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

Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Durban, South Africa
December 8, 2011

MR. STERN: Hi, thanks everybody. I would actually like to make a couple of comments on the top today, specifically to address one point. There is a misconception running around and kind of gaining currency -- they way these things do -- that was exemplified in a report I saw in the press this morning, sort of attacking the United States for proposing to delay action on climate change until 2020, and I’ve heard the same thing from a variety of other sources, including people who should know better and I was actually, I just gave -- every head of delegation gives a plenary statement of a few minutes in the course of the days -- and I’ve had the distinction of being heckled by somebody who was, who had the same misconception. So I just want to clear that up.

It is completely off base to suggest that the U.S. is proposing that we delay action until 2020. Let’s stop and think what’s on the table over the next number of years. For one thing, countries -- whether it is the U.S., China, the EU, India, Brazil, whoever it is, and many, many other countries not in the category of majors -- are going to be working hard to implement targets or actions that they committed to in Cancun.

We are in the international context going to be, hopefully, and I believe that this will be the case, rapidly setting up the Green Fund, rapidly setting up the Climate Technology Center and Network, setting up the Adaptation Committee, among other things. We will also be working hard to ramp up the funding that is supposed to reach a 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. There’s a ton of work to be done in the years. We have been doing a lot of work on this, this year, and we will be continuing to do that as are many other countries. And all at the same time, if we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for -- the EU has called for, that the U.S. supports -- for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don’t know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.

Take all of those things together; it’s nonsense to suggest that what we are doing is proposing a kind of hiatus in dealing with climate change until after 2020. So, I just wanted to make that clear because, after I heard it about the fourth or fifth time in the last few days, and again I’ve heard this from everywhere from ministers to press reports to the very sincere and passionate young woman who was in the hall when I was giving my remarks. I just wanted to be on the record as saying that, that’s just a mistake. It is not true.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the U.S.'s position on including bunker fuel language in a Durban agreement, and as part of that question also, can you give us an overall update on any U.S. objections to the Green Climate Fund drafts as they stand now.

MR. STERN: Well, on the Green Climate Fund, I don't have a specific update to give you on this or that phrase in the covering decision. I know that it has made a lot of progress. I think it's an area actually which is among the most advanced in the negotiations. I don't have any reason to think that that's not going to conclude. I think a lot of good work has been done by all parties in bringing it to the place it's at now, but I'm not going to get into what few elements remain, but I think that's going to get done. I'm confident of that.

On bunkers, look, I think there's been good work done by the high-level finance group that Ban ki-Moon pulled together a year or two ago, and a lot of work being done on potential sources of finance, and again as I have talked about in these sessions before on what I think is really the most important effort, which is to find the right ways to mobilize to use government funding and policy to mobilize private capital to invest in green infrastructure. On bunkers, I don't really have a comment on it. I think that it is an issue, which is complicated from both a substantive and political standpoint. The IMO -- International Maritime Organization -- is the body that is charged with regulating international shipping, certainly with respect to broad issues involving shipping, that's the right place. And by the way, with strong support from the United States, there was a quite important action taken in the IMO in the, I can’t remember the exact date, last two or three months, where a new standard was agreed to -- an efficiency standard for engines that is designed to reduce greenhouse gases among other things -- but on bunkers as a source I don't have any other comment.

QUESTION: The young woman, the Middlebury student, Abigail Borah, said we need an urgent path towards a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty. Mr. Stern, as you pointed out increasingly at this conference, the perception is that the U.S. is blocking any substantive progress towards legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sixteen CEOs of environmental organizations in the United States said the same thing, that the U.S. is becoming the major obstacle here. Can you talk about the perception, as you've described it, of time out until 2020 when many of, for example, the African nations and the Island nations are talking about, they could be seeing very serious devastation. You yourself just pointed out there is a growing consensus here that the U.S. is blocking progress in any kind of serious commitment to a legally binding mandate here.

MR. STERN: Well, okay -- so I will try to repeat what I said a minute ago on part of your question, then I'll take the other part. But it's not a time out. I mean, it's not remotely a timeout. We reached an important agreement last year. We reached an agreement, which although it is not legally binding, it is a COP decision under a legally binding treaty, which is very serious and which covers more than 80 percent of global emissions as compared to a Kyoto agreement, which people are hoping will cover something in the order of 15 percent this year.

