Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Travel to Paris

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
December 4, 2015


MODERATOR: Thanks so much, and thanks to everyone for joining us both on this call and next week at the COP21 conference in Paris. Just to give us a little bit of an overview of the week, we thought it would be useful – we’ve got two people joining us, two State Department officials who will henceforth be known as Senior State Department Official Number One, who is [Senior State Department Official One]. And then secondly we’re joined by Senior State Department Official Number Two, [Senior State Department Official Two].

So, realizing how busy everyone is, I think I’ll just at this point hand it over to Senior State Department Official Number One.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Thanks a lot, [Moderator], and thanks to the reporters on the line. Just maybe two minutes off the top to set the scene for you here in Paris in terms of what you’re walking into. Obviously, President Obama and Secretary Kerry made a big showing here early this week, making clear that the U.S. objective in Paris is to secure an ambitious, durable climate agreement that involves all countries. We’re looking for an agreement that’s fair, that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand and building resilience to the impacts of climate change on the other. That includes strong transparency and accountability measures so that you understand what countries are doing to reduce their emissions and whether they’re on track to meet the targets that they have set for themselves. And of course, the agreement also needs to ensure strong ongoing financial and technical support for countries that need it.

Since the President and Secretary Kerry departed Tuesday midday, we’ve gone into full swing in the negotiations. There are a lot of issues in play, and as is usual for these negotiations, there are various iterations of the negotiating text. The latest version was just released early this morning. Countries are working through this new draft text now. It is one of what we expect will be a few more iterations as we go forward through this week and next week. This text is rather long and complex. It is pretty far from where we ultimately want to go, but it does represent an important step forward, and it’s heartening that countries are all agreeing to work on it.

Maybe just a few seconds on the key issues in play – transparency and accountability, long been a priority for the United States as a bipartisan priority. We’re pushing very hard on this, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to get a good agreement on that. Finance provisions, also quite central to this deal. Not a lot of progress has been made there so far. This remains the central issue for the negotiation. And then a cross-cutting issue among a lot of different issues is the question of differentiation – that is how countries with very different capacities are expected to act.

So a lot going on. In terms of process, there will be a transition tomorrow when the co-chairs that have been managing the process for the last year will pass the baton to the French presidency, who is managing this conference. The French presidency will take the negotiations from Saturday afternoon into next week. They will appoint ministerial facilitators to manage all of the key issues. There are a number of political and technical issues that remain live, and they will work to find landing zones over the course of the days to come. The French aim to close the negotiations late on Wednesday. To be clear, that’s much earlier than usual for a conference of this nature where we go late into Friday or the weekend.

Upon Secretary Kerry’s arrival, he will engage with ministers to try to find ways to create movement on the key political issues. So he’ll have a pretty intensive schedule of bilateral meetings to try to find landing zones with other friends and allies. And, of course, he will take part in a host of other engagements that [Senior State Department Official Two] will talk with you about now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One]. So, as [Senior State Department Official One] laid out the sort of day-to-day of the Secretary’s participation with the negotiators. He’ll also be participating in several public events, really to highlight his engagement on climate issues writ large and specific aspects of the climate challenge that he believes a call to action is worthwhile and that they – these stakeholders in particular can really help catalyze the solutions needed to the overall climate agreement and help put Paris into practice in 2016 and beyond.

So when we arrive on Monday, it’s a lovely overnight flight that we’ll all be on. And so we’re going to keep a fairly light footprint, but we’ll be – that afternoon he’ll be speaking at a Mashable/UN Foundation Earth-to-Paris Summit. This is a two-day event, and he’ll be doing a one-on-one interview with Mashable’s environment and energy editor, I believe, Andrew Freedman. And that’ll be – and he’ll also do a Facebook chat in advance of that as well. And this is really just talking about sort of overall -- his reason for the second trip back to Paris, what he’s hoping to see come out of the agreement and overall climate engagement to a livestreamed audience of global citizens and NGO and civil society leaders.

