Briefing by the Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern
With that impressive statistic in mind, I’ll hand the podium over to Todd Stern, who has about 20 minutes to answer your questions.
MR. STERN: Hello, everybody. Pleased to be here today. I’m just going to be very brief at the top and open it up for questions for you all.
Where we stand right now is – as you all know that Copenhagen meeting produced, in the end, a short document which is known as the Copenhagen Accord, we think a very important – short but important document that was produced very importantly through the intervention of leaders, a great number of leaders from countries there. It was, at the end of the day, not formally adopted as a decision of the – decision being a term of art – of the Conference of the Parties, but was supported by the overwhelming number of them.
The fact that it wasn’t formally adopted has led to a process since Copenhagen where countries essentially conveyed to the secretariat of the UN convention their interest in being part of it; the UN term is to associate itself with the accord. And in addition, the major countries, major economies have submitted their targets or actions that they plan to take to reduce emissions. So this is the developed countries and the major developing countries. That was supposed to happen by January 31st and it did.
We now have slightly less than a hundred countries that have indicated they want to be part of the accord, and my guess is there will be still some additional ones who indicate that. The accord itself, I think, is an important document for a number of reasons. It includes – it quantifies the objective of this whole exercise of the Framework Convention. The objective, as stated in the convention, is to – essentially to avoid dangerous climate change and the Copenhagen Accord quantifies that by talking about limiting the increase in temperature to 2 degrees Centigrade. It includes a pledge by the major economies to submit their targets and actions. It includes important stuff on – important language on transparency, important provisions on financing, and on technology. So in – all in all, I think a very important step forward.
The – going forward this year, I think will be a combination of both of making elements of the accord operational as well as further discussions under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention toward additional agreements in Mexico. So that’s kind of where things stand right now. I’m happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Sean Tannen with AFP. You alluded to this a little bit in your talk at the Center for American Progress --
MR. STERN: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the other week. The commitments by countries like China, India, Brazil, South Africa aren’t necessarily unambiguous. How do you see that going forward, unless there’s a clear commitment by those emerging economies?
MR. STERN: Well, I think that that’s going to get clarified. I think that, first of all, they have all submitted their proposed actions and there’s nothing ambiguous about that. They have submitted the actions that they intend to take to reduce emissions. I think that’s a good thing. So far, I believe Brazil and South Africa have stated to the – have conveyed to the secretariat that they wish to be associated with the accord. And China and India have conveyed something which is not entirely clear. I think that’ll get clarified, though, is my guess over the course of the next few days.
There will be – the way this thing works is that the secretariat publishes a report on the COP, the Conference of the Parties. They do this every year when there’s a Conference of the Parties. After a couple of months, they publish a report, essentially, on the proceedings, what happened. And the report includes all of the decisions that were taken. One of those decisions was a decision to take note of this Copenhagen Accord. And so as part of that decision, the accord itself will be published. And on the front page of the accord, there will be a list of all the parties who have said we want to be part of this.
And so I think that that’s something that will presumably happen reasonably soon, and I would expect that all of the major countries will be part of it at that point.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up briefly? But would there be a risk to the accord itself unless there is more clarity from these emerging economies?
MR. STERN: I think it’s important that the major countries be part of it, but I – again, I think that we have close to a hundred countries now. So I think that the accord is already kind of gathering steam.
QUESTION: If India and China, turn out – don’t associate themselves with it, is there any possibility that the U.S. would pull out, essentially?
MR. STERN: No.
QUESTION: Not at all?
MR. STERN: No. I mean, I think that the U.S. is – we have put forward our own submission. It’s consistent with what President Obama announced back in November. So I don’t think it’s a question of the U.S. saying “Never mind.” I don’t think – that’s not the plan.
QUESTION: Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Just a follow-up question. What you said is not clear about China’s and India’s proposals?
MR. STERN: The proposals are clear. This is a little bit confusing. I don’t want anybody to be confused. The proposals that they’ve all made with respect to “Here’s what we’re going to do,” perfectly clear. There is a second piece of this which is do you, quote “associate yourself with the accord,” and in effect, will you be one of those hundred-plus countries that are listed on the front page of the accord as having said “Yes, we want to be part of it.” That’s the piece that I’m talking about right now, and that’s – as I say, there’s just slightly less than a hundred countries that have said that. India and China have said something close to that, and I think the UN is just trying to make sure that they understand what the intention is.
