Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing on the Opening of the COP-22 Climate Conference

Special Briefing
Jonathan Pershing
   Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Mark C. Toner
   Deputy Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 7, 2016


MR TONER: Hey folks. Happy Monday. Just as a precursor, or at the top of briefing, we thought it would be useful, since today marks the start of COP-22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, if we had our special envoy for climate change come and brief you on some of the expectations for that conference. Jonathan Pershing is with us today, and he’ll be able to give you, as I said, an overview of the conference and then answer a couple questions.

With that, Jonathan. Thanks.

MR PERSHING: Thanks. Thanks very much, Mark. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks to everyone.

So 2016 is really an historic year on the climate change issue, on the climate change front. Over the past few months alone, we’ve seen a number of major events that have occurred. First and foremost, the Paris Agreement itself entered into force. The technical date of entry into force was on Friday, just past Friday. That was 30 days after 55 countries and at least – representing at least 55 percent of global emissions had signed onto the deal, had joined the agreement. By the way, since the 55 threshold was met, we’re now just over 100 countries. So it’s really continuing to grow quite rapidly.

But at the same time, over the course of the year, we’ve had a number of other major agreements. We agreed in Montreal on an agreement on civil aviation, for the first time in history capturing some of the emissions from international civil aviation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. And the second is an agreement that was reached in Kigali in Rwanda, also in October, in which we’ve agreed to phase down substances called hydrofluorocarbons, which also are major greenhouse gases, and look for substitutes that replace those.

So the meeting starts today. It’s actually just begun in Marrakesh, Morocco. So we’re seeing significant movement on that front. And it’s much smaller than Paris. About 15,000 representatives will be in attendance, compared to almost 50,000 in Paris. But it’s got a couple of large-scale activities that are going to be undertaken.

The first bucket is actually taking cognizance of and moving forward politically based on these political agreements – the entry into force in Morocco, the Kigali agreement on Montreal Protocol gases, and ICAO. There’s a huge political momentum; entry into force now really shapes the agreement and the structure.

The second is the movement and aggressive acceleration of the timetable on the detailed development of rules and regulations and guidance that come out of the Paris Agreement. We’d originally thought those would really be postponed for some time; there was going to be a five- or a six-year process. The very rapid entry into force has changed the dynamic, and we now anticipate we’ll have those concluded by 2018. So a very rapid acceleration of the work, of the technical guidance and detail.

And the third is this is a Conference of the Parties around implementation. We finished the big framing of the negotiation in Paris; now it’s the implementation agenda. And we’ll have experts, including our secretary of energy who will be there, but experts from across multiple sectors, agriculture, forestry, people who deal with water – the impacts of climate change as well as ways to reduce emissions that cause climate change. And that elevation will be a chance for CEOs, for ministers, for academics to all elevate and frame what we can do and to move from this negotiating phase into an operational phase.

And that’s going to occupy us for some time, and we should be very clear the risks and damages of climate have become more apparent in the last year as well. And this is going to be a race as we try to work on the problem and solve the problem before those damages become so significant that we can’t do so so easily anymore. So this is a major shift in where we’ve been, moving from these negotiating rounds into an implementation round.

So with that, happy to take questions that people might have around what’s going to happen and where we stand.

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: We were on a background call with some officials last week about COP-22, and there was some discussion, I think, about zero carbon emissions in the United States by 2050 as a goal. I’m just wondering where that comes from. Is this something the United States is looking to do multilaterally, or take the lead on that particular issue?

MR PERSHING: Okay, thanks very much. No, there is no formal goal for 2050. What there is though is an agreement that’s contained in the Paris – the Paris Agreement itself that calls for countries to develop what are called mid-century strategies. The United States is working on ours. We are hoping to conclude it and complete it before the end of the year. And in that, we will be looking at a variety of scenarios where we can do significant global and U.S. reductions in emissions. It’s not around a particular target number; it’s around trajectories. How can you do these radical reductions? The President has indicated that we would at least be working to an 80 percent reduction by the year 2050.

QUESTION: So where does zero carbon (inaudible)?

MR PERSHING: I don’t know who put that out there. That’s not us.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR TONER: Any more questions? Have we exhausted you already? (Laughter.) Okay.

MR PERSHING: Thanks.

MR TONER: Thanks so much, Jonathan. Appreciate it. Take care.