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Press Converence with Todd Stern: The Kyoto Protocol Question is a Very Difficult One

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Issue date: 
September 24, 2010
Publisher Name: 
News Blaze
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MR. STERN: Hi everybody. Thanks for coming. We've just completed the ninth meeting of the Major Economies Forum here in New York. It was attended by officials from 17 major economies, both developed and developing. And we also had some additional invited guests including representatives from the United Nations, Barbados, Egypt, Singapore, possibly some other countries. I think those were the ones that attended. We invited a few others.

As from the beginning, the purpose of the MEF has been to facilitate a candid dialogue on the difficult issues of the climate negotiations among all the major economies responsible probably for 80 percent or more of global emissions. And since yesterday morning we've been meeting. We've had important exchanges, I think, on the core issues of the negotiation, and I think there was broad agreement on the importance of making progress this year in Cancun.

One of the important elements of the discussion was the need to maintain the fundamental balance that was achieved in the Copenhagen Accord. That agreement reached last year by leaders around the world was important for - it was essentially a deal or an agreement that involved landmark provisions on financial assistance to support mitigation, technology, adaptation, forest protection on behalf of and for the benefit of developing countries on the one hand.

And on the other hand, very important agreements on mitigation and transparency that, in essence, and somewhat of the most core part of the accord on that side was that all major economies, developed and developing, agreed to implement a set of actions that they listed in appendices to the agreement.
So the old, what you might think of as the old kind of Kyoto paradigm of developed countries have to do things on a mandatory basis and developing countries don't or developing countries actions are purely voluntary, that was not a feature of the Copenhagen Accord. Instead, the Copenhagen Accord envisioned that all the developed countries and all the developing countries who submitted actions would, on essentially the same basis, agree to implement them. So that was a very important part of the agreement last year and to implement them in an internationally transparent fashion. So those are elements that will obviously need to be part of any agreement this year.

The only other thing that I would say very briefly is that I think that there as actually quite broad convergence around this table yesterday and today to have a need to have a balanced package of decisions. Nobody is anticipating or expecting in any way a legal treaty to be done in Cancun this year. The focus at this point is really on a set of decisions on the core issues. Again, those are essentially mitigation, transparency or sometimes referred to as MRV, finance, technology, adaptation, and the forest issue, which in the lingo is known as REDD.

So I think that there was broad consensus on the need to have decisions on those issues. And in a balanced way meaning that you don't move on two or three of them and make no progress on the others but they all kind of have to march together and at more or less the same speed at least roughly speaking. This is obviously easier said than done.

This was a very constructive meeting. I think there was a lot of agreement around that general principle. It always is more difficult to advance in the larger setting of 190 countries, but that's the challenge ahead of us. I think that people are realistic in their views. I think expectations are not too high but they're also not low. The expectations are, among the people here I think, were to try to make really significant progress but on the other hand not to have expectations to do things that aren't realistic at this point.

So why don't I stop there and take your questions.

QUESTION: Andy Revkin, "New York Times." This week is about biodiversity. And I just came out of a briefing with a developing country environment official who was discussing - this is not a major top level question but they're saying look, as long as the United States has not ratified the convention of biological diversity which, of course, is interlinked in certain ways through forests and other things to climate, how can we take them seriously. Do you get a sense that this week in particular the U.S. will be under pressure on the biodiversity front? I know that this is not your direct portfolio, but I assume you've been briefed.

MR. STERN: Well, it's not my direct portfolio, so I actually am not going to make any comment about how the U.S. is - what the U.S. posture is going to be on biodiversity because I just - I am not the competent person to address it. I don't think that there is a spill-over effect from biodiversity, though, on the climate front. So to that extent I think not.

QUESTION: And just the treaty making aspect of it, in other words if they're not serious here why -

MR. STERN: Well, look, you know, the treaty making aspect in our system is always challenging. We know that. And you know, it's - but the focus at least at the moment in the international negotiations is, as I say, on decisions. Decisions, by the way, is a - that's a term of art in this business. It refers to agreements that are not legally binding essentially. They're decisions of the conference or the parties. They are kind of like the Copenhagen Accord was politically binding but not legally binding. And you know we have said always, and this would be our position, that we would be quite willing to do a legally binding agreement but only on the basis that it is legally binding with China and India and the other major countries. And I don't think that's in the cards at the moment anyway.