QUESTION: Now my question about – India has distinctly announced that they will set up their own IPCC because they believe that the UN’s IPCC is not that realistic, that they are a bit confusing and it’s – they’re not reliable. What’s your opinion on that?
MR. STERN: Well, look. I think it’s a good thing for countries to have an active scientific effort. I don’t know what the details are. I don’t know what Minister Ramesh or others in India have in mind. But I think, obviously, the United States has all sorts of scientific work that we do through our various agencies of the U.S. Government. So I think that’s all a good thing.
I think the IPCC as an institution has made a very large contribution and I think it’s an important body that will continue and that is very representative of countries all over the world. So I don’t know what – I’m not familiar with the specifics of what India --
QUESTION: He was talking about – Minister Ramesh was talking about recent controversies about Himalayan glaciers.
MR. STERN: About what?
QUESTION: About Himalayan glaciers and the – some of the facts and figures in the IPCC report which has raised a lot of doubts.
MR. STERN: Right. Well, look, as I said, I think the IPCC is a very important body. I think it’s made a very important contribution. To the extent that there were any – that any errors appear in their lengthy report, I think that’s regrettable. But again, I’m not – I don’t have any – I’m not a scientist and I don’t have any considered view on the specifics. But I think the IPCC as an institution has been quite important and will continue to be important.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, actually? How much more difficult has your job been since the errors in the IPCC report came to light, both globally and –
MR. STERN: It was difficult already. (Laughter.) No, look, I think that the scientific underpinning for action on climate change, the fundamental science of climate change and the observed data, is quite overwhelming. I think that to the extent – and again, I make no comment one way or another about whether they’re mistakes – I just don’t know. But to the extent that there were any mistakes in the IPCC report, reports, assessments, or anywhere else, that’s regrettable. You don’t want there to be mistakes.
But what should not happen is that any individual mistakes, typos, whatever they might be, be taken to undermine the very fundamental record that exists from scientists all over the world and from observed data from all over the world that this is a quite serious and growing problem. So I think that that’s really the kind of underlying important point.
And nor should – and I think what you do see sometimes is that people who have an agenda that is directed toward undermining action on climate change grab whatever tidbit they can find and say, look, there’s no climate change, it snowed last week in Washington, there’s no climate change. That kind of stuff is nonsense. And the exploiting of this or that mistake that might have occurred in some part of long reports that pull together a lot of scientific data, again, I think is – I think it needs to be seen for what it is, which is a deliberate attempt to undermine. The fundamentals haven’t changed.
QUESTION: Andy Quinn from Reuters. I was hoping you could talk a little bit after Copenhagen how you see the UN’s role in further negotiations about climate change and that of the Major Economies Forum. And do you have any word on when and where the next meeting of the MEF might be?
MR. STERN: Well, two things. I think the UN absolutely has an important role going forward. I think that there are obviously – anybody who was at or closely following Copenhagen can see that there are challenges with respect to managing a big process like that, particularly one with – where a small group of countries can block actions. That is certainly difficult, but it is – the UN has a special level of credibility and history in this and we support the UN process.
The Major Economies Forum, I think, was a very useful exercise last year, a useful forum, a useful body that we really picked up from the previous administration and then kind of remodeled. So we have every intention of continuing that this year. I am quite sure that we will have a meeting this spring. We haven’t set the exact date or the place yet, but I would anticipate that we will be working with our Major Economies Forum partners to set up a meeting in the relatively near term.
And I might say that in the fall we began a practice of inviting a few additional countries to participate who were important countries but not necessarily majors in terms of their economies. And I think that that was a useful process that we began in – I can’t remember if it was September or October, but we started it in the fall. And I would guess we’ll probably continue something like that as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) broaden the guest list even further?
MR. STERN: A little bit. A little bit, but not to a large extent.
QUESTION: Sort of related to his question, is there any coordination between your office and the Trade Representative’s office, folks at Commerce, folks at Treasury, in trying to deal with some of the economic concerns that some countries might have about trying to limit their economic output that might have an impact on the rise in temperatures globally?
MR. STERN: Well, two things. We coordinate with everybody. I mean, this is not just a State Department exercise. It’s a government exercise. We – for starters, we coordinate very closely with the White House, obviously with the President but also with people in the NSC and the climate and energy office over there. And we coordinate a lot with Treasury and EPA and Energy and Commerce and other places. So this is a broad government effort where, of course, on the diplomatic side, State’s in the lead, but there’s a lot of coordination just in general.