Then the next day, on Tuesday the 8th, we’ll be starting at a breakfast on oceans where it’s hosted by the UN Foundation, and it’s an oceans-themed breakfast. As many of you may know, the Secretary’s been deeply committed to ocean issues, hosting the first Our Ocean conference last year, and then Chile hosted the second follow-on Our Ocean conference this year. This conference was really focused on action platforms, whether it’s creating marine-protected areas, catalyzing finance, both public, philanthropic, and private finance into ocean conservation; whether it’s illegal fishing, ocean conservation, or ocean acidification. So this breakfast among ocean experts and others will really be an opportunity for him to, again, bring this nexus of oceans and climate change closer to resiliency to the forefront as part of his footprint in Paris.

Later that afternoon we’ll be heading out to the conference site itself. It’s called Le Bourget. This will be the first time for many of you we’ll be at the Le Bourget venue. And he’ll speaking – giving opening remarks at the Caring for Climate Business Forum. This is with – hosted by the UN Global Compact, UN Environment Program, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s secretariat. The UN Global Compact is one of the largest UN-led business organizations and collectives out there, and it’s really just a – it’s a forum talking about where the private sector plays in helping support solutions on climate change. And this is really a business type-focused and investor-focused audience. This is a good follow-on to the Secretary’s October 20th and 21st Climate Investment Forum that he hosted here in Washington that had convened about – oh, I think about 300 or so leading climate investors and clean energy investors talking about solutions in the space. So it’ll be a chance for him to reiterate and highlight again the role that the private sector plays in the post-Paris environment.

Then a couple hours later still at the conference venue Le Bourget he’ll be giving remarks at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the CCAC, which is the acronym for that. It’ll be both him and Administrator Gina McCarthy, who will serve as the U.S. representative for the CCAC during their event that day. The CCAC really is looking at the non-carbon dioxide gases. As you know, carbon dioxide is one of the largest pollutants on the greenhouse gas side of things, but there are also non-CO2 global warming pollutants as well. This includes methane, hydrofluorocarbons, ozone-depleting – which are a type of ozone-depleting substance, as well as black carbon. So the CCAC is an opportunity for him to talk about the non-CO2 gases that are really critical in the fight against global climate change.

Then Wednesday – Wednesday we’re kicking off the day with – the International New York Times is hosting the Energy for Tomorrow Conference in Paris, and the Secretary will be sitting down with – on an interview with Tom Friedman to discuss energy for tomorrow, basically – the clean energy solutions, the technology piece, and really focused on the energy side of the house and where we see the opportunities are there.

Then later that day, he’ll be giving a speech at the conference site itself, Le Bourget, and both – basically, it’ll be his major address. We really wanted to keep his footprint focused on the negotiations and a couple of his key issue areas, and so we’re really just saving his high-level remarks for these remarks at the conference venue focused on both the negotiations, where we stand, as [Senior State Department Official One] said, it’s still – it’s only week one; a lot of changes can happen between now and then. And so really to highlight some of the key areas of disagreement but also areas for the landing zones that we want to see everybody reach as well as shed a little light on what 2016 and beyond looks like and to provide some guidance on what his vision looks like in a post-Paris world.

Then Thursday and Friday are really where, I guess, the rubber hits the road in terms of negotiations. Ideally, as [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned, this is now going into the sort of action stage and trying to get this agreement to close on Thursday and Friday. So we’re leaving right now the days fairly open for him to be more flexible regarding bilateral meetings, phone calls back to capital, with his foreign minister counterparts that are not in – at – in Paris, and others.

So that’s, so far, the footprint for his participation next week.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks, [Senior State Department Official One] and thanks, [Senior State Department Official Two], for that rundown. We have time for some questions if you have them. So, Operator, if you could go ahead and set those up if there are any.

OPERATOR: Certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. Our first question comes from the line of Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Good morning. First of all, just – you were saying that the – or there’s a general feeling that this is – I know that the U.S. wants an ambitious climate agreement, but you seem to be saying that you might not be getting that. What exactly are the biggest stumbling blocks, and where do you think – what are the last remaining issues you think are going to be left on the table that the Secretary would have to play a role in to kind of move it forward?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s a great question. We remain cautiously optimistic that we will get an ambitious climate agreement here in Paris. We’re still in early days. I think the most pivotal substantive questions that will remain on the table are the three that I highlighted up front, which are transparency and accountability – I think there may be some question about the nature of the reporting and review that countries go through to assure their neighbors and trade partners that they are doing what they said that they would do.

