COP21 Press Availability with Special Envoy Todd Stern

Press Availability
Todd D. Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Paris, France
December 2, 2015

Mr. Stern: Thanks very much. I’m pleased to see you all on my first press briefing here for this COP, and I guess the first full day after the interesting day of leaders being here on Monday and then a little bit still on Tuesday. So work is, people are getting down to business and work is going on now across a broad range of issues.

We have been busy over the past three days. President Obama joined more than 140 heads of state on the first day in pushing for a strong and meaningful agreement. The President had, I think, a very interesting period here. He had important bilateral meetings with China and India, as well as with five island states -- PNG, Barbados, Marshall Islands, St. Lucia and Kiribati. Secretary Kerry and his colleagues, Secretaries Jewell and Vilsack also made clear that addressing climate change is a top priority for the U.S.

A number of initiatives were announced as well. We announced our intention as part of the so-called Mission, now I’m forgetting -- Mission Innovation. Sorry. An actually really interesting initiative under which 20 countries under the initial leadership of the U.S., India and France are going to double their R&D budgets over five years. And married up with that pledge, Bill Gates led a group of over 25 very substantial private investors who will be putting together a private sector component of that overall initiative to help commercialize research and development ideas that are produced.

We joined our Indian partners in support of the Indian Solar Alliance which is a major clean energy initiative announced by Prime Minister Modi.

We were also part of an announcement of $248 million -- $51 million from the United States -- of additional funding for the Least Developed Country Fund, the LDCF. A very important announcement. There is a backlog of about, or a group of projects that have been looking for funding in the LCDF of around $250 million, so that announcement over a period of a few years will be very helpful in clearing that backlog. And yesterday in a meeting, that same meeting that I referenced of heads of state of the island countries, the President announced $30 million from the U.S. in contributions to three regional risk insurance funds including the largest amount for the island states.

We are off to, I think, a good start. We have issues across the range of areas in this agreement that are still challenging, but we come here with a great deal of positive momentum produced by 184 INDCs that have been, targets that have been produced by countries so far. That is an extraordinary number, way beyond what I think anybody could have imagined a year or more ago.

Let me at this point take questions from you, and we can get going.

Press: Will Mauldin with the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for having us.

I just wanted to ask about the mechanism for renewing the INDCs or renewing the emissions pledges you know every five or ten years. I guess that’s a big deal when that begins, because according to some scientists there’s not much time left for the world.

But would that be 2020 or 2030? Is there a divide on that between the U.S. and other countries that’s emerged in some of your talks?

Mr. Stern: I’m not sure I’m hearing the question. Is it, give me that again. It’s a little hard to hear.

Press: I’m just wondering about the mechanism for countries renewing or ratcheting up their INDCs, their emissions pledges, when that might begin and whether there’s a divide on that. If you could kind of explain what that is.

Mr. Stern: Sure, thanks.

Right now most countries have put in targets that are covering the ten-year period from 2020 to 2030. The U.S. has a target to 2025. So does Brazil. So do a few other countries. We originally decided on a 2025 target because from our point of view that would enhance ambition. But there are, again, a great many countries have targets to 2030.

I think there are two issues and they’re joined that are relevant with respect to Will’s question. One is the notion of there being successive rounds of contributions that countries put forward. I think there’s broad convergence around the notion that there absolutely do need to be successive rounds of contributions. Otherwise we would be looking at a kind of one-off agreement. I think that’s not what people have in mind. It’s certainly not what we have in mind, and I think, as I say, I think there’s broad convergence on the notion that we are looking at a durable lasting agreement, and so necessarily there would need to be subsequent rounds of contributions.

There is also the notion of a periodic review. I think that countries are increasingly thinking of a five-year review and I think two different things might be going on at that five-year period, depending on the country. For the United States, each five years we would be doing a new target. Again, we would hope that more and more countries join us in that regard and that certainly in the post 2030 period you would see countries doing actual new targets every five years. But even before that time, we would want to see an every five-year review, so that countries are either at that review period, either putting in a new target, or they’re looking at -- or they’re in the middle of a target period that’s ten years long and they’re taking another look at their target to see whether it ought to be increased. That’s still going to be a nationally determined decision, but it would take place presumably after what will also be a global stock-take, an aggregate stock-take of how countries are doing against our global goals such as two degrees.

