Statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Washington, DC
November 4, 2009

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen and members of the committee for inviting me here today. I'd like to give you a brief update today on the state of the negotiations. Time is growing short, we have just 32 days left until the beginning of the Copenhagen conference and there is still a lot of work to do.

Broadly speaking, I think it is fair to say that progress has been too slow to date, especially in the formal U.N. negotiating track. We are also operating intensively in two other tracks, major economies forum of 17 major economies developed - developing, and the bilateral track, both of which have been more constructive. But the formal negotiating track is still quite problematic. The developed developing country divide that has run down the center of climate change discussions for the past 17 years is still I'm afraid alive and well. Developing countries tend to see a problem not of their own making that they are being asked to fix in ways which they fear could stifle their ability to lift their own standards of living.

And of course we cannot expect developing countries or indeed any country to commit to actions that they cannot plausibly achieve or to make promises that are antithetical to their need to fight poverty and build a better life for their citizens. We must send the message that the effort to reach a new climate change agreement is not simply about putting a cap on emissions, it is also about development and in the world we now inhabit the only sustainable development is low carbon development.

But let me say what is not helpful is the way that some developing countries, in any event, focus more on citing chapter and verse for dubious interpretations of the original framework convention treaty or the Bali Action Plan, designed to prove that they don't have any responsibility for action now, rather than thinking through pragmatic ways to find common ground and start solving the problem.

We recognize that developed and developing countries, even the major ones, can be expected to do different things. For example, economy wide reductions against a specific baseline, such as 2005, for developed countries, on the one hand, and strong actions by developing countries that will have the effect of reducing their emissions versus the trend line of business as usual. So those are quite different things.

And we agree that developed countries have particular responsibilities that are different from developing countries with respect to providing financial and technology assistance to poorer countries. We not only understand this, but we have made a number of very forward leaning and constructive proposals in this regard. We know that developed countries, including the United States, have a special responsibility, given our role in producing the emissions already in the atmosphere and our greater wealth and capability.

What we do not agree with, though, is that we should commit to implement what we promise to do, while major developing countries make no commitment at all, hiding behind a misreading of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. And we do not agree that only the actions of developed countries should be submitted to a serious transparency and accountability regime, including peer review by other countries, while the major developing countries should be subject to no peer review at all, unless the actions were paid for by developed countries.

The mentality that looks at the world through those lenses will not produce an agreement in Copenhagen. We have to do better. After all, we are not engaged right now in a debating society about the exegesis of section X of subpart one of sub-subpart B of the Framework Convention or the Bali Action Plan. We are seeking to put in place a new agreement based broadly on the concepts of those underlying documents, to be sure, intended to safeguard our future and the future of our children, to take an important step, in a word, towards saving the planet and improving the economic, environmental and national security future of America and the world.

This is a profound undertaking, it is a profound responsibility and we need to all treat it as such, and the sooner we get past the mentality of resisting responsible action, and the sooner we get into the mentality of searching for pragmatic common ground, the better off we will be. Ninety-seven percent of the growth of emissions between now and 2030 is projected to come from developing countries, and about 50 percent of that from China alone. We cannot solve the problem without major action by the emerging market countries, consistent absolutely with their imperatives to grow and eradicate poverty. But major action, nonetheless, and no country holds the fate of the Earth in its hands more than China.

In our view, it is precisely because of their common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities that they and others need to step up. Now, paradoxically, while the negotiations are in a difficult state, it is also true that we are at a moment in history when more countries, including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, are in fact taking stronger action or are poised to take stronger action than ever before to combat climate change. And the negotiations going on right now have helped to drive these countries and others, developed countries as well, to recognize the seriousness of the problem and to assert and recognize the need for global action.

So we need to find a way to capture the positive facts on the ground, and there are many, to get a deal. And I firmly believe that we can do this. What are the key issues that we need to make progress on? They are mitigation issues that I've already referenced. Both developed and major developing countries need to not only undertake those actions at home but reflect them in an international agreement. There must be, those actions must be subject to a solid transparency and accountability regime. There must be financing provisions to get to a deal, and in this regard, I hope the Senate takes this into account as it pushes its own version of a bill.

There need to be provisions for technology assistance, assistance on adaptation, forestry and the like. We all, both in Congress and in the administration, have a lot of work ahead. The world is watching our legislative progress closely, and the more progress that's made by the time of Copenhagen, the better off we will be. What we do or don't do domestically is hugely important. It is, in a word, central to our credibility and our leverage.

For our part, we will continue to intensively engaging with key countries and country blocks between now and Copenhagen. My team right now is in Barcelona, participating in the Broad Framework Convention negotiations that go on periodically, and President Obama and the secretary of State, along with our entire administration, is committed to seizing each opportunity to make progress. Our objective, of course, is to pursue the strongest possible outcome we can get in Copenhagen, consistent with the science and mindful of the necessity to be practical and pragmatic. The health and safety of our children's future depends upon it. I look forward to answering the committee's questions. Thanks.