Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change – Press Briefing December 15, 2009
UN Climate Change Negotiations
December 15, 2009
MR. STERN:Hello everybody, thank you very much for coming. I can give you just a few opening words and then take your questions. Our U.S. team is continuing to spend long hours in negotiating sessions, as are all of the other delegations, I’m sure, trying to find areas of common ground. Today I’ve had some useful conversations – already met with my Chinese friend Xie Zhenhua and have been working on the negotiations that are going to be coming up this afternoon. Members of our U.S. team have been participating in the various informal consultations that have spun out of the plenary session that Connie Hedegaard, the President of the COP, held yesterday. They are also participating in the conventional, if you will, contact groups under the two tracks of the negotiation – the LCA and the Kyoto Protocol track.
I am expecting today – I am expecting every day to be a long day. I’m expecting today to be another one. Connie Hedegaard’s informal consultation is going to follow directly after this press conference. It’s supposed to start, I think, at 3:00. And there’s the opening ceremony of the high-level segment of this negotiation – is supposed to start tonight. And there’s a great deal yet to do. And I have to say the Parties are quite far apart on a fair number of issues.
I wanted – just before we get into questions, I thought I might take a minute to make a few comments about the U.S. mitigation commitment. The – I frequently talk about or am asked about issues of comparabilities between the U.S. and other developed countries. And I frequently say that our numbers are quite comparable by any number of measures. But I thought I would actually treat you today to a few of the numbers for a minute that I think actually do make that point. And I would say that it’s – it’s only in the hermetically-sealed world of global climate change negotiations that a baseline year of 1990 to measure the reduction of emissions from now to 2020 would be treated as sacrosanct.
So, let me just start with – for a second again with what our number is. We have put in a proposal of a reduction that’s around 17% below 2005 levels in 2020. And with those numbers ramping up rapidly to about 30% below 2005 by 2025 and 42% by 2030. And even compared to 1990, by the way, those numbers in 2025 and 2030 would be 18% and 33%. By that measure – but only by that measure – the U.S. is substantially – the U.S. reduction is substantially less than the EU, for example. And by the way, I have nothing but respect for what the EU has done and continues to do on climate change, so this is in no sense a criticism of the EU. It’s just an explanation of what the U.S. is doing. So if you compare our reduction levels against the 2005 – obviously more recent number and one that’s more relevant to what President Obama could do, coming into office – the U.S. 17% stacks up against a reduction by the EU of about 13%. This is based on an EU 20% reduction against 1990. That’s sort of a basic number right now. So if you translated that to 2005, there would be about a 13% reduction, so less than what the U.S. is putting down.
If you look at a second measure, which is our reduction from where we are now, compared to business as usual, the U.S. offers a 17% reduction and the EU’s about 12%. Japan and Australia would be, I think, 10% for Japan and 20% for Australia. Per capita reduction, – even against 1990, the U.S. proposal would be a 29% reduction, the EU a 25% reduction.
The carbon intensity – that’s a number that China’s using, by the way, in its own numbers – the carbon intensity for the U.S. is a number that’s just about exactly in line with the carbon intensity reduction for the EU and other developed countries.
And then lastly, if you look at the change in atmospheric concentrations, the U.S. offer would reduce atmospheric concentrations by about three times more than those put forward by other Annex 1 countries, even if you equalize or account for the different starting points, in terms of who had larger emissions to begin with.
So, in five out of six – by five out of six measures, the U.S. is equal to or higher than the EU or many of our other developed country partners. So again, no criticism meant on them. But I have fielded questions all year long from many of my counterparts about why isn’t the U.S. doing more, and as I say, the U.S. is doing a lot. The only measure by which it looks like the U.S. isn’t doing as much is 1990.
So anyway, just thought I would brighten your day with a few statistics. And then I’m happy to take questions.
QUESTION: We’ve just heard from the EU press briefing that in their ideal world they’d still be looking for a single agreement, incorporating many of the Kyoto mechanisms and Kyoto commitments. It seems to me that that pretty much runs up against the comment that you made when you arrived last week that the U.S. wouldn’t sign up to Kyoto or Kyoto with another name. Is that still your position?