So a global stock-take every five years, and in the context of that global stock-take a review of targets.

Press: Lisa Friedman from Climate Wire. Thank you.

Two questions. One, can you comment on the GOP effort yesterday in Congress to gut the Clean Power Plan, aimed at putting a damper on the Paris negotiations? Has that made your job any harder here today?

Also on legally binding. Can you explain. Does the U.S. object also to language ensuring that it will put in place policies to reach its target? Or do you just object to having the target itself legally binding? Thanks.

Mr. Stern: Thanks, Lisa.

So with respect to the Clean Power Plan, I don’t actually think that has much of an effect here, the Congressional Resolution that you’re talking about. I think it produces questions, so I have had countries ask me about it. But what I have said is that the Clean Power Plan rule is going to go forward. The Congress has passed resolutions under the law that allows Congress to disapprove of regs, but that will not ultimately prevail. The President’s not going to accept such resolutions and we are entirely confident that the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Power Rule will go forward. And so to the extent that I’m asked -- I’ve been asked once or twice -- I just explain that.

With respect to your second question, give me the second question one more time.

Press: [Off mike]

Mr. Stern: Oh, that question, your second question goes to the notion of whether targets are going to be legally binding, and we’ve made our position clear all year long that we support an agreement that’s legally binding in many respects, including the elements of accountability of the agreement, the requirement to put forward a target, to do it with information that clarifies it, the obligation to report and be reviewed on your inventories and the actions you’re taking in order to meet your target. Any number of rules and so forth. So a whole number of elements that are legally binding, but not the target itself.

We are quite, not only are we quite willing, but if you look at our INDC you’ll see that we’ve actually done the job of identifying policies that are either regulations or laws in the U.S. that underpin our target and we’ve made it quite clear to people that we are more than happy to -- we would expect to continue to do that and I would be happy to have the right kind of language in the agreement making that clear.

Everybody talk up, because I have to tell you, I’m having a little trouble hearing the questions. So thanks.

Press: Seth Borenstein, Associated Press.

Earlier today a senior Indian official said that they would be willing to reduce carbon emission from coal plants with more money for renewable energy. I assume this is outside of the Indian solar agreement. One, a response to that. How much can be made and how important is that offer?

Mr. Stern: Well, I understand your question to be that there was a statement by the Indian delegation saying that they would reduce emissions from coal by way of increasing renewables.

Press: With help. With financial help.

Mr. Stern: With help, okay.

Obviously we support the notion of India greatly increasing. Prime Minister Modi has made pledges that are quite, enormously impressive really, with respect to the development of renewable energy, solar, wind, and renewables beyond that. Actually the total of what he has pledged is 175 gigawatts by I think it’s 2022. But in any event, in a relatively short period of time which is an enormous pledge.

We provide assistance to India. We invest in India as many other countries do, so we think that’s -- we certainly want to work with our Indian partners to encourage and to help -- to encourage exactly what they’re trying to do and to do our best to help them realize that.

Press: Andrew Resduccia with Politico.

After the meeting yesterday with the island nations, do you see a clearer path or more convergence on what exactly we’re going to see on loss and damage and can you maybe elucidate us on that point?

And secondly, is there a specific year that the United States is pushing to submit the next sort of successive round of INDC? Is it not 2020? Is it a different year?

Mr. Stern: Thanks, Andrew.

On loss and damage there are ongoing negotiations on this. We have made it clear that we are supportive of the concept broadly speaking. We’ve also made it clear that we are not at all supportive of and would not accept the notion of liability and compensation being part of that.

So there are, as you could expect at this point in the negotiations, there’s lots of conversation going on back and forth, people suggesting different kinds of language and we are having a quite active and, I think, very constructive conversation with various islands, including the President’s meeting yesterday. So I think that we are making progress. I think that’s a conversation that will continue for a while.

