COP21 Press Availability with Special Envoy Todd Stern

Press Availability
Todd D. Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Paris, France
December 4, 2015

Mr. Stern: Hi everybody. It’s good to see you again.

Let me start, we got a new text today at around 10 o’clock or so. We are still reviewing it. I don’t have a great deal to say about it substantively yet. I’ve gone over it once. What I will say is that at this stage in the negotiations what we’re looking for is a text that we can work with, not something that obviously we agree with in every respect.

The co-facilitators have been working on this for a long time and it’s their best judgment, this text is their best judgment of how to move things forward. So it’s certainly not the agreement that we’re looking for in any number of ways, but we do think it’s a step forward.

I would also say that in the many conversations that I’ve been having with individual countries and country groups of all sizes and shapes, we are very encouraged to see what I might call a high ambition coalition emerging here. It includes many countries. It does not include everyone. From my conversations over the last few days it is clear to me that a great many countries want a strong ambitious agreement. We are certainly in that camp. We’re committed to take the tough decisions needed to get there, and I think at this point we are particularly focused on getting that kind of a strong agreement that is not watered down and that does not kind of go to a lowest common denominator or a minimalist agreement.

So with that, I’m happy to take questions.

Press: Mariette Le Roux, I’m with AFP.

It is said that the new text option that was introduced last night into the adaptation finance part of the agreement was proposed by the United States and I wanted to know why that was done. What is the thinking behind that?

And secondly, I also would like to understand the insistence on the introduction of language on countries in a position to do so or countries willing to do so.

Thank you.

Mr. Stern: Thank you. My understanding about the finance paragraph with respect to the adaptation is that we are in favor of having the various finance paragraphs in the finance section of the text just as a matter of organization. So I don’t think it was a lot more complicated than that.

If you look at the new text that has come out, there are certain finance paragraphs that pop up in mitigation or pop up in adaptation and we think -- And my guess is that this is the way things will go, that those will migrate into a finance section just so it’s more well organized.

In a position to do so is a –- so basically the idea is that historically developed countries have been the donor countries with respect to financial assistance. That will certainly continue. At the same time there have already been any number of developing countries that have started to become contributors in their own right. There are eight developing countries that have contributed to the Green Climate Fund, for example. China recently made a very impressive announcement when President Xi was visiting President Obama in Washington, that they were going to put $3 billion into their own climate fund, what they refer to as a South South Fund, but for climate assistance.

So there is language that is part of the draft text that would say in essence developed countries are going to do X, Y, Z with respect to financing; and others in a position to do so, or words to that effect, are encouraged or invited or something which, it’s still voluntary. There’s no requirement. But that essentially recognizes that there are more advanced developing countries that have already started to contribute and we think that’s a good thing and they would be encouraged to do so. But it’s, again, I would stress it’s voluntary. Some people over-read it or read it actually incorrectly to think that we’re talking about some new obligation. We are not.

Press: Thank you for calling on me. Yian from Tashi Media in China.

My question is how do you convince your developing country colleagues that the U.S. will fulfill its responsibility under a partially legally binding agreement that leaves the target itself out? When the context is certainly your Congress is opposing two climate change proposals such as the $3 billion dollar to GCF and the Clean Power Act. In other words, what are the shifts currently on U.S. negotiating tables?

Another question is, I would ask that you have been emphasizing the transparency in [inaudible], but in some countries’ views it might actually be intrusive, especially in terms of verification. How would you convince them?

Thank you.

Mr. Stern: Thank you very much.

I think that we are doing a pretty good job of convincing countries that the United States is taking a very ambitious posture in what we are doing on climate change at home. The President has really done an extraordinary amount by and large using existing legislative authorities such as the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence Act that allow regulations to be put in place under those laws.