MR. STERN: That is definitely still our position. That doesn’t mean that there are – that there aren’t some elements of the Kyoto Protocol that would still be relevant. I mean there’s some really important elements of the Kyoto Protocol that the United States wrote, even though we didn’t end up in the agreement. So all of the whole architecture of emissions trading and the so-called clean development mechanism, which is – you know, allows the purchase of offsets from developing countries. All of those are ideas and provisions that were created by the U.S. and which actually, interestingly, although this is past history, but which the EU fought quite hard against back in 1997. Then, of course, the U.S. went in another direction and then didn’t end up there, and the EU, to its credit did, and put in place emissions trading and a lot of other things. So, there are provisions, certainly, from Kyoto that we’d be very comfortable with. But in terms of the overall Kyoto architecture, no.
QUESTION: My question is, even if you say the U.S. proposed reduction pledge for 2020 is very comparable – by a lot of measures, more ambitious than other Annex 1 proposals – how do you reconcile it with scientists’ recommendations, who say that developed countries need to reduce emission by 25 to 40 %, relative to 1990? And this is a 3% reduction. Thanks.
MR. STERN: Thanks very much. I actually absolutely can reconcile it, and here’s the reason. I think that the 25 to 40 % reduction below 1990 was included in what has become a kind of iconic chart in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the scientific body. And that sets forth a good pathway for essentially holding emissions to around 450 parts per million, which is designed to give us a decent chance of holding temperature increases to 2 degrees above preindustrial. It’s not the only pathway, at all. There are a whole lot of other pathways that can get you there. We have – our proposal and the legislation that’s pending in Congress would take us, decade by decade – about 20% every decade – to an 80% reduction. Actually, 80% below 1990, 83% below 2005 — which would be right on target with what we would need to do. There is all kinds of scientific work that – the President’s science advisor, John Holdren is actually here; I’m sure [he] would be happy to talk to you about this in Copenhagen – has laid out a whole set of other pathways that can get you where you need to go. The difference – just so you can sort of again have the frame in mind – the difference between the pathway that the U.S. has charted and the pathway that would involve starting at that 25 to 40 % below 1990 – the difference between that and what we’re doing is about 1 part per million in 2050. So I think that we’re on a very good path.
QUESTION: It seems as though one of the real potential showstoppers here is between the U.S. and China. And I’m wondering if you could sort of help us think of a way to get out of the fact that China seems resolutely not wanting to put in paper – in writing – its domestic announcement. And the U.S. is obviously resolutely insisting upon that as a condition of an agreement here.
MR. STERN: It is an issue. It’s a big issue. You know, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. –I think that from our point of view, you can’t even begin to have an environmentally-sound agreement without the adequate and significant participation of China. Look, I have said on many occasions about China and many of the other major developing countries that I think they are doing a great deal. If you go to China you will see a really significant amount of activity, a significant amount of engagement on this issue. But if we are going to have an international agreement, as opposed to a bunch of individual countries doing their own domestic thing, but an international agreement where countries come together to work together, then they have got to be prepared to put what they are doing into that international agreement. I actually think that we’re going to get there with China, but you know – don’t know for sure yet. But it is a tough issue. But it is just one that I think is necessary in order to have an environmentally-sound agreement.
QUESTION: The G77 countries have been putting on the table as well as AOSIS, the Small Island States, this issue of climate reparations. And you have said that that is not, in effect, on the table. Can you re-address that? I don’t know if you have had any further thinking or further discussions this week. Can you tell me where you are at now? Thank you.
MR. STERN: On that issue I am not in any different place. I just want to distinguish between two different issues: We fully recognize that – our historic role in putting emissions up in the atmosphere. And we also fully recognize our responsibility to be part of an overall global effort to help poorer countries, both with regard to the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change and the need to help them develop on a sustainable path, which, at this point in our collective history, means low-carbon path. Reparations to me convey a sense of culpability, guilt, that kind of thing. I don’t think that that’s a legitimate way to look at it through the great majority of time when developed countries were emitting greenhouse gasses. It was happening without any recognition of a greenhouse effect, so I just don’t think it’s the right concept.
