Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Trip to Vienna

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
July 21, 2016


MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us today this afternoon. We’re fortunate to have with us to speak with you on background about tomorrow’s meetings and visit to Vienna, Austria – we’re pleased to have with us [name and title withheld]. [Senior State Department Official] is already in Vienna, has been in Vienna all week and – where [Senior State Department Official] has been working at the special high-level negotiating meeting of Montreal Protocol and [Senior State Department Official] is going to be able to hopefully explain to us non-experts, myself included, just what’s at stake, why the Secretary is going to Vienna, and what we hope to accomplish with his visit there.

So without further ado, I’ll hand it over to [Senior State Department Official]. And again, a reminder that this is all on background. Thank so much. [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, and good afternoon everybody. [Moderator] is right that there’s some explaining to do on the challenge I face is trying to get you through this without using too many acronyms. What I would like to do is read a brief opening statement and then open it for your questions.

Can everyone hear me okay?

PARTICIPANT: Yep.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Okay. Last December, countries of the world spoke with one voice in adopting the Paris agreement, and for the first time, we have an ambitious, durable climate regime that is fair, applies to all countries, and moves us beyond the outmoded categories of developed versus developing countries. Since Paris, the world has not wasted any time in shifting to implementing that agreement. The swift action by so many nations of every size and economy is a testament to the undeniable momentum coming out of Paris and a definitive signal that there is no going back. This momentum is spurring not only swift action on the Paris agreement but clear progress in other fronts on our collective move toward the clean energy economy and a low-carbon future. The United States is currently participating in talks in Vienna under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to make progress on a hydrofluorocarbon phasedown amendment to be adopted this year. Hydrofluorocarbons are referred to HFCs. The HFC amendment is one of the most consequential and cost-effective actions we can take this year to implement the goals of the Paris agreement. HFCs, which are used primarily in refrigeration and air conditioning, are potent greenhouse gases. A phasedown amendment could avoid up to half a degree Celsius of global warming by the end of this century.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is recognized as the most successful global environmental agreement, and it has been universally ratified. It was designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. HFCs are intentionally manufactured fluorinated greenhouse gases, which are used as replacements for those ozone-depleting substances. Like the ozone-depleting substances they replace, most HFCs are very potent greenhouse gases.

Tomorrow is the opening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, otherwise known as an EXMOP – E-X-M-O-P. This is only the third EXMOP in the nearly 30-year history of the Montreal Protocol. The parties are convening this rare EXMOP to focus solely on the proposed HFC amendment because of how crucial it is that we reach agreement on the amendment this year.

We, the United States, would love to be able to adopt the amendment this week in Vienna, but more likely, we will use our time here to make measurable progress in negotiating the amendment. So we will then finalize and adopt this October in Kigali, Rwanda at the regular meeting of the parties.

Secretary Kerry has a longstanding personal interest in the Montreal Protocol and has been passionate in his support of phasing out ozone-depleting substances for years. He is personally committed to adopting an ambitious HFC amendment this year, and his presence, in addition to that of administrator – EPA Administrator McCarthy, signals the dedication of this Administration to build upon the Paris agreement by seizing opportunities to highlight and address climate change.

Secretary Kerry looks forward to working with his fellow ministers to build momentum and encourage them to adopt an ambitious HFC amendment that avoids up to half a degree Celsius of global warming.

Thank you, and I’ll take your questions.

MODERATOR: Great, we’ll turn it over to your questions now. Thanks so much for doing that explanatory session there, appreciate it very much. But [Senior State Department Official] will take some of your questions, so over to you.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll now begin the question and answer session. Since the call is fully interactive, please state your name, your organization and media outlet, followed by your question. Please go ahead.

Again, today’s conference call is fully interactive. If you have a question, please state your name followed by your organization or media outlet. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Lesley Wroughton for Reuters. Can you hear me?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I can. Thank you. Hi.

QUESTION: Okay. Hello. Other than Secretary Kerry going to be there, which other high-level officials are also attending?

And other than the discussion on the Montreal Protocol amendment, what other issues do you see him taking up, if any, in this session?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. For the United States, as I mentioned, in addition to Secretary Kerry, we have EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. For other countries, because this is an extraordinary meeting, we have ministers from about 30 different countries around the world, including Canada’s environment minister, including the European Union’s commissioner for energy and climate change, and including, as I said, numerous ministers from Europe, from Latin America, from Africa. And in particular, we also have the environment and natural resources minister from Rwanda, who is the next host of the meeting in October where we plan to finalize the amendment.

Your second question was what else would be discussed at the meeting?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is there anything else that you think could arise at the meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – this extraordinary meeting that the Secretary has attended is being preceded by a working group-level meeting on a broader range of issues under the Montreal Protocol. But I don’t think any of them rise to the level of significance and attention of this particular amendment, and as I said, the high-level meeting was scheduled solely to focus on this amendment.

QUESTION: And what is the – just to be clear, what is the U.S. position on the amendment, and any other things that you’re wanting to take up with them during the session?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The U.S. has, jointly with Canada and Mexico, an amendment proposal that we have put on the table. Our goals are to achieve an agreement which has a early freeze date, an ambitious phase-down schedule, and a – basically something that works for all parties so that countries can implement the transition from ozone-depleting substances to climate-friendly substances in a cost-effective way.

It’s important to note that the goal here is a phase-down of HFCs, not a phase-out of HFCs, because we anticipate over the 30 years that we’d be phasing these down that there will still be some critical uses that HFCs might still be needed for.