With respect to the year, so really your question is at what point will the U.S. submit its target for 2030. And I guess I don’t know that exactly. I would expect it would be in the early 2020s. It could be 2020, 2021, 2022, I mean it’s not going to be 2028, but I don’t think there’s anything decided on that at this point.

Press: Thanks very much. Alex Morales with Bloomberg News.

You’ve mentioned some amounts of finance already that have gone to different funds this week. But when we speak to developing country delegates, finance is a thing that comes up again and again as sort of a Gordian Knot that ties everything together.

I was wondering if you could tell us how are you going to ease their minds that you’ll deliver on your promise on the $100 billion? And especially with problems you might have in Congress to appropriate the $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund.

Mr. Stern: I’m really sorry, there’s something with the acoustics here that are really hard. So the question is on finance and is it a difficult issue here and are we going to have trouble in Congress? Is that sort of the gist of it?

Press: Pretty much.

Mr. Stern: Okay. I’m sorry. I’m doing my best, but it’s hard to hear.

I think the finance, there are two elements to finance in this negotiation right now. One is the pre-2020 finance question which essentially involves the effort of donor countries to meet the $100 billion pledge from all the way back in Copenhagen in 2009. That is, I think, not a conceptually difficult issue. That’s mostly a matter of the funding getting progressively put in place. I think that we are well on the way to meeting that pledge. There was an OECD report that was prepared at least in October, in the context of the World Bank IMF meetings. It was a report put together on the basis of quite conservative methodology and showed that on the basis of 2014 numbers we are around $62 billion, probably a little bit more than that. There have since that time been a number of pledges made both by individual countries including Germany, France, UK, for example, and by various multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and so forth to put more money in.

I think if you look at all of those pledges plus what the OEC already totaled up, as well as some additional funding that the OEC didn’t include because they hadn’t quite worked out the methodology yet. We are getting -- we’re at a pretty high number, both where we are now and where we’re projected to be over the next few years. So I think that part, I think, is under pretty good control. And again, I don’t think there’s negotiation issues as much as just providing confidence that we are on a good track.

The other finance question is what happens post-2020 and that is a live and open conversation. We have made clear that we support ongoing robust financing. We made that clear in our bilateral, the Bilateral Joint Statement between President Obama and President Xi in September where we agreed on the notion of continuing to provide robust financing in the post-2020 period in the context of the same kinds of criteria that were present at the, in connection with the 2009 pledge. Funding from all sources, all channels, in the context of strong mitigation and transparency. And also we made clear in the China statement that it would be in the context of an expanded donor base where countries who were in a position to do so or other similar words, would also be encouraged to provide funding. And China, by the way, at that same meeting announced that they were putting together $3 billion through a fund of their own, the so-called South South Fund. But for climate change. Part of climate change funding which we think is great and we applaud it.

There are also eight developing countries that have made pledges to the Green Climate Fund.

So this notion of an expanded donor base has already happened. It’s out there. It’s happening right now. We just want to capture that in whatever agreement that we do.

Congress. The discussions about appropriations for this year, the budget discussions very much a live proposition. The U.S. pledged $3 billion over four years to the Green Climate Fund, which by the way is quite consistent with our history of having pledged $3 billion to a kind of forerunner fund, the Clean Investment Funds that were started under President Bush.

In any event, we pledged that amount for this year. We’re seeking $500 million and I hope we get as close to it as we can, but we don’t know yet.

Press: My name’s Gerard Wynn. I’m writing for Climate Home.

Given what you said at the beginning about investment in innovation, the entrepreneurs and the United States as well, would that make an alternative do you think to more problematic approaches like carbon pricing following the innovation route? Think tank innovation?

Mr. Stern: Would the innovation announcement do what to the notion of carbon pricing? I didn’t --

Press: Can this be an alternative approach to cutting carbon emissions?

Mr. Stern: Okay, got it. Got it.

I don’t think we see it as an alternative. Look, basically this whole exercise that this agreement is part of and that our efforts are part of, whether internationally or domestically, is to accelerate the transformation of the energy base of the global economy from high to low carbon. That’s the exercise. That’s what this agreement is about fundamentally. That’s what our action at home is about fundamentally. That’s what the President’s commitment is about in the United States and leaders all over the world.