QUESTION: Would you categorically rule out any change, by the end of the conference, in the American mitigation commitment?
MR. STERN: I am not anticipating any change in the mitigation commitment. I think that’s something that the President announced just – I don’t know, I guess it was a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t think there is going to be a change in that commitment. I will say, as I have said before, that our commitment is tied to our anticipated legislation. And there are elements in that legislation that could result in an overall target – or an overall reduction amount – that could be actually a fair amount higher. But we’re not making a commitment to that right now, because it’s just uncertain and we don’t want to promise something that we don’t have. But the number could actually go up a fair amount in terms of the actual reductions that occur.
QUESTION: Thank you Mr. Stern for the six point framework that you presented to help to quantify the U.S. commitment. My question was – if – because I understand the U.S. is a signatory to the UNFCC – can you hear me?
MR. STERN: Could you start over, there was a bunch of random…
QUESTION: I just meant to say I appreciated your outline of the six point framework to quantify the U.S. commitment; I found it quite useful. However the U.S. is a signatory to the UNFCCC that was signed in 1992 that did use a base year of 1990. And I just wanted to get your take on how you would feel if, say, Russia signed up to something using a base year that was agreed here in Copenhagen or in Mexico and then 10 years later with a new leader said, “Hey we have a new leader, the old leader didn’t do anything. We want to change the base year again.” How would you feel if that happened?
MR. STERN: Well, I actually think that – I think just about all of the developed countries other than the EU are using a different base year at this point. I mean – the reality is that we didn’t become part of Kyoto, and the Framework Convention absolutely has a 1990 baseline, but it was in a non-binding kind of aspirational context. So the question is when you kind of fast forward nineteen years later, do you need to be just locked in to that particular number? And we are also not saying, by the way – we are certainly not making any argument in the context of these negotiations, that the baseline should be changed broadly. All we are saying is: list numbers with both baselines. So – or the countries can elect baselines. But we are not trying to throw the 1990 baseline overboard. And that’s why when I was talking about our own number, I told you what our numbers would be against 1990 in 2025, 2030 and 2050.
QUESTION: I have heard that the coal companies in the U.S. are putting a lot of pressure on the government so that you don’t have ambitious coal emissions reduction targets. I was wondering if that’s true and if you could just comment further?
MR. STERN: I actually don’t think that that’s true, the way you put it. I think that companies all over the U.S. advocate for their interests and lobby for their interests – some times. I haven’t actually had any – to my knowledge, I don’t think I have had any contact myself with coal companies – but that’s not so much the point. I mean, I think that the President decided on a number and Congress also decided on a number that I think was something that kind of overall made sense in terms of both the science and the politics of being able to get something done. Both of those things kind of factored into the equation. So whether it is coal companies or other kinds of companies on the fossil fuel side or the renewable or the nuclear or any side of the equation, that’s the way the U.S. system works. So I don’t think there was any pressure that had a particular impact on the decision, but certainly they push for their interests.
QUESTION: China has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity. The United States has said it wants all pledges to be verifiable. Carbon intensity has two components. There’s the carbon emissions – that seems reasonably straight forward, you can count coal plants. But if you want to measure GDP, how do you do an external audit that people believe of a country’s GDP?
MR. STERN: That’s a very good question. You know, I think it’s part of the reason – it actually in some sense nicely encapsulates the reason why we think that there ought to be some measure of international consultation or review or dialogue or whatever the term is, with respect to any transparency report that a country puts in, whether it’s China or anybody else, so that questions can be asked. And, how – in the U.S. how you can audit? That’s kind of outside my particular range of expertise. But it’s a question that I think underscores the need to be able to ask questions, understand assumptions behind numbers and things like that.
QUESTION: Yesterday you mentioned that President Obama had made some phone calls –and Joe Gibbs mentioned it as well but didn’t say who he called. Can you tell us who he called, and did he help broker the dispute with the developing nations yesterday?
MR. STERN: I am quite sure no, with respect to the second. He called – I think this has been put out by the White House – he called the leaders of Bangladesh and Ethiopia. He called the Presidents of – Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia and the President of Bangladesh.
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