COP-22 Press Briefing with Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing

Special Briefing
Jonathan Pershing
Special Envoy for Climate Change 
Marrakech, Morocco
November 14, 2016

Moderator: Good afternoon. Welcome. Thank you for joining us today with this press briefing with the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing. At the outset, Dr. Pershing will give a few opening remarks. Then we will open it up to questions. In the interest of trying to get as many questions heard as we can, we will take rounds of three, which Dr. Pershing will then answer. We have roving mics. When you ask a question, we ask that you please wait until you receive a mic, stand, and identify yourself and your outlet. We're only taking questions from the press today at this briefing. And we... there's a potential possibility that we will have another briefing later in the week so stay tuned for that. I will now turn it over to Dr. Pershing. Thank you.

Dr. Pershing: Thanks very much Emily. And thank you all for joining. As you know President Obama and our Administration have made climate change a top priority, and we have made significant strides to cut carbon pollution at home, to help bolster our resilience to the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat this global challenge.

The continued global momentum we have seen since Paris has been reflected in the successes of the last several weeks, including most particularly the Paris Agreement passing the thresholds needed to enter into force.

This context and momentum are hugely consequential, and their importance should not be ignored. It reflects global demand for action, and movement to follow through.

Here, in the context of the climate talks, we’ve begun the transition away from negotiation and toward implementation. Our Moroccan hosts have really been excellent throughout, and we look forward to working with them going forward. The U.S. team has spent the last week in a series of consultations and informal meetings to determine the shape of various working groups and initiatives launched by the Paris Agreement. We’ve made real progress in many of them, although some dialogues and contact groups are expected to continue this week before concluding.

We've been focused in particular here on the work to flesh out the transparency system, which is the bedrock of this agreement. Further, discussions on adaptation communications have helpfully focused on the guidance that will build on the extensive work of the adaptation committee. Conversations on the global stock-take have also been very productive. Parties have shared a range of views, but all are converging on a process grounded in robust scientific inputs from the IPCC. We're also tremendously excited this week to launch the first CMA under the Paris Agreement – namely, the first meeting of parties who have joined the Agreement.

As you're also likely aware, we have a high-level delegation from the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has been here on the ground doing work on clean energy deployment and our Mission Innovation initiative. Secretary Kerry will join us tomorrow and Wednesday to hold a series of bilateral meetings and will deliver a speech that highlights the urgency of addressing climate change and the importance of continued ambitious climate action around the world.

Furthermore, as we all know, soon we will see a transition to a new presidential administration in the United States. In the coming weeks, we expect personnel from the transition team to arrive at the State Department and begin planning the shape and thrust of American diplomacy for the next four years. At this time, I do not have information about when that process will start or who will play a role in it, and I cannot speak for President-elect’s team, or to their outlook on international climate policy.

What I do know, however, is the power of the movement and the enormous momentum created in Paris and built throughout the year since. Parties are deeply invested in seeing this work bear real fruit. With the Agreement having entered into force, it is no longer a question of whether to accelerate the Agreement’s implementation – but rather a question of when and how.

The Paris Agreement protects economic growth and the environment – all while providing nationally-determined flexibility to accommodate differing circumstances. It is durable. It is inclusive. It is ambitious.

I also know that markets are moving, and countries are following. Prices for renewable energy are continuing their dramatic fall, as several recent auctions for clean electrical power have shown in Latin America and elsewhere. Banks and finance agencies are doing the needed work to allow private finance to move to meet growing demand for low-carbon solutions. Major economies like China have begun the substantial work of translating their pre-Paris climate goals into operational policy on the ground. In the U.S., utility-scale solar costs have fallen by almost 65% since 2008, they have declined 65% from 2015 through 2008. We're installing for economic reasons, not policies that favor one source over another but economically driven programs.

I also want to note we need new action going forward. We need to find strategies that protect our economic development while decarbonizing our system. We will release our strategy on Wednesday to suggest some sense of the trajectories that address this goal.

I will finish by noting that it was a global effort that made the Agreement possible. And the passion and the dedication that drove it is in evidence throughout COP22. Heads of state can and will change, but I am confident that we can and we will sustain a durable international effort to counter climate change.

I look forward to your questions. Thank you.

Question: Thank you very much, sir. My name is Wardarif. I'm Bureau Chief of the Moroccan News Wire based in Washington. As you know sir, there are numerous press reports according to which President-elect Trump is seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from a global agreement regarding the combat against climate change. What credence can we give to these reports and what should be the international community be expecting?

Question: Dean Scott. Hi, Jonathan. Dean Scott, Bloomberg BNA. My question is somewhat relevant in terms of what targeting the UNFCCC would do in terms of the U.S. continuing to maintain a seat at the table for a myriad of issues that go well beyond climate, more than two decades after the UNFCCC was agreed to.

