Special Briefing: Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate

Special Briefing
Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Michael Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs
Washington, DC
April 28, 2009

MR. AKER: Good afternoon. We’re very pleased to have with us today to report on the just-concluded session, the prep session for the Major Economies Forum, the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman.

I would mention that there are two other briefings going on in the building, or will be going on, one at 2:45 in Room 1107 by Australia, by the Australian delegation, and one by the EU in the adjoining room, 1105, at 3 o’clock. If you want to go to those, or one of those, you can leave and go out the door and there will be someone to escort you if you don’t know your way around the building.

STAFF: If you leave, we’ll take your number. (Laughter.)

MR. AKER: So anyway, again, we’ve very pleased to have both of you. And I think Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Froman is going to start off.

MR. FROMAN: Hi, welcome. Thank you for coming. I’m Mike Froman, the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, and I served as the chair of this first preparatory session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. This is the first of three preparatory meetings we expect to have in advance of the leaders meeting to be held in Italy in July.

The purpose of the forum is twofold: One is to build political momentum among the 17 of the world’s largest developing and developed economies that’s needed to reach a positive outcome in the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen; and the other is build political support for the development of key transformation technologies to help address the climate change issues.

After two days of very constructive dialogue, I think we’re off to a productive start, and I can say that people left with a very positive view of the forum and its ability to contribute to success in Copenhagen.

Let me briefly describe the agenda for you, and then I’ll turn it over to Todd Stern to go into further details.

Secretary Clinton addressed the group and delivered opening remarks. In addition, we had Dr. John Holdren, the President’s science advisor, talk about the science of climate change and framing a discussion of what countries needed to do in their own national action plans to address emissions reductions. Mexico and South Africa served as respondents to Dr. Holdren’s presentation, giving their own views on their own national plans.

We then proceeded to a session on technologies and policies needed to accelerate the transformation to a clean energy economy. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu gave a presentation, and then Australia and India responded: Australia on carbon capture and storage; and India on what they’re doing to enhance energy efficiency, particularly in their buildings.

Late yesterday, the heads of the delegations went to the White House and had a meeting with President Obama. And this morning, we reconvened here at the State Department and had further discussions, both on areas of technology cooperation and on mitigation – the steps needed to be taken by countries to reduce their overall emissions.

I was very pleased by the frank and open exchange of the members of the group. There was a very fluid conversation. People didn’t stick to their talking points. I think they were looking for ways to generate ideas and help further the dialogue.

It’s our view that this forum can be of strong support of the UNFCCC process culminating in Copenhagen later this year and can be helpful in forging technology cooperation among these 17 members.

Let me now turn it over to Todd Stern, who will give some further insight into the discussions.

MR. STERN: Thanks, Mike. Welcome, everybody. Thank you for coming.

I think the meeting today was a very good one, the first meeting, preparatory session for our Major Economies Forum, as Mike said. And he just explained the two-part kind of mission that we associate with the forum, one being to promote the kind of discussion that we hope can facilitate agreement in the Copenhagen talks, and the other to, again, make progress on – with regard to transformational technology and to be a kind of platform for cooperation.

I think inevitably in this year, in 2009 when we have Copenhagen looming, the overwhelming issue is Copenhagen, so we did give some good amount of discussion to the technology side and will continue that. But I think the primary focus, it’s fair to say, and the primary focus among the delegates there also, was on how we make progress with regard to Copenhagen.

We had very, very strong support within the Administration – participation within the Administration, I guess I would say, with regard to this session. Secretary Clinton led it off. Secretary Chu spoke. Science Advisor John Holdren spoke. They each led off two separate sessions, as Mike explained. And then the President met with everybody, talked with actually every individual delegate, as well as speaking to the group. So it was – and there was actually a reception last night as well at the Kennedy Center. So it was, I think, a very – it was a good meeting in the sense of real (inaudible) and input more broadly in the Administration.