On the technical level, I think we have ironed out much of those details by the time the Secretary arrives, but there may still be some political conversations to be had.

On finance, that, of course, is a perennial issue in these negotiations, and I would expect that that will go until the end. And there, there are a number of questions, but in our view the issue is how to best mobilize resources both from the public and private sector to help countries in need, the poorest and most vulnerable in particular, to reduce emissions and to increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change. There are a lot of issues still in play in that negotiation, and the Secretary’s engagement may be needed there.

And then finally, as I mentioned, the cross-cutting issue of differentiation and how different countries’ obligations are characterized in this agreement with respect to transparency, with respect to finance, with respect to emissions reductions and building resilience in particular.

QUESTION: So are you still talking about the carbon tax, the issue of trying to agree on some kind of a carbon number here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I – the question of a carbon tax is not directly on the table here in these negotiations. There are conversations about how to ensure that those countries that are engaged in emissions trading, the trading of units of reductions in emissions, what rules and guidelines they might be governed by going forward. But that’s a conversation between countries that have already decided for themselves to take that approach to addressing climate change.

QUESTION: Okay. And you would say that the issue of favoring a five-year review period, is that the one that the U.S. endorses?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

MODERATOR: Great.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. We --

MODERATOR: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead, [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I was going to say one more word on the five-year review period. We want an ambitious agreement. When we say that, we mean that countries should come back in – around 2020, maybe 2021, to put forward the next round of commitments. For the United States that would be 2030 because our current commitment is for 2025. And we would hope that countries that currently have a 2030 commitment would examine whether, in the light of five more years of technology development and political will, they might be able to do something more ambitious at that time. So we want to keep countries coming back to the table.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 at this time. We have no further questions.

MODERATOR: All right. Well --

OPERATOR: Oh, actually we do. I apologize.

MODERATOR: No worries.

OPERATOR: Okay. We have another question from Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. Please, go ahead.

MODERATOR: Lesley, you’re dominating the conversation here, but that’s okay.

QUESTION: I used to cover climate. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: But I’m going to keep it broad.

MODERATOR: Go ahead,

QUESTION: Well, I think the one thing that – the big thing that always stopped these negotiations is this issue of the – who’s going to fund it. Do you think — how far are you in that discussion? And do you really think that you can close that deal this week?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So you’re right. That is – that is perennially one of the big issues. And like with the question of who reduces their emissions, that was a big issue in Copenhagen. This is a big issue here. We’re trying to shift the paradigm from one of developed countries only providing public assistance to a broader paradigm where all countries are engaged in a partnership together to try to mobilize resources both public and private, because without that there’s no way that countries will be able to transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.

That said, we remain committed to fulfilling our responsibilities under the convention. We remain committed to mobilizing substantial financial resources, both public and private, including from innovative sources of finance. And we are trying to provide that reassurance to countries while we are also talking about a number of other issues more broadly that are quite important including phasing down support for carbon-intensive investments. You can’t, on the one hand, support green investments and carbon-intensive investments through subsidies and expect to get very far in addressing climate change.

We also are talking about the importance of mobilizing domestic resources and encouraging investment from the private sector in countries, and we’ve seen very promising developments from a number of countries in that respect over the last several years.

So your – the second part of your question about expectations of progress, if by “this week” you mean by the end of the conference, I do think we will see substantial progress. I think we will see a deal on this issue. The exact parameters of that are still up in the air.

QUESTION: Last question: Is the Secretary the only foreign minister who will attend, or are the others coming?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely not. There are many foreign ministers in attendance. I --

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know the exact list, but I would say probably more than 20.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And not our place to provide, but thanks – to provide that list, but appreciate your response.

Great. If there is any more questions – if not, we can wrap it up and look forward to seeing you all on Sunday.

OPERATOR: We do have a question from David Clark from AFP. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, just a technical thing. I’m just checking on the ground rules for this. Are we using it immediately?

MODERATOR: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: Cool. All right.

MODERATOR: On background, obviously.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MODERATOR: Yep. Cool.

QUESTION: All right. Great.

MODERATOR: Great, guys. Thanks to our two participants, and appreciate their input and overview. And thanks to all of you for joining us. And as I said, we’ll see you all Sunday night on the flight to Paris. Great.

# # #