Press Briefing: 17th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Press Statement
Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Durban, South Africa
December 6, 2011

MR. STERN: Thanks, Emily. Hi, everybody. Glad to be here again. I don't have much to say up at the top. We are continuing to have the usual round of meetings of all different sizes. I think productive meetings with various Parties, and the discussions are continuing on all of the various key issues. As I said yesterday, I promise I won't keep saying this every day, but since it's only the second day I'll say it again. Our objective here is to essentially make real progress on carrying forward the core agreements reached last year in Cancun that require further work.

So that includes the Green Fund, getting that set up, the Technology Center and Network, the guidelines to be written for transparency, the Adaptation Committee to be set up and so forth. There's also obviously the hanging issue of the Kyoto Protocol and what might be said about a future regime, and all of those issues keep percolating along. So without any further ado, I'll take questions.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you indicated that you were going to meet the Chinese this morning. I wonder if you can tell us anything about that meeting. Did you get a better idea, or any idea, whether the Chinese would go along with the U.S. idea of legal parity in a post-2020 agreement?

MR. STERN: Yeah, I did meet with the Chinese this morning and I had another, I think, quite good meeting. Let me just say, it's not my impression that there is, that there has been any change at all in the Chinese position with respect to a legally binding agreement, and I didn't understand Minister Xie to be contending that there's been any change in the position. I think there's already been some press reporting this morning that I saw about the meeting that the EU had with China and their impressions, and I don't really have anything to add to that, so go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you could update us with regards to the status of the talks on the Green Climate Fund please.

MR. STERN: Sure, essentially, so there were a few Parties—the U.S. was one of them—there were actually probably 20 more or so Parties who have had various issues with respect to the Green Climate Fund. The action on that has basically moved into the question of the covering decision for the Green Climate Fund instrument. So there was this instrument that was negotiated in the course of four meetings of the so-called Transitional Committee during the year. The last one ended on October 18th in Cape Town. And there's an instrument, a document that was negotiated that is, I don't know, 15 or so pages long. And that's not going to get reopened. I mean, it's quite clear at this point that that's not going to get reopened.

So to the extent that Parties, including the U.S., have any issues that they want to be in some fashion at least addressed, that's going to be done in the context of the covered decision that is the thing that the COP acts on. The COP acts on this covered decision, assuming that it decides to do so approves the underlying document, and then the thing goes forward. There is a discussion, there's negotiations going on with respect to that covering decision. I have no reason to think that this is hung up. At this point, again we have been a very strong, and I may say, one of the original supporters of the Green Fund, a proponent of it, and I'm pretty optimistic about it.

QUESTION: Regarding what you said earlier about China, we've heard something similar from other corners that there may have just been a translation error or something like that yesterday, but it does raise an interesting question. If China were to agree to some kind of binding action after 2020, would that satisfy the U.S.'s insistence that large developing countries take on some kind of a binding commitment, or is that still too late for the U.S.'s taste?

MR. STERN: I'm not positive I understand the question. If after 2020 they agree, would we after 2020 be [changes thought]… I'm not getting the sequence in your question.

QUESTION: [audio not audible]

MR. STERN: If they now agree that they would do a legally binding agreement post-2020? Yeah, I think that's the thing that I don't think they're going to do, as best as I can understand it. And, so, I discussed the various aspects of what I think a legally binding agreement will need to include at such time as it were to come into effect. I discussed that yesterday.

I think the essentials are that it would have to cover all the major Parties in a full way, so it would bind with equal legal force. Everybody who made commitments would be bound fully, unconditionally, no kind of escape hatches in the text, and it would also have to be based on something different in terms of the categories of countries than the 1992 categories, which are already quite outdated and will be that much more outdated ten years from now. So those at least need to be kind of dynamically evolving to reflect changes in economic and emissions growth and so forth. So, I think all of those things, not just the China question, all of those things we would have to obtain with respect to the major players, and it didn't appear to me that people are going to be in a position to do that in Durban. But, in any event, that is what we would see as necessary.

QUESTION: My question to you is that since the U.S. has been opposed to KP from the start, what kind, now that KP is coming to an end, what kind of regime would they like to see in place, you know, which would be effective?