Question: Hi, this is Crystal Sun working for Phoenix New Media, which is a news website in China. Mr. Pershing, you've only been on this job for seven months, do you think you can lose this job in the following two months?

Dr. Pershing: Thank you so much. The last one is actually the easiest one to answer. So thank you very much. As many of you may not know, the U.S. process is one in which the President appoints a series of individuals who serve in his administration or her administration. I was appointed by the President and my term, in any event, independent of the outcome of the election would end on January 20. So it's independent of the outcome here. So yes, I will end then.

With regard to the first question, I don't really have any good insight for you. We are not yet in touch with the transition team. As I noted, they have not yet been named for our agency. We're waiting to talk with them. I anticipate that will happen soon after I return to Washington. But in the absence of that, we don't have any information to offer about our expectations for them. They haven't been in touch with us.

With regard to the second question on the outcome of the finance -- the UNFCCC. Are there issues beyond climate? Of course there are. This is deeply tied in a broad way, climate deeply tied in a broad way to the issues of sustainable development. And as we think about what that means, if we don't avoid some of the damages and some of the risks, there are consequences to our economies. If we see them in every part of our system. If I look only at the United States, there's now substantially increased likelihood, because of climate change, that we will see flooding such as that that affected Louisiana only a couple of months ago. We see an increased likelihood that a storm like Superstorm Sandy, which came through New York, will be more significant and more frequent. We see in the American Southwest and in California an increase in drought. That also seems increasingly tied to the change in climate. So for me it's not so much the individual institutions, it's the question of the damages that we're trying to avoid. It's a question of how we collectively, as a global community, take these next steps. And I believe the U.S. economic community, the business community, state and local government communities, civil society will move in this direction. And I think that's going to be an imperative for all of us as we take this next years and next decade of action.

Question: Thanks very much. Jessica Shankleman from Bloomberg News. There’s a high level meeting on climate and finance on Wednesday. Oxfam says the G77 wants adaptation finance quadrupled. There’s a lot of talk about the 100 billion dollar roadmap. Can these climate finance targets be met if the U.S. withdraws its climate finance funding as the President-elect has said he will do and if so, how?

Question: Thank you. Karl Ritter from AP. I am wondering if you can talk a little bit about what kind of concerns you are encountering from partner countries in these negotiations in relation to the change of administration in the United States. And also, if you could comment on what withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would mean for the special relationship that the Obama administration developed with China on climate change.

Question: Pilita Clark, Financial Times. Just following on from Carl’s question, Nicholas Sarkozy said on the weekend that he believed that if Trump did actually pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement then the EU should offer and should look at a carbon border tax. I wonder if you’ve picked up any similar comments was you’ve been talking to other countries at this meeting. And also, there’s obviously been a huge amount of speculation on how the U.S. could actually withdraw from the agreement. You probably know more than anyone else in the room about the mechanics of that. I just wonder if you could go through how quickly this could indeed occur if you were, for example, to withdraw from the Convention or if it goes to a House vote or perhaps another option.

Dr. Pershing: So thank you very much. With regard to the first question on finance, my thinking has been that the U.S. has historically managed to pay its interests and commitments in these activities. I'm struck in that sense by the Bush Administration which agreed on a financial fund for technology, which we took a little longer to pay off but did in fact pay off. That was the Bush Administration moving forward. My personal view around this is that we will continue to meet our commitments. But I note that perhaps more important than that is the need to leverage private sector investment. The U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund over the years that we have pledged is about $3 billion dollars. If we come a little short of that, it will have only a marginal effect on the $100 billion. What I do know is that the leverage that we need has to increase. And the leverage that's already in this system is much smaller than what we think we can achieve. If we look at our effective financial institutions, they tend to leverage risk on the order of five or ten times for every dollar spent. The current structure leverages less than one dollar for every dollar spent. We can do better. And to me, we are very close already. We're close to the $100 billion already. The expectation we can exceed that easily with additional leverage is very high.

The second comment. With regard to the negotiation and the election and what the relationship with China will be. I’ve had the chance to meet with the senior representative here from China and he has indicated as he has in the press (and you have seen his comments) that China intends to move forward. It doesn’t surprise me. Frankly, the deal, the agreement was struck on the basis of national circumstances and agreements by nations of activities in their interest. Of course, they’re going to move forward. These are things you would do because they are part of your development trajectory. I’m hearing the same from the Europeans. I’m hearing the same from the Brazilians. I’m hearing the same from Mexico and from Canada and from smaller nations like Costa Rica and from Colombia. I don’t think the U.S. change here is going to affect the development pathway. I think people take the issue, as they ought to, as a serious problem. And, they are moving.