QUESTION: Svenning Dalgaard from TV2, Denmark. In Copenhagen we saw particularly the G77 insisting that the Kyoto protocols would carry on and that all negotiations should be led on that basis. Don't you meet the same demands here in your own forum?

MR. STERN: The Kyoto protocol question is a very difficult one, I agree with you. And there was some discussion of the Kyoto protocol here in the MEF meeting. The parties have very different views, very different views on that.

The U.S. is uncharacteristically not, as compared to all the other issues, we aren't really a player on that issue because we're not part of the Kyoto protocol. So we are a very actively interested observer rather than real participant on the Kyoto issue. But it is very difficult and you still do have a lot of parties in the G77 who are keen on having a second commitment period. And you have a number of the industrialized parties who are resistant to that.

And by the way, it's not so hard to understand the concerns about it. The Kyoto - the representative from Australia actually passed around a little chart that showed that Kyoto covers 28 percent global emissions. The Copenhagen Accord, at the moment, if you look at the parties who have made submissions, covers over 80 of global emissions.

It is also true that Kyoto - I refer to what I've described as the Kyoto paradigm a little earlier, where all the action comes from developed countries and not from developing. And I think that there are as many people, and this certainly includes the United States as a general matter, who believe that you can't possibly solve this problem on the back of 40 or 45 percent of global emissions, that you have to solve the problem on the back of 85 or 90 percent of global emissions.

So it is a - again, we aren't a direct participant in that debate, but it is an ongoing and difficult debate and very much unresolved.

QUESTION: Charlie Hanley of the AP. You spoke broadly of convergence here in the past couple of days but, more specifically, is there an issue or two in particular that you detected more convergence on?

And if I could just ask a second question quickly. Did you hear any complaints here about the adequacy or inadequacy of the financing coming out of the Copenhagen Accord?

MR. STERN: Let me take those. On the financing issue, there was some discussion, although not an enormous amount actually, but there was definitely some discussion about the fast start financing pledge from the Copenhagen Accord. And I might say even though there might not have been that many minutes consumed on the discussion, there was certainly a very intense feeling about the importance of that pledge, an importance of developed countries providing funds pursuant to that pledge, which was essentially to provide something approaching $30 billion over the three year window from 2010 to 12.

And so there - we talked - the U.S. talked to that issue a little bit. I don't think anyone disagreed with the important thing, we're all working hard on the developed side to provide funds and to - and we are certainly working very diligently and assiduously on a - essentially on a document which we'll make transparent where we're spending money and how we're spending it and bilateral and multilateral, which country, which projects, etc.

On the convergence question, my reference to convergence was really on the objective of a package of issues that needs to be balanced more than on the notion that there was convergence on a particular substantive policy point or points of any one issue.

I guess I would say that if you look at perhaps this year's compared to a year ago, the level of acceptance of the notion of MRV - measurement reporting and verifications - of transparency issue, and the particular formulation of that idea that was agreed to within the Copenhagen Accord of International Consultation and Analysis, which is something that applies to developing country actions. There's a lot of acceptance of that principle.

I mean, nobody really - nobody pushed back on the notion that that's an important principle, that it's a serious part of the negotiation, that it applies to both developed and developing countries to both so called supportive actions, meaning actions where developing countries get financing or actions that they finance themselves. All of that stuff, which was subject to a very lively debate last year, is pretty well accepted now.
I think that there was - but again, the convergence was more on the issue of a seeking a package of decisions.

QUESTION: Karen Chipman, Bloomberg News. Will the U.S. being going to Cancun with any details about how the U.S. plans to achieve a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020?

MR. STERN: Well, look, what I would say about that is the most important thing is that we are standing by the submission that we made, and the President is standing by the submission we made last year in Copenhagen.

There - neither the U.S. really, or any other party goes in like the Europeans or the Japanese or whomever, go in with lots of details about this is what we're going to do or not do. We obviously didn't get legislation done this year.

On the other hand, there are a number of tools that are in the kit, if you will. There's action already that the EPA has taken over the course of the past year. There's other actions that can be taken. There's - you know, we're at the beginning of a 10 year period between 2010 and 2020. I don't have any doubts that there's going to be legislation of some kind that will be meaningful. I can't say exactly when, and I can't say exactly what the shape of it's going to be.

So I think that we will, in the context of Cancun, will reaffirm - we've actually already done that - the commitment to our Copenhagen submission. But you know, only in a different kind of broader sense rather than real specific details what the elements of the package will be.