With respect to the question of countries who need to play a role and who have concerns about that, we interact, we discuss those issues with the countries – with countries in that kind of a position a lot. I think that USTR is also an agency that we certainly do work with. Look, there’s kind of a basic underlying reality here, which is that countries in the sort of emerging market category of countries, which is really what you’re talking about, they have to be part of the solution in dealing with this problem.
If you only look at developed countries, you’re at about 40, maybe – somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of total emissions and shrinking. And if you’re trying to deal with the 80 or 85 percent of emissions and growing, you’ve got to bring in China and India and Brazil, other countries like that. You have to do it in a way that is mindful of their own needs for development, but those things can be reconciled and they have to be reconciled or else there’s no way to deal with the problem.
MR. TONER: Okay, just a couple more questions.
QUESTION: On the difference between associating with the accord and commitments for the accord –
MR. STERN: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Yvo de Boer earlier, a few weeks ago, said that there – that the January 31 was a soft deadline. Are – do you know what the number of countries is that have made commitments for the accord?
MR. STERN: Yeah. Well, I mean, I know that Yvo said that, but the reality is that the countries who were expected to make those commitments did so by January 31st. I think somebody might have been February 1st, but basically it was done by January 31st. And those countries are the developed – all developed countries, so U.S., Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, et cetera; and the major developing countries, so that’s China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia. Korea and Mexico are kind of in a halfway house, but they’re still traditionally considered developing. And there are some additional countries. I don’t have them at the – at my fingertips. There’re some additional countries that would not necessarily be considered majors but who nonetheless did step forward and make their own commitments with respect to actions.
So that piece of it is basically, in terms of meeting the deadline, that got done. That’s done.
MR. STERN: So now we’re just in the world of what countries are going to be reflected as part of the Copenhagen Accord.
QUESTION: Okay. And in relation to that, what are the next steps in the accord process?
MR. STERN: Well, there’s --
QUESTION: -- leading on to COP (inaudible)?
MR. STERN: Yes. So there were these two steps we’ve already just talked about, the making your commitments and the associating, which is – that part – not quite over yet. Beyond that, there are a number of elements in the accord that, by their terms, need further elaboration. So it calls for a global fund. All right, well, then you need to set up – set the fund up. You need to – there’s a structure, there’s mechanics, how the fund will work. It calls for technology mechanism. All right, what does it look like? Does it look this way or this way or how – what is it – what are the elements of the mechanism?
A very important provision about transparency, including with respect to developing countries, including with respect to actions they take on their own as opposed to just actions they take when they’re funded. Very important stuff there. And in paragraph five of the accord, it talks about further guidelines to spell out those transparency provisions. Okay, that needs to get done. So there are probably four or five elements of the accord that need further work, and I think that that – that those things need to be carried forward. The first piece of that that got announced was a high-level panel or group, advisory group, I think it’s called, on financing that Ban Ki-moon announced just Friday.
MR. STERN: That’s under – I think it’s paragraph nine of the accord that talks about setting up a high-level panel to do a study on potential sources of income toward realizing that goal of $100 billion by 2020. All right. So they’ve now announced that panel. I think there’s a couple of members from different countries, including ours, that haven’t been announced yet. But that’s underway and there’ll be other elements of that that I think as time goes on will get – will be – will get underway as well.
MR. TONER: Any more questions? Go ahead.
QUESTION: We’ve heard that several companies – BP, Conoco, and Caterpillar – dropped out of the Climate Action Partnership. I’m wondering if you can talk specifically about that, if you know about it. Is it a blow to that side of the equation? And more specifically, how do you feel that business is – I mean, do you think that there is some concern that business interest in this whole process is waning?
MR. STERN: I don’t know anything about that – about the specifics, so I’m not going to comment on that. I think – it’s interesting. I think that overall business interest and focus on this issue is growing gradually and that that will continue, because whatever the ups and downs of this process at any particular moment, there is only one direction that this process can go, which is in the direction of action to reduce emissions. I hope we get there – I very much hope we get there sooner rather than later and we will be doing everything we possibly can to advance that goal. But whether it’s sooner or later, it’s coming. Businesses get that. Businesses need to plan for not just – businesses don’t drive by looking right over the head of the car, they look down the road, and this is coming. So I think that that will grow.