So the President has a major regulation that is just coming on-line that would regulate the entire power sector, which is about a third of our national emissions. He put in place a number of years ago an also extraordinarily ambitious regulation to regulate the entire vehicle sector so that the miles per gallon of our light duty vehicles, cars and light trucks, is in the process now of moving from 27 miles per gallon where it had essentially been stuck for two or three decades, from 27 to 54. That’s rolling. That’s happening. The power plant rule is coming on. We have about 30 different mandatory clean energy standards that have been promulgated by the Department of Energy that affect all the appliances and equipment that make buildings operate. Buildings are another probably third of our emissions.

So in one big sector after another the Administration is acting forcefully and all of these things have come on. The power plant rule is the most recent one. There will be, there always are, challenges from people in Congress and other places that don’t like to see EPA regulate, but EPA has an extraordinarily strong record of prevailing against any of those challenges. So I think that we’re going to be in very strong shape and I think most people see that.

With respect to your question on transparency, transparency is an enormously important part of this agreement. Really, one of the central parts of this agreement.

If you think about the fact that we have 184 targets that have been put forward, which if you step back for a minute, you need to take a moment to realize that that is an absolutely extraordinary number. It’s virtually all the countries here have put forward their targets. It covers I think 94 percent of global emissions, something like that.

So the transparency regime is the thing that will allow everybody to have confidence and trust that others are acting. Everybody refers to other countries in this process. It also refers to civil society and the press and think tanks and everybody else who is interested and cares about this issue. So transparency is vital.

We are proposing with respect to that area, just as was true with respect to mitigation, a regime where countries are encouraged to do the best that they can, but are not expected to do more than they can. So we have not pushed for an intrusive system, but we are pushing for a responsible and strong system.

So we’re very mindful of the concerns of countries, for there to not be an intrusive system. It’s a matter of striking the balance. And I think that we’re striking the balance in a good way, and I think we’re making progress.

Press: Thank you, Lisa Friedman from Climate Wire.

Can you explain where the United States is on the 1.5 degrees? If you have concerns, explain what the concerns are. And do you feel like the U.S. is moving on that issue?

Mr. Stern: Thanks for the question.

The notion of some recognition of the importance of holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is a matter of great importance to many countries around the world. The island countries, for example, are maybe chief among them but there are many countries who have that concern.

The global goal that has been endorsed in these talks over the years is 2 degrees centigrade. So the goal has been to hold the rising temperature to below 2 degrees.

But we are in active discussions with the islands and others about finding some way to represent their interest in having 1.5 degrees referenced in some way. So we haven’t landed anywhere yet, but we hear the concerns of those countries, we think those concerns are legitimate, and so we’re looking for an appropriate way to deal with that.

Press: Dean Scott, Bloomberg BNA.

A question on loss and damage of, staying away from what the U.S. position is or is going to be at the end of this COP. Can you talk a little bit about what we know about loss and damage and what the U.S. thinks needs further development on that issue? For example, if there’s an extension of the Warsaw Framework or some work plan. What is it the U.S. would like to see in that work plan?

Mr. Stern: Thanks for the question.

Again, this is an issue of high importance to many countries and has been I think pioneered and promoted in the first instance by the islands. We were a supporter of dealing with loss and damage in an effective way back in the 2013 COP in Warsaw, and it was at that time that the so-called Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage was established and we helped establish it. We helped write it and work with the islands and others to set it up.

So we are a supporter of the so-called WIM. In the last couple of years, it has sort of gotten itself set up. It has an executive committee now. It has a work plan that was decided upon. And it focuses on the three pillars. One is educational and kind of learning; one has to do with cooperative dialogue among countries; and one has to do with financial support. So those three pillars.

And I think that we understand and we support the recognition of loss and damage as an important issue. We are in favor of support, financial, technical support going to countries for loss and damage. There are various mechanisms that include things like risk insurance and other things that can help countries who are exposed to those kinds of concerns.

There’s one thing that we don’t accept and won’t accept in this agreement and that is the notion that there should be liability and compensation for loss and damage. That’s a line that we can’t cross. And I think in that regard we are in the exact same place my guess is with virtually all if not all developed countries. This is not a U.S.-centric position, but it is a position that is important for us.

