Remarks at Climate Week

Todd D. Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
New York City
September 28, 2015

Thank you to Mark Kenber at the Climate Group for putting on this event. Thank you as well, Stephanie.

Two years and three days ago, I took this podium to talk about where we stood halfway into a four-year global effort to negotiate a new international climate agreement. I explained that we had spent this initial period in a conceptual phase of outlining what the elements of a new accord would be, and that we were making some progress. Now we are two months and two days from the start of the Paris conference, and the culmination of this effort.

So today I want to share with you some observations of where we’ve come, where we still need to go, and what is at stake in achieving a successful outcome in Paris.

First, though, I want to take a moment to discuss what has been going on in the United States in recent years under the leadership of President Obama. I may be biased, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find another leader who has been more personally engaged to such striking effect than our President.

The Clean Power Plan will, cut power plant emissions in the U.S. some 30% by 2030 and save over $50 billion in climate and health-related costs in the process. The power sector represents a third of U.S. emissions. Fuel efficiency standards are in the midst of doubling from 27 to 54 miles per gallon, and transportation represents another third of our emissions. DOE has issued a raft of efficiency standards for the equipment and appliances that make buildings run. And EPA has now begun the process to slash methane emissions from oil and gas by 40 to 45 percent, and is cutting our own use of HFCs, even as we press for a broader HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

Meanwhile, the President is making valuable satellite data freely available all over the world to help protect vulnerable countries. He also recently became the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic and witness climate impacts there firsthand. And he has now, in the space of 10 months issued two highly important Joint Statements on climate change with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reflecting ambitions, actions and targets by those two countries.

In all this, the President has been backed by an extraordinary team – including my immediate boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, who brings with him a 25-year commitment to fighting climate change; Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, a man of thought and of action, who came to the Department to drive the transition to a clean energy economy; Gina McCarthy, our tough EPA Administrator, who is using all appropriate regulatory authority to hasten the low-carbon future; and John Holdren, the President’s world-class science advisor.

Now let me turn to the business at hand. I am asked, frequently, what we are trying to achieve in Paris and why it will matter in the effort to combat climate change. Here’s my view: Paris, if we succeed, will mark a fundamental pivot:

A pivot to a genuinely ambitious, universal and durable climate regime, which we have never had before;

A pivot to sustainable multilateralism, in which the Parties to the UNFCCC turn a corner toward working constructively together rather than in two opposing camps;

A pivot toward worldwide engagement on climate – from civil society and the private sector to government at all levels. We will not yet be at the inflection point from which emissions head downwards, but will have taken a crucial and necessary step toward that point.

Well-intended people who say Paris won’t mean anything because the initial targets aren’t as ambitious as we would like them to be or because the legal character of the agreement is mixed rather than pure are, in my judgment, missing the forest for the trees.

A monumental undertaking is at hand. A monumental undertaking. We will either succeed in accelerating a fundamental transformation of the energy base of the global economy and avert the worst effects of climate change, or we will fail, to the benefit or detriment of our children and theirs. A great deal of this effort will be driven by national governments, subnational actors, enterprising businesses, creative scientists and engineers, and an enlightened global public that demands its leaders take heed and take action.

But all of this depends upon a belief that world leaders have finally come together and aligned themselves in a global regime that will push us onward and upward to confront climate change together. Countries will not do their best unless they see their partners and competitors doing the same, unless they see themselves engaged in a race to the top, and unless the salutary pressure of leaders leading pushes all of us forward.

So let’s get started. Let’s not miss this opportunity. The stars are more aligned now for an historic, universal agreement than they ever have been.

We need an agreement for the decades where ambition ramps decisively up the path to global deep decarbonization.

We need a strong, unified transparency regime of reporting and review so everyone can see how we’re all doing.

We need to elevate our focus on building resilient societies and addressing the impacts of climate change.

We need to work together in a partnership to mobilize the capital and investment we need for low-carbon, climate-resilient development.

And we need to build a system of forward-looking differentiation that drives us all ahead in the battle against climate change, while ensuring every country’s capacity to choose its own path.

So let’s work together. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. And let’s get this done.

Thank you.