Many countries are concerned about how much time they would have to implement the amendment, what financial assistance would be available, and whether there are enough alternatives to HFCs for them. So those are some of the issues also in play as countries negotiate the timeline and other conditions around this phase-down.

QUESTION: I’ll give my colleagues a turn to ask.

QUESTION: Hello.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hello.

MODERATOR: Hello. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, this is Nicolas Revise from AFP, Agence France Presse. Sorry if you mentioned it earlier, but could we say without any doubt that thanks to the Montreal Protocol the ozone hole is definitely recovering?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would refer you to a study that came out just a couple weeks ago. A June 2016 study in the journal Science did credit the Montreal Protocol with helping to close the hole in the ozone layer, and the Montreal Protocol’s scientific assessment panel estimates that implementation of the protocol may allow the ozone layer to return to its preindustrial level by sometime between 2060 and 2075. So the success of this protocol is in turning the corner and putting us on the track to healing the hole, but it has not been completely healed yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], may I just jump in again if nobody else – what is the situation as far as the financial support on – tied to reducing the HFC? Can you explain that to me?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. One reason that the Montreal Protocol has been an effective agreement is the establishment of the Multilateral Fund, which countries donate to, which is then used to help other countries implement the phase-outs of ozone-depleting chemicals over time. The parties have agreed that the Multilateral Fund will be available also for helping implement the phase-down of HFCs. And we and other donor countries have indicated our intention to provide additional resources to that fund upon the adoption of an amendment.

QUESTION: And you’re still on track to do that? And how much is that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The amount of money that would be needed is going to depend in part on the contours of the amendment that is agreed – frankly, on the level of ambition that countries achieve. There is a regular process that the Montreal Protocol has followed for years of its technical experts advisory panel once they know what the obligations are, costing out what the amount of money is needed to go into the multilateral fund. So that’s not a question that I can answer up front, but there is in place a mechanism which over the last 30 years has worked to enable countries to implement the controls that are agreed to.

QUESTION: And also, the meeting is going to agree on these schedules to reduce the – do you expect that to remain the same, or are there any hiccups?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?

QUESTION: So the meeting’s also going to agree on schedules for countries to reduce it. Can you see any changes to that? Or as far as I understand, that that meeting would set – would lay out the timetable for a country to reduce it. Is that still on track?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the – this meeting is – I think the goal of this meeting is to get as far as possible, but it would – while it would be a wonderful outcome, I don’t think we expect to complete the negotiations here in Vienna. We expect and hope that the parties will narrow the issues and reach agreement on some elements so that we are on track to finalize the amendment when parties reconvene in Kigali in October.

So there have been over the last several days rich discussions around the baseline, the freeze date, and the phasedown schedules, but it’s – it remains to be seen whether those could be resolved by late Saturday night.

QUESTION: And countries – this is my last question – that countries like Saudi Arabia have pushed back at some of this. Are you – are there any signs of more cooperation from that side?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have sensed in the negotiations a much more constructive atmosphere than we had last year leading into – well, last year, the last meeting of the parties was in Dubai last November, where they agreed to the schedule to work toward this amendment this year. We have seen in recent months most parties have come here to work constructively toward an amendment. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some significant differences in positions, but many delegates feel the momentum to adopt this amendment this year and, as I said, it’s a very different atmosphere.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. I think we have time for just one or maybe two more questions, if there are any.

QUESTION: I guess one more on Kerry. Just – I mean, he’s – you’ve said he has a personal interest, but do you think that him being there will make any difference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I do. I do. The Secretary’s presence sends a strong signal that an HFC amendment is an urgent priority for the United States and for the world. It will give countries notice that this is an issue that deserves their high-level attention. There is a lot of interest in him coming, and it – I think it increases the sense of momentum around this effort. The Secretary’s personally engaged for a long time. He’s familiar with these issues. And so, as he’s able to do in other areas, we anticipate that he can actually engage very substantively if that’s called for.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: If I may, can I ask a question?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure

MODERATOR: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. Quickly, could you please address the concerns from the developing countries? Will they be – will there be a priority that the Multilateral Fund that you mentioned be given to the transition by developing countries? Because the HFCs, a lot being used in the refrigerator, and so they need a transition.

And then a second question. A climate change advocacy group has estimate that 100 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent will be prevented from entering the atmosphere over that – by 2050, and can – if a rapid HFC phasedown is achieved, and then up to .5 degrees C will be prevented. Do you share the same estimate? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. I’ll take your second question first. We do share the view that this – if an – an ambitious amendment would (inaudible) up to half a degree of warming this century. And the amount of tons that would be kept out of the atmosphere – one way to think about that is it’s the equivalent to almost 300 coal-fired power plants per year. So it’s really significant. The developing countries’ concerns around the Multilateral Fund – the Multilateral Fund is available only to countries who fall into a category known as Annex 5 countries, which basically correlate with countries who need financial support.

MODERATOR: Great, if there’s no other questions, I think we’ll stop there. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much, [Senior State Department Official], for really trying to explain and clarify what is indeed a complex issue, but an important one.

QUESTION: [Moderator] --

MODERATOR: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can we ask you anything – is the Secretary meeting with anybody else in Vienna?

MODERATOR: To my – my understanding, he may have some bilats on the side, on the margin of meetings in Vienna. But his focus is primarily on – obviously on the Montreal Protocol extraordinary session.

QUESTION: Okay.

MODERATOR: Yeah. But if there’s any other details I can provide on that, and I’ll let you guys know.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, thanks.

MODERATOR: Yep. Great. Thanks, everyone, for joining us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I look forward to seeing you in Vienna tomorrow.

MODERATOR: Great, bye-bye.

QUESTION: Thank you. Bye.