QUESTION: Jeff Mason from Reuters. Todd, do you - there seems like there's been, in a sense in negotiations this year that people are moving back from the Copenhagen Accord. Do you feel that way? Do you feel like any progress was made in getting that momentum back or at least pushing back to where you were? And as a follow-up to Kim's question, your counterparts must be asking for details about the 17 percent. I understand you're saying you're not going to come with them and others don't necessarily. What do you say to them when they're asking for them?

MR. STERN: Pretty much what I just said to Kim. Of course people ask for that. But, in all seriousness, it has never been the practice, and this goes back to actually Kyoto days when countries have taken targets that a kind of part and parcel of that is to walk in with your bill of particulars about exactly what you're going to do. So, obviously, I would be delighted to be sitting up here talking about the legislation that just got passed, and the answer to that question would be kind of more straightforward. But fundamentally I have the same answer that I just gave Kim.

Your other question is on backward movement from the Copenhagen Accord. Yeah, I do think that that's been going on in the negotiations this year in a number of respects. Obviously not by - there's 190 countries there that you get things put into the text by any number of different players. And so the - what the kind of important elements from the Copenhagen Accord are absolutely part of the discussion, but there have been - there has been - there have certainly been parties who have been trying to pull back to say - you know, to change the litigation language to say developed countries will take legally binding commitments, developing countries will be purely volunteer, that kind of thing. And you know, of course, we're not going to do that. But yes, there's been some effort.

And we discussed that, I mean, you know, did we - I think it was probably useful and constructive over the last couple of days in that regard but, you know.


QUESTION: Thank you. I'm from the Press Trust of India and (inaudible) News. I spoke with Minister Ramesh yesterday, the Indian environment minister, and he spoke about how - because of what was happening internally in the U.S. politically and financially, the U.S. could not take a leadership position when it came to climate change and there should be maybe probably more of a shift to see what countries could do internally. Could you talk about that? Do you think that you still can take a leadership position on climate change?

And just to follow up, you've spoken really strongly in terms of China taking legally binding cuts. How far have the negotiations proceeded in bridging that divide where, you know, they say they won't? And do you also think that India, as an emerging economy, do you hold India also to that same bar as China? Thank you.

MR. STERN: I want to correct one element of your question. We are not pushing China to take legally binding commitments or India or anybody else for that matter. What I said was if we are in a world of legally binding - where the negotiation on the table is for legally binding commitments by some, then I would say well, then, those need to be - if it's going to be legally binding for the United States or Europe or Japan or Australia or whatever, then it would need to be legally binding for China, which at this point is now the world's largest emitter, and India and other major developing countries.

But we've been perfectly supportive of having discussions about the Copenhagen Accord last year that was not legally binding, about decisions this year which are not legally binding. So we're not pushing to have legally binding commitments on China or India or Brazil or anybody else. We're only saying if it were to go in a legally binding direction, then it would have to be legally binding as to all the major players.

With respect to your first question, look, I - you know - my perspective and I come from the United States, I guess my perspective is the United States always is an important player in major international issues. And in that regard, it certainly has a leadership role to play. I think, frankly, we have a - these - leadership role that is exercised by virtue of the fact that we have pulled together and sponsored this whole series of Major Economy Forum meetings. I think those have been - they were actually very important last year, were a place where a lot of issues that ended up being part of the discussion in Copenhagen were first discussed, vetted, gotten some familiarity around them and things like that and I think important this year as well. And that's just, you know, a small example.

But I - look, I think the voice of the United States is always important. There is absolutely no question - and I have said this without any hesitation from the time I came into this position - it is important for the United States to put in place its own full scale plan for low carbon energy and reducing greenhouse gasses. The more we can do that I think an even stronger - we'll have an even stronger voice in these discussions. But, you know, I think the United States is a leader and people look to us, and that happens on a regular basis, on a daily basis in these negotiations.

I will also say just parenthetically that I have the greatest respect for and fondness for Jairam Ramesh, so I - he's a very important part of these negotiations as well.

QUESTION: Hi. Elizabeth Rosenthall from "The New York Times". Two questions. The first is, last year everyone says there's a lot of symbolism in who comes to these meetings and last year, obviously, there were Secretaries of States, Presidents, Prime Ministers. Who do you think's going to be there? What kind of level of participation do you think we'll see in Cancun? And the second one goes back to the Copenhagen Accord. In some of the interim meetings, a lot of the drafts are going back to very basic questions like what - you know, how many degrees of temperature rise is acceptable.