So we’re working I think in a very cooperative and constructive way right now with both the islands and the G77 on developing an outcome or a solution here. Also working with the EU. There are many players in this, but we have been I think very, well I know, very engaged on this issue.

I might point out that the President met with the leaders of five islands when he was here still on Tuesday morning. So from the President on down the U.S. is quite focused on this issue, and I think that we’ll land it.

Press: Hi. James George with Envirobeat.

At the beginning you said this isn’t exactly the deal we want but we needed to compromise and accept something. Could you elaborate at all on what you would like? What the differences are between what we’ll get and what you’d like? Thanks.

Mr. Stern: Did you say your name is James Joyce? Oh. I was going to say, that’s a hell of a name. Sorry.

Well no, I didn’t say that we’re not going to get the deal we want. I hope that we get the deal we want. I just said that --

The way these processes work, there is an iterating series of texts that come out over the days that one spends at a COP, and this is now the second text that’s come out in two days. It has shrunk from I think 33 pages that was the length of the text of the agreement when we got here. To this one is 19, so it’s moving in the right direction.

But no, all I’m saying is there are plenty of things in this text, again which I have not studied closely but I read quickly, that we won’t like and that we don’t like. There are many options in there so you can see there’s an option that we like, there’s an option that we hate. I mean that’s the way it goes.

So I’m definitely not projecting to say that this is an agreement we’re not going to like at the end. I have high hopes that it’s an agreement that we will like at the end.

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

Todd, do you expect the deal to refer to carbon pricing or a global price on carbon? And how important is that to the U.S.?

Mr. Stern: You’re asking whether I think that there will be language on such a thing in the agreement?

I don’t know, Alex. There has been language, I’m actually not even sure if there is language on that in this most recent draft. There may be. There certainly has been language on that in earlier drafts.

You know, explicit carbon pricing is something that we tried to do, the President tried to do in the first two years of the Administration with the cap and trade legislation which made it through, halfway through the Congress but not all the way. The kinds of regulations that are part of the effort that we have undertaken are a kind of implicit price, I suppose you could say. But, you know, I think we’ll just have to see where it goes. You’re asking whether I think that language will end up in the agreement and I honestly don’t, I don’t have a feel for that one. I just don’t know.

Press: Steve Curwood here from Living on Earth, Public Radio.

Two questions for you. One to follow up on my colleague from Bloomberg. Would you like to see carbon pricing legislation? Would the U.S. like to see carbon pricing language in the agreement that’s expected to be reached here?

The other question for you is how are things going with India? A couple of weeks ago our Secretary of State said that India would be a challenge. A little more Kumbaya being sung now?

Mr. Stern: I’m a Kumbaya kind of guy.

I don’t have anything more to add on carbon pricing. I mean I know the President’s interest in this was, again, I think demonstrated when we first started. There’s an overall political reality in Washington, and I think the President has worked extraordinarily effectively, really amazingly effectively if you think about it, within the political reality on climate change that exists in Washington.

So, I don’t want to speak for him right now. He has supported it in the past. It has not been doable for some number of years. He has worked in all sorts of ways to put this extremely vigorous economy-wide potent program on the ground.

I don’t -- I haven’t done a study around the world, but I would question whether there’s any country that has moved more aggressively across the board than we have under the President’s leadership over the last few years. So I would say that and don’t have anything more to comment on here.

With respect to India, we have a very very strong history of working collaboratively with India and I think that that is going on right now. I think the most striking meeting was the President’s with Prime Minister Modi. I was in that meeting on Monday and it was an extraordinarily rich exchange, very substantive. The two leaders have a tremendous rapport which is great to see. And the President is very substantively tuned into this issue and wanted to talk substance, and did. And Prime Minister Modi was every bit ready to do the same, so it was a very good conversation.

I have had four or five meetings with Indian counterparts in just the last week, so we’re working really quite intensively and I think in a businesslike and constructive way. I mean I understand where they’re coming from, I think they understand where we’re coming from. The art that goes on here is to try to find solutions that are both substantively effective and that both sides can go home and be comfortable with. So we’re in that process, and I have nothing but respect for the Indians.