And it was really a very good meeting, I think, with respect to what actually happened in the room. There was – I mean, I went in hoping that we would have – that we would start a genuine dialogue. If you go to many of these negotiating sessions or discussion sessions of this kind, you will often find people kind of just walking through their prepared remarks. And we got off of that really quite significantly, and people started to really interact.

I think, again, from my point of view, I was hoping we would start a dialogue, that it would be a genuine dialogue, and that there would be a certain amount of trust building, which is kind of part of the process, in the room among the heads of delegation and the broader delegations. And I truly think that happened. I think that if you went and you were able to go pick off, find the delegation members or the heads of delegation, in every single delegation, I think you would get an extremely positive description of what happened.

That does not change the fact that the issues are extremely difficult, that it’s not going to be easy to reach agreement, or we wouldn’t be doing this. And I don’t think any of that changed, but I think that the nature of the discussion, the substantive quality of the interactions, the frankness of the interactions, was all quite encouraging.

So I think without any further ado, we’ll take questions. But it was a good start.

QUESTION: Thanks. Lisa Friedman with ClimateWire. I was wondering what reaction you got, if any, from countries today to the comments that you’ve made several times that for the United States midterm targets going 25 to 40 below 1990 levels is not going to be feasible. I was wondering when you talk mitigation what kind of responses did you get from countries on that? And do you end this – these two days of talks more or less optimistic about finalizing a deal at Copenhagen?

MR. STERN: We had quite an extensive conversation about the whole subject of mitigation, and to include the question of midterm targets, to include the question of what the United States is talking about. So yes, those discussions came up. People expressed their views. We expressed our views. Some people agreed with us, some people pushed back with – on us, we pushed back on them. It was a good conversation. There were plenty of people there who – I mean, there were all different views represented, and it was, I think, again, a very constructive conversation. It’s very much what we wanted. We wanted to not be dodging things.

You know, in – on your second question, I guess I would say that I come out of this meeting, if anything, a bit more optimistic. I think that I don’t ever underplay the size of the challenge here, because it is really very – the size of the challenge in terms of getting an agreement. Remember, the issue for me is – an issue for us is always an agreement that you can get, that – a consensus – an agreement that – a deal that can reach – that can produce consensus internationally and it can also be approved back at home. And those are the two things that are very challenging, and they can – and they’re still challenging, but I would say that I walk away a bit more optimistic. It was a very good exchange today and yesterday.


QUESTION: Given, over the last eight years of the Bush Administration, there was, you know, the kind of administration – the United States was seen as a country that, you know, wasn’t paying enough attention to climate change and, you know, with Kyoto and everything, there was a lot of bad blood. And I think your appointment has gone a long way to do that, but I was wondering, when you were interacting with the other countries, if there was a kind of new spirit of cooperation and a willingness to kind of look forward and not look back?

MR. STERN: I think definitely. I mean, I don’t – Mike, you’re welcome to comment as well. I think that people have absolutely taken on board things that – first of all, that the President has said or that the Secretary of State has said, other members of the cabinet. I mean, we have a – we actually have a remarkably distinguished team on these issues including Steve Chu and John Holdren and Carol Browner at the White House and others. So I think all of those things have been taken on board by people.

Certainly, I’ve interacted at this point with a great many countries, and they’ve heard me speak in Bonn and other places. And I have now had an opportunity to interact quite a bit with Mike. And so I think that – I don’t think that there is a backward-looking kind of sentiment. I think there’s a lot of sense of appreciation and relief, frankly that they’re dealing with a very different kettle of fish here.

MR. FROMAN: I would just – I totally agree. I would just add to that that I think to a person – and if you talk to the other delegates, I think there was a welcoming of U.S. leadership on this issue, U.S. engagement, including – sort of as evidenced by the appointment of Todd – U.S. leadership on the issue, willingness to talk openly about all the issues on the table, a willingness to embrace science and ground our policy in science as evidenced including by having Dr. Holdren and Dr. Chu participate, and a willingness to work together in a very forward-looking way to try and make progress.

So there was – there was no backward-looking recriminations. It was all looking towards success in Copenhagen, first and foremost, and making sure that the leaders meeting in July created the right momentum on these various areas.