MR. STERN: In the negotiations this year you're saying?

QUESTION: So if we're starting at that level all over again, how can we - what can we get to by Cancun?

MR. STERN: On your first question, I think we will probably be in the more traditional mode in which the heads of delegation will be people at the ministerial level, often environment ministers, sometimes senior people from foreign ministries like me or others. Brazil is represented in a similar way. So I think probably at the more traditional ministerial level - I can't obviously say for sure - I don't know whether foreign ministers or even a head of state here or there might show up. But that's not the way the meeting has been kind of framed or pitched.

Your other question is a good one. I think that it's - I mean it joins up a little bit with Jeff's. There - Jeff asked about backsliding from the Copenhagen Accord and you're asking about sort of - backsliding even before that to more fundamental issues. And I think that there has been some of that. I don't think that's the - I wouldn't put too much stock in that. I think that there are a handful of important issues. I think there are some big differences among parties. I think it is very difficult inherently to make progress in a negotiating forum like this. But the fact that there is some - you know - there has also been language put in there about, you know, how many percent of your GNP has to be part of your - has to go for your international assistance, you know, that would - elements that are just completely unrealistic. And the fact that some of that comes in on the margins I think is actually not that important to what goes on.

What will be important is what happens on what everybody understands to be the core issues, whether there can be a consensus of players, not only the kind of players who are here but players from other groupings and regions from around the world and whether the inclination of the spoilers, who are always part of this negotiation, can be kept in check.

QUESTION: Is there any need to cut to the chase at some point in this process, though? You're talking about - these spoilers have been there forever and will be there forever in terms of getting a comprehensive deal. Is there an opportunity for a world leader or a group of world leaders like this to say, you know what, this process is broken. We need - we'll never get traction on the other things we could actually do outside of a traditional framework convention, so we're just going to proceed?

MR. STERN: Look, I gave a speech this year at Brookings in the summer and I said that I think that this is, for all of its flaws, the UN framework convention has a lot of credibility and legitimacy as a venue for climate discussions and that we should do is - everything in our power to make it successful and make it succeed, and I do think that.
You know, it is obviously true that if, you know, year after year you can't get anywhere there's going to be some migration of people looking to figure out what needs to be done and what arrangements can be put together to help get it done, but that's not desirable. So I think we should - we are certainly committed to trying to make the UN FCCC process work, but it is a difficult process.

MODERATOR: We have time for two last questions.

QUESTION: Joel (Inaudible). There seems to be - at least this year it seems that there is growing consciousness about China's kind of rapid spending in the area of clean energy technology. Does that - has that changed the dynamic of the discussions at all or been (inaudible)?

MR. STERN: Well, I think only - not directly. I think that - you know, I guess what I would - what I would say about China and clean energy is that I have always acknowledged and recognized that China actually that does quite a bit on this issue internally, and I think it takes action for all sorts of reasons from energy security to concerns about climate change to concerns about other environmental problems that are also caused by the same things that cause climate change to commercial interests in producing clean technology that can be exported. I think all of those things are part of - undoubtedly part of what motivates China.

But I do think that they take a lot of action. I think that there has been a - traditionally some - I think the challenge with respect to China is in what China's prepared to agree to in an international agreement. Obviously, you can't get an international agreement unless people are willing to make mutual commitments. But it is notable - it wouldn't have to be the case - you might look at a country and say they're big, they're polluting a lot and not only aren't they agreeing to much internationally but they're not doing much domestically.

That's not true about China. China is taking a lot of actions. But I think that's - that is what I would say on that.

I think we - last one.

QUESTION: Is there anything in your view, I guess, that might catalyze a move towards something legally binding in the sort of current framework of discussions?

MR. STERN: Well, I think that there are many parties who hope that we will get to a legally binding agreement over time. What I meant is I don't think people see that as being realistically in the cards for the Cancun negotiation. And I don't think - I don't anticipate anything being able to catalyze a movement toward that for Cancun. But I think that there is a - there are many parties who think that over time, whether it's next year or even beyond next year, the movement absolutely should be toward a legally binding agreement.

So it's not a conceptual change of mind in terms of what's going on this year, it's just a question of where you are in negotiations and what time you have left.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much.

Source: U.S. Department of State


Extpub | by Dr. Radut