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 7, 2011

MR. STERN: Thanks, I have very brief remarks at the top. We are -- negotiations are continuing, there is a lot of activity. I think about the only thing that's obviously different from the past days is that there's now pretty much a full complement of ministers from all the various countries here in Durban. Negotiations going on, on both the Kyoto and what happens in the future question. And all of the issues relating to the implementation of the Cancun agreements.

 So let me just take your questions. Thanks.

QUESTION: This morning the head of the Guatemalan delegation just asked the question, I wonder how many people in the world must die before people come to an agreement. What would be your answer to him, sir?

MR. STERN: Well, I wouldn't give that answer. I appreciate the concern and obviously the very heartfelt concern behind that question. And this is -- we all understand that this is a big, important issue that affects an enormous number of people, and it's going to affect a larger and larger number of people as we go forward. So there's an imperative for countries at the national level to take action and for the international process to be as effective as possible. So I think we're well aware of that.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Green Climate Fund, some of the details, discussions going on there. Asking you to particularly reflect on the debate going on around the governance structures, whether it's from the UN or it's an independent board. Also that debate going on about the sources of finance, whether it's public or private. And just finally, the demand by the BASIC countries for -- not to walk away with an empty shell, whether that's likely to occur, and the pressures that are being placed by the global economic situation on that.

MR. STERN: Sure. Well, I actually think that the Green Climate Fund negotiations are, in the scheme of things, going pretty well as I understand it. The focus of the negotiations at this point is not on the underlying instrument itself which was completed in October, and is, I think, in the range of 15 pages or so. I'm not sure of the exact number of pages, but it's a substantial document.

The negotiation right now is over the covering decision that the COP will adopt, and there are -- it's not long, probably less than two pages. There are -- I think there's agreement on many of the provisions, probably still two or three that are being discussed. But I think that there is good progress on that issue.

I think you asked a question about whether there would be an independent board. I think the answer to that is yes. The design of this fund -- rather like the existing financial entity that relates to climate change which is the GEF -- there is design, there's intended to be a fair amount of independence. The language of the underlying treaty, the underlying framework convention is that the financial entities are supposed to operate under the guidance of, but not under the authority of the COP, and I think that's exactly the way it's been designed. The board hasn't been picked yet, but the board is intended to have a fair amount of independence, but again be taking policy guidance from the COP.

You asked about public and private finance. They're both going to be important. We don't believe in prescribing specific percentages. I think that there is a vastly larger pool of private capital in the world that's potentially available if the right kind of mechanisms can be put in place and the impediments that exist right now to even more private financing being devoted to infrastructure in developing countries. If those can be addressed through government, public policies, and instruments and so forth, so that's a big challenge, and I think that's one of the key focuses, but there should be as much public money as there possibly can be. There's no doubt about that.
In terms of the notion of the so-called ‘not having an empty shell’ -- of course there shouldn't be an empty shell, but I don't think most donor countries, I'm not sure if there would be any donor countries who are prepared to put money in yet, since there isn't quite any place to put it in yet. I mean, assuming that the instrument is approved and we get going, you don't have the thing set up yet, so you will still have actually quite a number of more technical operational details that will need to be worked out by the board. So I would expect that most donor countries will be waiting to have the thing actually up and running with the staff and an executive director, and the more detailed operational guidelines fleshed out before contributions get made, but that will be up to countries.

QUESTION: Mr. Stern, I'm wondering if you can just give us a little bit more detail: how much money do you foresee being in that Green Fund. I know that I've had it explained to me, and you've said it, there's a separate [changes thought] -- the $100 billion applies to a long term finance plan. That's separate from the Green Fund, correct?

MR. STERN: Yes, if the Green Fund gets working the way we hope it gets working, it will be a very important channel, one of the channels through which some of that $100 billion will flow, but it won't be the only channel.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea of what the resources should be in the Green Fund?

MR. STERN: In the Green Fund? I don't really. I mean, I think it's going to depend on contributions from all donor countries, and I don't want to hazard to -- it would really be a guess for me to say how much would be in it. I recollect back when we had -- I think I mentioned perhaps yesterday or the day before that we gave a platform to Mexico back in the spring of 2009 to talk about the Fund at that time, and in the Major Economies Forum meeting. And I think the Mexicans at that time kind of had in mind maybe a figure in the range of $10 billion, but I don't think that is actually relevant now because that was before there was any $100 billion commitment. So, I tell you that by way of information, but I would not suggest that -- I am not suggesting or predicting that $10 billion is the right amount at all. I can't -- I don't know what the right amount would be. I am just for information's sake telling you what the Mexicans at one point said.

QUESTION: You have said that the Indian position is that there cannot be any binding commitments, and you have said there should be unconditional binding commitments. So, where is the meeting ground, and what have the ministers been saying in meetings with you?

MR. STERN: Your first comment was about what the Indian minister said?

QUESTION: The Indian minister, yes, she is saying that there cannot be any binding commitment on the part of India.