MR. STERN: Well, I think that, first of all, I don't know, you're making an assumption about the KP, which I think is not necessarily true although it's at least partly true because even if it continues, it is certainly going to have a much smaller number of countries—that much is clear. I don't think it's clear whether it will continue or not. It is quite possible that it will continue for some number of countries but putting that aside.

Look, I think the kind of regime we would like to see, at least right now, is the regime that we agreed to last year. You know, I spend, I always try to make a point of underscoring for people that an important agreement was reached last year. I mean it is very kind of normal in this climate change world from the perspective of press, observers, and sort of everybody who is involved to think about the legal-bindingness as the kind of sole indicator of what is important or significant. And we don't agree with that.

It is an element and, in the right circumstances, it might be a good element. But it is certainly not the only element. And you know, as I have said on many occasions, when you look at Cancun, you look at Kyoto right now, let's assume, as I said that Kyoto goes forward in some fashion in Durban, it is likely to cover somewhere in the vicinity of 15 percent of global emissions.

Cancun includes submissions, either targets or actions from developed and developing countries. I have lost track of the exact number of countries, but it is upwards of 80 or more countries, who made submissions and more than 80 percent of global emissions being covered. And these weren’t kind of casual, you know, we'll think about doing X, Y or Z. These were, it was first of all made under the, in the context of a decision of the COP last year. Made under a legally binding treaty—the Framework Convention—and they are serious submissions that I think all the countries who made them intend to carry them out.

So, you've got that and then you have a whole lot of architecture that accompanies it with respect to a new Green Fund, a new Technology Center and Network, a new Adaptation Committee, a new system of transparency, which is supposed to be carried forward this year in the way of guidelines. So, if we do this right over the course of the next number of years—I mean these commitments all range between now and 2020—and Kyoto commitments would do the same thing—if we do this right, we can really lay the foundation for climate arrangements, whether it's in a new treaty or a new protocol or whatever in time or not. We can lay the foundation for international climate arrangements for a long time to come. So, what I'd like to see is what we did last year, and then I would like to see that implemented and carried forward, and in time, we might get to a legal agreement, but that is just not the end-all and be-all.

QUESTION: Hi. To follow up on what you just said, are you concerned that all the debate over Kyoto Protocol and so-called roadmap is distracting, is a distraction from moving ahead on the Cancun agreements? And also, do you expect anything out of Durban on transparency issues? Anything significant?

MR. STERN: [phone rings] Is that me? Not me. Sorry. I don't have my Blackberry here. I try not to carry it here when I come up here. That was a distraction.

No, I don't think that the focus on the KP is a distraction. There is obviously a lot, there are obviously a lot of countries very interested in, care a whole lot about what happens to the KP. They have got every right to do that.

This has been a so-called two-track negotiation from the time that the Bali Conference happened in 2007. So, I mean, they could just as well think that the other track is a distraction for what they are doing. So, I would absolutely not call it a distraction. There is a lot of attention focused on it, and I think that is understandable. It is important also to be focusing a lot on the Cancun issues, but I think there is a lot of focus on those issues, so I am not worried about that.

On transparency, yes, I think that it is very important from the point of view of the United States, and a lot of countries, that the agreement on transparency last year be carried forward. It is very, I mean there's very simple steps that were agreed to. There were sort of three elements of the transparency package last year. There was an agreement to do biannual reporting on both the developed and developing countries' side, and then there's a sort of alphabet soup of a process with respect to developing countries. It goes under the name of International Consultations and Analysis, ICA, and a kind of a parallel process for developed countries. And in each case there's supposed to be guidelines written. Short, simple, sweet guidelines. And that's what we're trying to get done. It's very important that it get done. And I'm, as of Tuesday, I am still hopeful that it's going to get done.

QUESTION: I have a question on the Kyoto Protocol again. Yesterday you said that one of the key issues questions in these talks this week was on the Kyoto Protocol. I'd like to know whether you think the second commitment period is significant, whether you think it's important that the EU stays in and why, or whether you couldn't care less? Because obviously the U.S. did not agree to the first, and it's certainly not going to be agreeing to the second commitment of the Kyoto. So I'd like to know also with what authority could you have an opinion on this, and how much input you have into these discussions? Thank you.