It’s got nothing to do with the time out. What is embedded in the Cancun agreement is so much more meaningful in terms of potential emission reductions than anything that is in Kyoto that there is no contest.

So, I think again that that's a misconception plus, and I won't repeat everything that I just said a second ago about all of the various actions that are going to be taken promptly including the negotiation -- first the preparatory work and then the negotiation of a new regime which, you know, the EU has called for roadmap. We support that and we’ve -- I talked with the EU at length. I have also talked with my friends in -- from the BASIC countries and others. I mean, if there is a misconception, then it would be a good idea for the word to get out that it is just not accurate.

Now, it is also not accurate to say, to describe the U.S. as blocking a legally binding agreement. What we are saying -- we, in the first months after I came into this job, we made a proposal. You can look it up if you’d like in -- to the secretariat, to the COP -- for a full, legally binding agreement. We've got the whole thing in the record, which calls for a legally binding agreement that would actually apply to all the major countries and cover the emissions that need to be covered if we are going to have a chance to solve this problem. That is what we proposed. That is exactly where these negotiations ought to be going. That is exactly where the international climate effort ought to be going. I mean, you can run around and pretend that behind this firewall, you are going to take 30 or 35 percent of global emissions and fix the problem. But you know what? You're not. So what the U.S. has been doing over the last two years, with all due respect, has been showing the leadership necessary to try to drag this process into the 21st century.

QUESTION: What is your [words indistinct due to poor audio]...

MR. STERN: Let's go to the next person.

MODERATOR: We don't have too much time, so I'm going to take a next question, please. I'll take a question from the woman right here in the colored shirt, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Todd. You know, in a way to follow up, the Cancun agreements also called for keeping to two degrees. So, if as you said, countries probably are not willing to change their targets that they submitted just two years ago, what then is the plan that the U.S. is offering? What are the thoughts that the U.S. is offering to take what all these studies say is not going to keep us to two degrees and get us there?

MR. STERN: It's a good question, Lisa. Look, I think that all you can do -- first of all I think there will be -- it's completely legitimate to look for additional measures that may get you additional reductions over and above what has been put in the targets of various countries. And we will be doing that in various ways. I don't think as a matter of realism any of the major countries -- and again I keep saying major, in this case I think it's not necessarily just major but countries who put in submissions for various kinds of targets or actions -- just two years ago are likely to do a whole new round at this point.

There is a review called for in Cancun from 2013 to 2015. It may be in light of that review, certainly part of the theory of that review was to be able to take stock kind of midway into the, into this Cancun period, if you will, to see in light of the new science, in light of not just that review but the review that the report -- the assessment report that's going to come out from the IPCC -- whether there should be efforts to increase what's already being done.

But beyond that, remember 2020 is not the whole picture here. We're talking about a time that goes out to 2050, and by the way 2050 is not the whole picture. We're talking about an ongoing time period. So the important thing, really the most important thing that countries have to do is to take steps to progressively transform the energy base of their economy. You need to use less energy through efficiency and to develop renewable energy sources more and more to the point that they get to what's called grid parity, so that standing on their own they actually become sources of energy that can compete with sources like coal and so forth, fossil fuels.

And it is a very good thing to have those fossil fuel sources priced the way they ought to be, to have a price on carbon. That's what we were trying to do with our legislation, it didn't pass, but that kind of legislation obviously is in place in Europe, and hopefully it will come into place more and more.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you talk for a minute about how the U.S. sees or whether the U.S. sees the need for compliance measures in a post-2020 regime, and if not, what would be in place to prevent backsliding on pledges?

MR STERN: I think that sort of depends. I think we do not see -- we don't have, again, a conceptual opposition to compliance measures. We were quite instrumental in writing the compliance measures that ended up being in Kyoto. The issue for us is going to be that it should be a common system by that time. So there will need to be measures in place, whether they're compliance measures or not compliance measures, there will need to be certainly a review system and a monitoring system like the one that we're setting up. That will need to be in place for all the major players at least.

Whether compliance -- I mean, if there's compliance that presupposes that it will be a legally binding agreement, so again you'll need all the elements that would need to be in place for that. If there's a legally binding agreement and everybody is in, then you might well have compliance measures.

In addition, obviously, we shouldn't forget that with respect to the mandatory measures that the United States enacts, there is the strongest kind of compliance which is compliance at the national level. Thanks very much, folks.

MODERATOR: Thank you.