MR. AKER: The back row. Yes, you.

QUESTION: Hi, Juliet Eilperin with The Washington Post. Todd or Michael, either one of you, can you talk about, in any concrete terms, on the technology question? I know this is a preliminary meeting, but can you discuss at all what discussions you had on that that you think could help contribute to both addressing climate change and specifically leading to a deal in Copenhagen?

MR. FROMAN: It is just the first meeting and just the beginning of a dialogue, but there was, beginning with John Holdren and Steven Chu’s presentations, following on that discussion by Australia of CCS, by India of energy efficiency, technology, and a number of other technology issues came up in the discussion of countries talking about technologies that they were focused on, that they had a particular interest in, given their own energy situation.

And we’ll be working with them between now and over the course of the next couple of months to see what we can do to create political momentum for dealing with some of these technological issues.

MR. AKER: This gentleman.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m sorry, what midterm targets will the U.S. recommend in Copenhagen?

MR. STERN: What we said is that there are basically two numbers, if you will, on the table from – that are relevant in terms of thinking about the United States. One is what President Obama has said, which is about a 14 – about 15 percent reduction from where we are now by 2020, and 83 percent – I think it’s 83 percent below 2005 levels, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. So that’s what the President has said.

And then there’s obviously a relevant piece of legislation on the Hill right now, the Waxman bill, which is – which goes a little beyond that. I think Waxman is – calls for about 20 percent reduction versus 2005, 42 percent, 2030, 83 percent, 2050. So it’s – it is – it’s a curve that ends up in the same place as Obama, but starts just slightly more quickly.

And you know, what I said to the delegates is that, you know, you effectively got a United States number there. It’s somewhere in that range, and we didn’t say, but – it is, you know, X – X, you know, point-2. But there’s no mystery; Obama has – President Obama has said what he thinks, and Waxman has put in his bill, and they’re quite close – little, small differences, and that’s what was said.

MR. AKER: The end, here.

QUESTION: Yes. How important is congressional action from the feedback you got from the delegates? You had the President talking to them personally, assuring them of his commitment. How important will it be going forward to Italy and then to Copenhagen to have something passed by the Congress?

MR. STERN: I think that it is – I think that it’s very important, both from a point of view of substance and diplomacy, that the – essentially, the plan that the President has outlined since back in the campaign and that is – that – a version of which is now embodied in the Waxman bill moves forward, and that there be – and that there be progress on it. I can’t say – you know, if – you asked me the next question – exactly how far is it? I don’t know how far it needs to go. I think that it’s important that we get that done.

I think the President’s obviously very committed to it, and I think it’s – it is unquestionably important in the sense of – in the diplomatic sense. Countries are, I think, tremendously pleased, even with a quibble about the exact amount of the target. They’re very, very pleased with the overall U.S. orientation, what’s been said and what’s been done. Don’t forget a lot’s been done already in terms of the stimulus package and so forth. But this is a very big piece. So I think it’s important that it make progress.

QUESTION: Jeff Mason, with Reuters. Two questions: first, on technology, maybe for Mike, can you be a little bit more specific as to what the forum would like to achieve on technology, for example, carbon capture and storage? Do you want to have an agreement in CCS among these countries at the end of the process? And then my second question, perhaps for Todd, is, can you describe a little bit more the role of the developing countries in this forum, and what stumbling blocks may have come up on that – in that arena?

MR. FROMAN: I think on the technology question, again, this is the – I think the first preparatory meeting, and really the beginning of a dialogue. And we’ll have to see where this goes in the upcoming meetings, including in July. I think our view is that there is – there are a number of technologies that the international community recognizes as being necessary to further develop and deploy if we’re going to solve the climate change issues. And we ought to use this forum, among other things, including at the leader’s level, to give political momentum to the development and the deployment of those technologies. So the precise mechanism through which that’s worked out is something we’ll be working on over the next few months.

QUESTION: Is CCS one of the key ones?

MR. FROMAN: It’s one of several. It’s one of several, and it’s one that many of the countries have a strong interest in.