MR. STERN: So, you know, what I always say when I'm asked about Kyoto is fundamentally it’s—we're not in, and I don't actually presume to give opinions about this or that aspect of Kyoto. I think Kyoto is politically significant in this conference without a doubt. That's not quite the question you asked, but I can answer it that way, at least partly that way. I think, as I said, there are a great many Parties that are very keenly attached to Kyoto and want to see it continue. I think the EU has invested a lot of time and energy and commitment to acting under Kyoto for the last number of years. So it's significant to a lot of players.

I think that, you know, I'm not going to get into whether it's, you know, sort of the substantive significance of Kyoto being in place over the next number of years or not, because again I, you know, we're not in it, and I don't want to comment. I do think, so one thing I would say is, that I don't think that the Kyoto architecture of sharply divided sort of firewall between all developed and all developing countries, including even the biggest ones, is a tenable architecture for the future. So I think that the kind of architecture that started—and it's only started—but started to be built out in Cancun is going to more point the way forward, whether that ends up becoming or giving rise in the fullness of time to a legal agreement or not, I think something that is more based on all major players. You know, the 80 or 85 or 90 percent of global emissions being in the system rather than, you know, 28 or 25 or 15. I think that's got to point the way to the future.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just, I wanted to just be clear on what you're saying about the EU roadmap, because what they're saying is that if you want to have a new agreement that will be operational in 2020, i.e. you know beyond Cancun, then they would want that to be negotiated, you know, by 2015, 2016. Which would mean that, you know, that's not a lot of negotiating time, so it would mean sort of negotiating straight away. Are you saying that you're not going to be part of those negotiations between now and 2015 or in the short term? Are you rejecting that roadmap or what is the exact position?

MR. STERN: I actually haven't ever rejected that. Let me just distinguish two things. Apart from the fact that I don't like the term roadmap, because I think there's too many roadmaps that haven't gone anywhere in the world. But it's a process, let's say it's a process. I think there's two different elements here. There is the process, and there is the result of the process, and I think you have to distinguish those two things. So it's sort of the process and the substantive result.

The EU wants a process, and has been advocating both a process and a result. The result being a legally binding agreement at the end. We are—I made this clear to the EU, and I actually commented on it here yesterday—we are quite open to a discussion about a process going forward from Durban toward the negotiation of an agreement or an accord, whatever it turns out to be, that would cover the period after the targets and actions that are already in place essentially expire, because that's 2020, right? So whether it's under Kyoto or it's under Cancun, all of the targets and actions that have been put forward cover the period roughly from now to 2020.

So, we would be quite open to a discussion about a process that would lead to a negotiation for the thing, whatever it turns out to be, that follows 2020. And we are also fully willing to recognize that that might be—and don't have any problem with recognizing—that that might turn out to be a legal agreement. The thing that we're not prepared to do at this time, given all of the various players and forces at issue, is to state now before we have any idea what kind of agreement it is, who is in, on what terms they're in. We're not prepared to say right now that it will be legally binding. It might turn out to be legally binding. So, on your roadmap, or as I would say process question, no we're not against that.

QUESTION: We've been hearing a lot about the gigaton gap here, and that basically a lot of people say we need action before 2020. You've said that that's not going to happen from the U.S. perspective, and I wonder if you can clarify for us whether that's because it's already – basically, you don't believe it needs to be happening, or whether it's politically impossible in the U.S., or whether you think it's just unachievable, anything more than the U.S. has already pledged to do? Thanks.

MR. STERN: Well, I didn't quite say, I didn't quite say that there wouldn't be anything, there wouldn't be any action of the United States. What I said is, I don't anticipate the United States changing its target, just as I don't expect really any of the players to be changing their target, certainly in the immediate term. There is, by the way, as part of the Cancun agreement a review period between 2013 and 2015 where the various new inputs from science are supposed to be considered. Those are going to include the actual work of the review internal to this COP process, but also there will be a new IPCC assessment report by that time, and doubtless a lot of data that keeps coming in from the field.

And, you know, one never knows, maybe that in the light of developing science and developing events that there are some countries who decide to do more in the sense of actually changing their actions or targets. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any, that doesn't mean that there aren't any other things that could be done. And it certainly doesn't mean that the United States is not going to be taking actions to meet its target, and if we can go beyond the target in terms of what we actually achieve, obviously that would be fine and good. And there are other gases that aren't even the focus of this convention where action can be taken. There's other things that can be done.

But fundamentally at least for any near term and horizon I don't see any major players changing what they put in after all just, you know, less than two years ago.

MODERATOR: Thank you.