerial level. We’re not writing anything off, we’re not foreclosing possibilities, but we treat this as a ministerial meeting in the first instance. If the kind of progress is made that would warrant the attendance of leaders, we’ll certainly consider that.

Question: [Inaudible] Report.

From what I understand, the Senate bill is talking about a 20 percent reduction on 2005 levels [inaudible] maybe more like a 7.3 percent reduction against 1990 levels, not taking into account offsets. If that goes through, whether it does or not, is the U.S. able to agree to a figure which is higher than that at Copenhagen if there’s a strong agreement globally? Could they go beyond what the Senate bill has suggested? Or is that completely out of the range of possibilities?

Question: Look, I think we will certainly be guided by what is done in our legislative process. One of the things we do not want to do is repeat the process that we went through in Kyoto where a number was agreed to essentially in a domestic policy vacuum. There was no foundation laid in the domestic arena and we don’t want that.

I will say, though, that, because I think it’s kind of implicit in your question, the kind of number that’s in the Senate bill, frankly the kind of number that’s in the House bill, those are strong numbers for the United States. That would involve a shift, really a seismic shift in the U.S. economy in the period between -- If the bill passed tomorrow, by the time regulations and such were passed you’d probably have it kick in somewhere around 2012, so you’d have about eight years to make a major reduction of let’s say 20 percent or so. Then 20 percent or so for each decade after that, from 2020 to 2030, to 2040, to 2050, to get you all the way to over 80 percent by 2050.

That is, by every measure probably, other than 1990, that is quite comparable to where the EU is. If you measure against the time from which the President came into office, after all the only time he has any control over. If you look at factors like population growth and economic growth, the effort by the United States will be absolutely comparable to what the EU is doing, even if the EU goes up to 30 percent. So I’m not a bit concerned about the strength of the U.S. numbers. Our main focus is to try to get the legislation done.

Question: Gregory Katz, Associated Press.

I wonder how you would analyze the apparent change in the Indian government’s position as characterized in this letter from Environmental Minister Ramesh and what does it mean to progress on this issue?

Mr. Stern: Look, I can’t comment on a letter I haven’t seen that’s in a news report the exact character of which, I can’t comment on it.

I can comment more generally on the Indian point. I would say I have been very favorably impressed by my interactions with the Environment Minister Ramesh. I’ve also had very constructive dealings with Shyam Saran who is the Prime Minister’s representative in these discussions. I think there’s still some way to go but I think the Indian government is trying to be more constructive, if you can use those words. I think they are trying to see their way through toward finding mutually agreeable ways of dealing with important issues like transparency and accountability and the like. So we’re certainly not on all fours at all with the Indian position, but I would commend them for making some, from my point of view, some forward progress.

Question: Ben Webster from the Times.

I just want to understand you correctly. You said on the question of whether President Obama would attend or not, it was partly dependent on whether there was enough sufficient progress to make it worthwhile him attending. In other words, if there wasn’t sufficient progress there wouldn’t be any point. If that is the case, and I wonder if you can clarify, what would count as sufficient enough progress to warrant his attendance?

Mr. Stern: I can’t speculate on that. Again, our fundamental point is that this is a ministerial level meeting. We’re not ruling out in the right circumstances some attendance by the President but I can’t really speculate on the exact circumstances that might lead to that.

Question: [Inaudible], Financial Times.

I just wanted to ask about the U.S. view on what legal form any agreement in Copenhagen should take. Some developing countries are obviously very keen on a sort of continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, but that’s probably not something you want to contemplate. So what would be your preferred legal form for an agreement?

Mr. Stern: You’re right, we are not particularly interested in the Kyoto Protocol as a model. This is a very different issue for the parties to the Kyoto Protocol. We’re not a party to the Kyoto Protocol and we’re not going to be a party to the Kyoto Protocol, so our focus is on a good strong agreement that includes the necessary elements and stands on its own feet.

I don’t know that I can speculate exactly on a legal form. We’re looking for an agreement that captures the essential points. The mitigation actions in the midterm, generally regarded as the 2020 period, by the developed countries and the major developing countries. We think that actions be, as I said before, reflected in something like a schedule or registry or appendix or annex. It doesn't matter what it’s called, but something that captures where countries list what they’re going to do. There needs to be a package, provisions for financial assistance, for technology, for forests, for adaptation. The substance is really what we’re focusing on right now. I suppose it could take a number of different precise forms, but I don’t really have any more to comment on that.

Question: [Inaudible] from Reuters

You talked about this issue of internationalizing national plans. How far are the developing countries from that? Is there still some distance to go as you say in terms of them standing behind and making these actions binding or internationalized?

Mr. Stern: I actually thought there was some progress on that issue in this meeting over the last few days. The Major Economies Forum does not try to be a negotiating institution, a negotiating session itself. It tries to be a place where views are exchanged in an environment that’s a lot more intimate than the Framework Convention environment where the participation is generally at a more senior level. So I thought there was good discussion about that issue, and discussion that led me to think that we are making progress, but that’s not the same as saying there was a nailed down agreement because that’s kind of not the nature of the beast. But I thought, we’ve been discussing this now for the last two Major Economies sessions. We focused on it really for the first time in some depth in Washington in September, came back to it this time, and I think that we’re making some headway.