MR. STERN: I think there was one more question, the role of developing countries that you are asking for – asking about and stumbling blocks. The developing countries were completely engaged in this session. I don’t – I couldn’t break down who talked more. I mean, there was a lot of discussion from all of the parties. You know, the developing country perspective is that they want to see very significant action from developed countries. We didn’t really, just because we didn’t have time to – we certainly will next – on the next session get into a discussion about financial issues, because that’s an issue of concern to them, obviously. They are eager for the U.S. and other developed countries to take action, and they are eager to underscore the hallowed phrase, common but differentiated responsibilities, from the framework convention.

And I – but you know, I think it was – I think there was – there was good conversation. I mean, there was – one of the things that I noted and I think is often true in dealing in this area, not only for developing countries but certainly, of course, for at least some developing countries, is that there can be a willingness to do a lot. Developing countries, many of them, are doing a great deal. China’s doing a great deal. There can be a willingness to do more than you’re willing to agree to do and – in an international context. And that’s an issue that we’re all going to kind of wrestle with, because I think it’s less a question of – it’s partly a question of what they’re actually going to do, but they’re actually often doing a lot. So it’s also a question not just of what they’re doing, but how to capture that and reflect it in the agreement.

QUESTION: Alexander Duckton with CLASP. Will you be asking at all for any of the developing countries to cap their carbon emissions outright? If not, will you be asking them for some sort of emissions intensity target to work towards?

MR. STERN: I’m not going to get into – I mean, we didn’t discuss that kind of detail, per se, and I’m not going to – I’m certainly not going to speculate about what sort of things they we need to do. I think what is clear in our view is, and again, as Mike said, you need to kind of frame all of this discussion by a sense of what the science is indicating needs to happen, which – again, the way I look at this is never, you’ve got to hit a particular point in a particular year, but in terms of the kind of broad sweep, where you need to be. And I think – that’s got to inform your assessment of what developed countries do, and I think it’s got to inform your assessment about how robust the action needs to be from the developing side, as well. It’s kind of got to add up to something in the direction of what you need.

So that – I think that can be different things for different countries. But it’s kind of the overall level of ambition and robustness is going to matter for all the major countries.

QUESTION: Brian Beary from Europolitics. I mean, you say that financing didn’t feature very highly. I’m just wondering, did the issue of funding come up at all? And can you give us any figures that the U.S. is willing to put on the table in terms of its funding?

MR. STERN: No, I – the answer is that it – it was – we walked into today thinking we were going to spend, you know, a session on financing, and we got into such a kind of in-depth and engaged conversation mitigation that we just ran out of time. So we just didn’t – we didn’t get to it. And nobody – I mean, the people were very engaged and didn’t want to cut the conversation off.

So this is – again – this is a – this is sort of a three-part – we just like finished the first period of the hockey game. We’ve got – this is – there’s three periods here and -- in terms of the prep sessions. And so we will for sure have a detailed and interesting discussion on funding and financing issues next time.

QUESTION: I’m having difficulty understanding your optimism going ahead in terms of the largest emitters. And perhaps you can help to shed some light how you arrived there, particularly in light of the fact that the science that you’re talking about, what science is needed, if you take the U.S. target of, say, 20 percent, 40 percent by 2030, you’re talking about a reduction of about to about three, I think, billions tons a year annually. That would be one quarter of what China produces by 20, say, 12, 2015. So how do you perceive China meeting those goals with only energy efficiency targets and renewables, which doesn’t tackle the coal (inaudible)?

MR. STERN: The question that was asked of me was whether I came out of the meeting somewhat more optimistic than I went in. And I believe what I said is I came out a bit more optimistic, because it was a discussion in which people were not – were neither refusing to, you know, engage past their kind of canned remarks; where the atmosphere, unlike some other past meetings run by other people, were not head-butting exercises; where people were engaged in trying to work through issues. I’m not – believe, me, I’m not trying to oversell. I described myself a bit more optimistic, because, and as Mike said, to a person, everybody – the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, everybody – came out of that room feeling – I think, feeling more optimistic than they went into the room, frankly.