MR. STERN: The truth is that there are -- I would not say that there is a conflict between us right now. We are not insisting on legally binding agreements at the moment. You know -- I would point out, I would just sort of observe as an interesting fact if you look over the last quite a number of years at when was the time that the most actual progress got made with respect to real action in climate change. I would argue strongly that it was last year when you had commitments last year, you know, sort of the two years of Copenhagen and Cancun put together, I suppose.

But, where you had commitments by countries amounting to over 80 percent of global emissions being made and an agreement to a transparency system, which is supposed to be set up this year through guidelines. Not to mention the Green Fund, the Technology Center, and Adaptation Committee and so forth. And I would argue that precisely one of the things that unstuck the previously stuck negotiations was the fact that it wasn’t legally binding. It is politically and morally binding. That was an argument that was made back in 2009 by the then-president of the COP. And nobody takes COP decisions lightly. After all, they are decisions made under legally binding treaty in the first place. But the fact that it wasn't, allowed countries like India and the United States to both act. And so, we're not arguing that there needs to be a legally binding agreement. Many people are, but that doesn't include us.

We are also not saying we, you know, there is no circumstances under which we could do it. But you are pointing to what I said about the circumstances under which we could do it. Those are not consistent with where India is at right now, or China, or Brazil, or any number of other countries, and so our view is that is fine. I mean, that's reality, and that's why we tend to say that the conditions are not really right yet for that kind of agreement. But I don't have any quarrel with India at all. In fact, we work quite closely with them on a whole range of issues, including technology, and transparency, and a whole number of things.

QUESTION: Mr. Stern, how does the United States view the two degree target set down in Cancun? Do you consider it something to be rock solid, something which should not be surpassed? I wonder, for instance, if in your conversation with delegates you've used the words aspirational to describe this two degrees. Is that true? Have you used the word aspirational at all?

MR. STERN: Look, I don't know -- let me tell you what I think. Whether I've ever used the word aspirational, I couldn't begin to tell you. I don't remember all the words that I use. But I will tell you the way we look at it, which I think is consistent with the way many countries look at it and different from the way some other countries look at it.

I think that we look at two degrees as an important and serious goal which ought to guide what we do, which ought to guide the action that we take in order to try and attain it. That is -- so it's important, it's serious, and it's a guidepost I would say.

That is still different from looking at it as an operational cap that you must meet, and that if you, you know, see yourself off of it based on science, then you have some kind of mandatory obligation to change what you're doing, whether you're in the United States, or Europe, or China, wherever you might be.

I think you have -- I mean, I think as we look at science, and we see the trajectories, it ought to inform our sense of what needs to be done. It might well cause us or anybody else to say, jeez, we need to do more. But we don't see it as akin to a national target. That's -- I mean, it's a nuance but that's the difference.

QUESTION: It's actually just a couple of questions. I'm just trying to get some clarity on the U.S. position. First, has the U.S. agreed to the operation of the Green Climate Fund, reached some sort of consensus on that? And also, we had the negotiating text which came out earlier today with four options -- four legal options for going forward. I'm wondering if the U.S. has offered any clarity, if you can tell me which one of the options is closest to the U.S. position and which ones you support?

MR. STERN: Well, I'm not quite going to answer the second question. I mean, just because I don't -- I try not -- I love to come talk to you every day and to tell you what I can tell you, but I don't actually want to negotiate with you, so -- or through you, rather. I know I wouldn't be negotiating with you, but I don't want to negotiate through you.

I have talked about our views on legally binding agreements, and I can briefly restate it which is that, you know, we -- for us any agreement that would be legally binding needs to bind all the -- at least all the major players in fundamentally the same way or at least with the same legal force, and would also need to embrace the concept of the 1992 division of countries can't be eternal, it's got to evolve.

And on that point, you know, I'd like to maybe just note one other concept which is -- I'll come back to the Green Fund in a second -- but a concept which is, you know, a constant feature of climate negotiations, which is the phrase which you've probably heard, ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, and the whole phrase is actually ‘and respective capabilities’. Very important last two words which are 90 percent of the time dropped out. But they're actually very important because they capture the concept that as countries develop and as countries become stronger and more capable economically, it's understood that they will be expected to do more.

We have actually never had a problem with the concept of CBDR with the RC, as we think it's properly understood, which is to say there is essentially a continuum of responsibility that countries should have depending on how developed they are. That's as distinguished from the more common interpretation, which is that it amounts to a firewall between one set of countries and another set of countries as set in 1992, even though it's radically inconsistent, at this point, with the state of countries' development economically and in terms of emissions. So just a little digression on CBDR.

On the Green Climate Fund, it's not that we have -- there's a negotiation going on right now to finalize the covering decision. I have a fair amount of confidence that this is going to get done in a positive way. We are very supportive of the Green Fund, we have been very supportive of the Green Fund since the beginning. The first time we heard about it was from Mexico in early 2009. I don't have any reason to think that we're not going to be supportive of the Green Fund. But there's a negotiation still going on, so we'll let it get finished.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

MR. STERN: Thanks everybody.