Press: Sarah Gadon, Green Cities Blue Waters Blog.

In regards to the spirit of compromise as the ADP passes the text along, can you speak a little bit about the bridging proposal for Article 2.2 that was proposed by Mexico and others, that if the U.S. will be supporting that or not?

Mr. Stern: You’d have to tell me which, what are you referring to specifically?

Press: The human rights focus specifically --

Mr. Stern: Okay. I have not studied the specific reference. We support a solid, strong human rights reference in the agreement. I don’t know whether I support the Article 2.2 reference as it appears in the current text because I haven’t looked at it, but as a general proposition we support human rights reference in the text. We support gender rights reference and gender empowerment reference in the text, and a number of related ones. But yes, on human rights.

Press: Thank you, Todd. Karl Ritter from AP.

When this process started there was still a lot of talk about having a legally binding treaty with legally binding emissions cuts, a Kyoto-style, top-down approach. Now you don’t hear so much about that. Some parties still talk about it. But it seems that the process has moved to a -- what you initially called the pledge and review system.

Do you think that the U.S. approach has prevailed in these discussions when it comes to that?

And also, some people ask me if it is a pledge and review kind of system, voluntary, without teeth, how can we be sure that countries live up to their commitments?

Mr. Stern: Thanks for the question.

Maybe a few comments. First of all, I am certain that pledge and review never came out of my mouth. So somebody said that, but not me. I guess I can’t be certain because maybe somebody’s going to go find a quote, but that’s not typically the way I refer to it. Nor would I refer to it as voluntary and without teeth.

Look, here’s the reality. In Durbin in 2011, four years ago, the countries of the world decided to, and entered into a mandate based on the negotiation of a new agreement that is applicable to all the countries. At the moment that you have an agreement that is applicable to all countries, you cannot engage in the same kind of negotiated back and forth over targets that, for example, happened in Kyoto where the most fundamental negotiation that took place there -- and I was actually there, a long time ago -- but was between three parties -- the EU, the U.S. and Japan negotiating each other’s targets. You just can’t do that when you’ve got 195 countries.

We saw that from the very beginning, and we proposed the notion of a bottom-up nationally determined structure where countries were going to make their own determination about what they could do, urged to do the best possible, and with certain processes built in, designed to kind of goad them into doing the best that they could.

And I remember quite clearly early on some saying, well that’s not good enough. What do you mean? Are you just going to let countries make their own choice? And I would say every time somebody would say that to me from another country I would say okay, the ball’s in your court. Now what would you do? And we never got back an answer because there isn’t another way to do it that’s effective.

I think that the proof is in the pudding with respect to the fact, again, that we have 184 targets that have been put forward. This is a way that works. This is a way that you can get countries to come forward with pretty ambitious targets. Not perfect, but pretty ambitious. And we also were the originators of the idea of having countries put forward their targets early. Not to wait until the 11th hour in Paris to slip targets under the door, but to put them out there in the sunlight where you guys would report on them and where think tanks and other analytic bodies would look at them and other countries would look. And being exposed to that kind of sunlight we thought would cause countries to want to put their best foot forward. And again, I think that that’s happened.

So in terms of the teeth and the sort of forcefulness of what’s in there, remember we have supported a proposal originally put forward by New Zealand that is a hybrid. It’s not that it’s not legally binding at all. The targets are not legally binding, but the whole accountability apparatus of this agreement is. The obligation to put forward your target, to put it forward with clarifying information so that people can understand it, to re-up it in successive rounds of contributions is legally binding in terms of what we want. The whole structure of transparency and reporting and review. Reporting on inventory preparation and reporting on your actions and the review of those actions, all legally binding. Rules legally binding. The whole structure that involves the accountability of countries for those targets is legally binding, not the targets themselves. I think that’s a good compromise and the right way to have brought the largest number of countries into the fold. So that’s what I would say.

Thanks very much.