With regard to the last question as to what the mechanics are, it’s actually quite variable, unclear. I don’t really want to speculate on what the new guys would do, but in every agreement there are provisions for how a person or a country might withdraw from it. And there are the same in this one. It takes a fair amount of time under the Paris Agreement. The process requires first a three-year waiting period and then a year between notification and action. That’s the Paris Agreement process. But, I also note that there’s flexibility for a country. And the new administration may decide to take advantage of some of that flexibility in its action. But it’s premature to speculate. The new administration may look at the commitment globally, at the interest globally in the issue and may decide to move forward that are consistent with its own polities. We’ll have to wait and see.

Question: This is Lucia Graves with Pacific Standard Magazine. You mentioned that are some areas of flexibility with regard to the agreement. In general we’re transitioning away from negotiation to implementation, as you said, are there any areas, where with the new administration possibly being less accepting of the Accord, you might have room for flexibility to negotiate? My name is Lucia Graves. I’m with Pacific Standard Magazine.

Question: Alex Carlin from PR Watch. Addressing the transition, when the new guys come in and you’re in a meeting with those people, we have a new situation that is unprecedented. Their policy is not an adult rational policy based on math or science, its something else. Dealing with an existential problem for the planet, you have two questions: can you appeal to them on a basic, rational level, in other words, educate them, number one. Can you set up any kind of symposiums where you educate them that two plus two is four and not five. And second, can you demonstrate to them that if they continue with this childish position, we, America, will lose our status, we will become a pariah state, we will be humiliated. Can you appeal to these people in your unique situation where you are going to be in a one-on-one meeting with the new team? We need people like you to do that. I just have a question on whether you have thoughts on that transition.

Question: Vanya Walker-Leigh, Malta Business Weekly. Apologies for the cold. The UNEP gap report issued a few days ago once again urged the importance of not only post 2020 emission reductions on a much larger scale than is on the table now, but pre-2020 reductions. Do you think the COP22 should come out with a formal decision to review and increase the cap pledges and the set the commitment period commitments.

Dr. Pershing: Thank you very much for these questions. With regard to the first one, the flexibility that exists in the Agreement is fairly broad around nationally determined contributions and countries are able to turn those indicative, intended NDCs into NDCs. There’s also flexibility about how a country implements it. We did not choose, in the Paris Agreement, to say what policies you had to adopt. Instead, we asked each country to identify its approach, and to act accordingly. So there’s a lot of flexibility available to nations in their determinations.

With regard to the second question, we look forward to talking to the transition community. They haven’t been named yet. We don’t know who they are. We don’t know their backgrounds. We will certainly work to convey the importance that we find in this issue to them as they move forward.

With regard to the third question on the UNEP gap report, we recognize the urgency of additional aggressive action. And if you come on Wednesday you will have a chance to hear a presentation where we will relay some of our own insights on trajectories and opportunities for the long term goal that may include activities that we begin immediately and some that might wait for new technology, that may include programs at a state and local level as well as things that might be done nationally and that might be in collaboration with others.

Question: Hello sir. My name is Claus Hecking. I work for Die Zeit, Germany’s biggest weekly magazine. One question about the renewables. Are they economically competitive already in all parts of the U.S. or do they still need the support of the government such as the tax credits Mr. Trump wants to abolish?

Question: Marlow Hood, with Agence France-Presse. Can you imagine a political argument that might be convincing to Mr. Trump as to why he should stay in the Paris Agreement and adhere to its terms?

Question: Elaine Mills from Argus Media. Mr. Pershing, just a follow up to a previous question. What do you think the likelihood that if the Trump administration pulls out of the Paris deal that countries like China and the EU could introduce a carbon border tax and how is the U.S. likely to react do you think? Thank you.

Dr. Pershing: Thank you very much. With regard to the cost of renewables, it depends a little bit on the circumstances in which they are being installed. We have a number of cases where you are not connected as easily to the grid or the grid capacity is more constrained, in those cases it is already commercially and economically cost effective. However, we also note that it is a Republican Congress that chose to undertake the tax credits and I would assume that they will continue. In that context, with those in the next five years I think that the price will continue to come down. And if we look at the market, the market is betting that will happen because the value of stocks goes up in the expectation of increasing returns on the investment. As I look forward this past year for economic reasons, we’ll have more investment in renewables than we did in carbon based fuels.

On the AFP question, with regard to the political argument for Mr. Trump, I really can’t speculate. I don’t have a sense of how the transition team will play out or what things he will find persuasive.

In regards to the Argus question on the institutions and the response in terms of a European border tax, I don’t know there as well. In my discussions so far, I think people are holding judgement about what the future will hold and will make some decisions following further information from the new Administration on to actions they will take. What I do know in addition is that they have also cited and stressed the importance of the issue and I think that importance will drive their actions both domestically and with respect to the new Administration.

Moderator: Thank you very much.