So we have a lot of technology that is available right now on the shelf. It can be used more -- it’s being used and can be used more to drive emissions down right now. But to get where we need to get, we need more. That’s something that our leaders understood, that’s something that Bill Gates and his colleagues have understood, as well. So R&D, research and development, and basic research and development, is an absolute core driver for what we’re going to have to do not just this year or next year, but over the course of the decades ahead to get the kind of reductions that we need to get.

So I think that that R&D announcement really is one of the biggest things that’s going to come out of this COP. I think it’s an enormously important step-up by countries, 20 big countries around the world, developed and developing, and the very significant private investors. I think it’s a tremendous step.

That doesn’t change the fact that there still are policies and rules of the road that need to be put in place. We have been doing that with respect to things like the Clean Power Plant Rule, the whole set of rules that apply to our transportation system, to the equipment and appliances in our buildings. Some countries are putting in place carbon pricing such as the Cap and Trade program that China’s putting in place. So these are either explicit or implicit forms of pricing carbon and that also has to be an ongoing part of the equation.

Press: [Coral Davenport]: Thank you.

Can you talk about the talks that you’re having with China, particularly on verification and the specific things that you would need to see from China on verification moving forward?

Mr. Stern: I’m not going to talk about specific conversations with China so much. Let me just talk more generally about the issue.

The transparency, some people refer to this as MRV -- Monitoring, Reporting, Verification. In these talks the term of art has more been transparency, but it’s the same idea. And it is an enormously important part of this agreement. I would say it is a core part of this agreement. It is a part of this agreement that we expect to be, we certainly support it being legally binding. And it is the accountability element of the agreement.

So we have 184 INDCs, that’s great. I mean it’s more than great. It’s an absolutely unbelievable start when you think about what anybody could have anticipated. But you need to be able to give everybody in this arena confidence and trust that those INDCs are getting carried out. And this arena meaning the countries in the negotiations, but also civil society and observers all over the world. That when the U.S. says it’s doing X or China or Brazil or South Africa or Europe are saying they’re going to do X, there’s a way to track that the X is happening. That’s what this is about.

So there are essentially three main components of this system that I think are crucial. One is inventories. They’re the building blocks. Countries need to do inventories. This is a system that will need to ramp up over time. Some countries do very strong inventories, some not yet. But this a piece of the equation that is going to -- that needs to get solidified and improved upon.

There is also reporting on the actions that countries take with respect to all of the policies that underpin their targets. That reporting needs to be done not just on the basis of this is what we’re doing, but this is the progress we are making towards the target that we took. That exists right now with respect to developed countries. It does not exist with respect to developing countries in the existing transparency arrangements. So that’s very important.

And then there needs to be a review. There again, there is review now. There’s review potentially by expert teams that are put together by the UNFCCC, by the Secretariat. That needs to continue and it needs to be bolstered in some cases. Those elements put together, done right, can provide the sort of confidence and assurance, verification and the rest that we need.

Right now we have a bifurcated system -- one way for developed countries, another way for developing countries -- and what exists for developing countries I should say is an improvement over the last number of years. It’s an improvement over what existed before. So this is not meant as any kind of criticism. It’s actually been moving in a better direction, but it needs to move in a still better direction and we are strongly supporting the notion of having one system, one umbrella that covers everybody with all appropriate flexibility built in for countries who need it on the basis of their capacity. And obviously countries are in all different development stages, all different levels of capacity, so we understand that. We don’t think anybody should be asked to do what they can’t do. But on the other hand we want to be ramping up and moving in a positive direction. And with the kind of capacity building support that countries need in order to be able to do the right sort of inventories, to do the right sort of reporting, and we’ve actually -- we are actually putting forward a proposal in that vein. And interestingly, in what I thought was a very good, I must say, a very good and very interesting bilateral meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, the Prime Minister actually suggested exactly this kind of thing, of a capacity building effort to help developing countries do exactly the kind of reporting you asked about, Coral. So we explained that we have actually been working on exactly such a proposal, and I hope that we can work with the Indians on that. But we will be working with many countries to that effect.