So – but I also said, and you’ve just explained some reasons why, I would not downplay or underestimate the difficulty of getting an agreement in Copenhagen in the first instance, and the enormous difficulty of wrestling this problem to the ground, because it is. I mean, you just stated some reasons why it’s so hard, and I totally agree with that.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Nick Juliano with Carbon Control News. Was there any discussion of some of the specific international provisions within the Waxman bill? I’m thinking, for example, of international offsets, the border adjustments, rebates to energy-intensive industries? Any of these sort of trade and international focused aspects?

MR. STERN: Not really. The – there was – basically not. There was a very brief just question exchange about offsets, but – and basically were they in the Waxman bill, and the answer is yes. And that was about it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Associated Press. I was wondering if there was any sense that this is going to extend beyond the G-8. Or was that discussed at all or considered? I mean, it seems like a pretty short timeline – (inaudible) not go to Copenhagen with the forum?

MR. STERN: Yeah, I think the answer is that it was – that nothing was resolved, but it was certainly understood, I think, by people that if it – you know, if it seemed like it was a process that was continuing to make progress, that we might decide to continue it beyond July. But there weren’t – there was nothing hard on that.

MR. AKER: We have time for maybe two more questions. You, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with Kyodo News. Could you tell us tell us when and where the second subsession will take place?

MR. FROMAN: Excuse me. Our expectation is it will take place in Paris in the month of May, and we’re still finalizing final details.

QUESTION: So not Mexico?

MR. FROMAN: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Not Mexico?

MR. STERN: He was asking about the third one.

MR. FROMAN: Oh, I’m sorry. Third one? We have not yet set a date or a place for the third one.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Der Spiegel, Germany. You talked about U.S. leadership in this. So you’ll have to be prepared that the U.S. – or that the EU is following your example and drops its 20, -20, -30 reduction target to zero is – through stabilization compared to 1990. How desirable would that be and how much in line with what science says?

MR. STERN: Well, I actually wouldn’t anticipate that at all. I don’t think that the EU is – the EU right now has an announced target of 20 percent below 1990 by 2020, with the notion that – sorry – that it would raise that if other developed countries like the U.S. put in numbers that were comparable to what they were doing. So I mean, the notion that the EU would drop down from the 20, I think is highly unrealistic. And, you know, I think this is a discussion that we will have with the EU.

I mean, as one of the things that we’ve pointed out and that I’ve pointed out in the bilateral discussions in many other places is that depending on how you looked at numbers, the gap between the United States and the EU can look large, somewhat smaller, somewhat smaller, or disappear completely in terms of what we’re talking about. And so in some ways, we are quite comparable, in some ways, somewhat less. The way that we look the least comparable is against 1990. We look a lot closer against 2005. We look very close against a business-as-usual projection, et cetera. So – and we’ve talked about all those things.

MR. AKER: The (inaudible) can take one last question from the – yes, sir. Front row.

QUESTION: What exactly are you looking for from developing countries?

MR. STERN: I don’t really have anything very much to add to what I said before. I think that developing countries – all countries are going to need to – all major countries are going to need to do things which are consistent with the capacity of global emissions to kind of go in the direction that they need to go. And so I think that from the major developing countries, I mean, the kinds of things that we’ve talked about are, you know, consistent with that.

I mean, if there are – I think it’s likely to be the case that developing country actions are going to be framed up in some way as national actions that they are doing, that there are various proposals that have – that are public from various countries that would go in that direction. And I think you can indeed take a look at those, sort of see what they add up to, whether they’re robust enough and whether they’re kind of firm enough and move us in the direction that we need to go. But beyond that --

MR. FROMAN: Just one final thing. There is a chair summary that will be released, I assume through Public Affairs, that goes over some of the further details about the meetings.

QUESTION: When will that be released?

MR. AKER: As soon as we get hold of it.

MR. FROMAN: As soon as we get hold of it. As soon as we give it to him.

MR. AKER: Okay, thank all of you.

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PRN: 2009/392