Question: Judith from the Spanish News Agency [inaudible].

Ed Miliband said there wasn’t a Plan B if there isn’t an agreement in Copenhagen. Do you feel the same way?

Mr. Stern: I think, I actually heard Ed’s answer while I was waiting to come in and I took that to, I took his reference to be we’re not thinking about postponing and six months later and all of that, and we’re not either. I really share Ed’s view. This is an important moment. The world faces, as all of us know, a huge challenge here. The United States is fully committed to trying to get a strong and pragmatic and solid agreement. The President is fully focused on that. So we’re not really thinking about a Plan B in that sense either.

Question: Kathy Newman, Channel 4 News.

Would you though agree with Gordon Brown that the planet does face a catastrophe if there is no deal at Copenhagen, or would you use slightly less apocalyptic language?

Mr. Stern: I heard Prime Minister Brown speak this morning. He came to speak to us. I think he is an extraordinary leader on this issue and has shown great leadership. I think he was inspiring, frankly, to all the people who were there today at Lancaster House. So I’m not going to parse particular words. I think he has shown the kind of commitment and the kind of passion that’s completely commendable and much to be admired.

Question: Are we facing [inaudible]?

Mr. Stern: You should ask a scientist.

Question: Richard Black, BBC.

Mr. Stern, we hear the word binding bandied about quite a lot, but as we’ve seen in the case of countries such as Canada, Spain, Japan, Ireland, Austria, what was supposed to be binding in the Kyoto Protocol may well turn out not to be binding. Is there anything in the Copenhagen Agreement, or prospective Copenhagen Agreement in your view that will really be binding? That will really oblige countries to do this rather than saying actually we couldn’t make it when it comes to 2020.

Mr. Stern: You know, let me tell you something. This is a feature of international agreements quite commonly. I think, though, that in the place where we’re at now, if we can get all the major players in the world to sign on and participate, I’m not so worried about that. I think you’re raising an issue, there’s no rabbit to pull out of the hat on that issue. That’s a feature of agreements quite commonly.

One thing I would say about a focus that’s built around national action is that the bindingness of actions taken at a national level can be quite quite serious and quite quite sharp. If you look at the United States, which obviously I know best, we don’t easily pass environmental laws, but when we pass them we enforce them. You can look at our record. The EPA is a tough enforcement agency. It wasn’t easy passing the Clean Air Act in the ‘70s and passing the Clean Air Act Amendments in the 1990s, 1990 I think. But we enforce it and we enforce the laws having to do with toxic waste and we enforce the laws having to do with clean water and there’s always a lot of opposition and always a lot of people who wring their hands and say it’s going to be the end of our economy and all that, and if the circumstances are right and you’re able to push through, you can eventually get the law done. And like I said, when we get the law done, we enforce it.

I can’t speak to other countries’ enforcement regimes the way I can the United States, but I think the notion of having a regime that is actually built on not just numbers pulled out of the air but actual real action -- laws, regulations, I think that puts you in a much better place for enforcement than you would be otherwise.

Question: Susan Watts, News Night.

Outside of the Major Economies Forum progress, there are many countries who see America as the main problem, the main obstacle in the way of getting a global deal at Copenhagen.

What can you say to those skeptical people, if you like, that in spite of your rejection of Kyoto, in spite of your difficulties domestically, that America really is committed to bringing enough to the table that everyone will sign up?

Mr. Stern: Look, all I can say is what I’ve already said. I think the President has shown his commitment to this issue from the beginning. I happened to be the deputy in the transition right after the election and I was right down the hall from the President, and the main kind of policy focus on the domestic side at that time was the economy. So there was tremendous focus on putting together a stimulus package. The President personally drove that package to be green. You talk about $80 billion for clean energy investment and tax credits and the like. That compares to around $3 billion on average that gets invested in energy R&D. That’s a huge amount and he drove it and he drove what happened in the EPA, and he has been personally engaged and heavily engaged all the way through.

His whole team. He’s got Steven Chu who’s a Nobel Prize winner completely committed to this issue at Department of Energy. John Holdren, who is one of the best climate scientists in the country as a science advisor. He’s got a strong team and the United States I think is fully committed to this.

I would say this, though. I understand and I agree with your point that a lot of people do focus on that. The capacity of the world to get to where we need to go to with respect to 450 parts per million or holding temperature increase to two degrees by 2050 and through the century is going to be enormously more determined by what happens in China and the other developing countries from here going forward. It’s just a fact.

We in the United States do not for a moment deny or gainsay the notion that we’ve got real historical responsibility. We’re the biggest historical emitter. But the IEA in Paris will tell you that 97 percent of the growth of emissions between now and 2030 is going to come in the developing world. By 2030 there’s going to be something like two-thirds of all global emissions coming from developing countries. So it’s fine to focus on the United States, I have no problem with people focusing on the United States and wanting to hold the United States to a high standard. But if we’re going to get where we’re going to go, the United States has to act, and the EU and Japan, but also the major developing countries. It’s the only way to solve this problem.

Thank you very much, everybody.

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