Head of the United States Delegation
UN Climate Change Negotiations
December 11, 2009
MR. STERN: Thank you. Hello everybody, glad to be here.
Over the course of the week, I’ve had a number of very constructive conversations. Let me make one comment about something back at home. In I think an important development in the U.S. Senate, Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman announced a comprehensive framework for energy and climate legislation, and this is actually quite a significant development, a significant step in the effort to pass comprehensive energy and climate reform. The President believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement on such legislation in the U.S. One element of the framework that is particularly relevant and important to the international process says that American leadership – now I’m quoting from what the senators released – “American leadership is essential, but action by the developing world is necessary to maximize the benefits of our effort. To this end, we acknowledge the role the United States can play to help provide long-term financing to assist developing countries adapt to climate change, generate energy cleanly and reduce emissions from deforestation.” Legislation can boost our efforts in all of those regards, and I think it is obviously very important to our overall effort. I am also pleased – I said this a couple days ago, but I just want to reiterate how pleased we are that a number of members of President Obama’s Cabinet have either been here or are here now. They include EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. They have all been speaking and doing events at the – I must say very impressive U.S. Center, talking about the robust actions that the Obama Administration has taken to meet the climate challenge.
Among the developments of the day here, was the introduction of a draft text from Michael Zammit Cutajar, the chair of the so-called Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action – the LCA track. Let me say first of all, we greatly appreciate the hard work that Michael and his team have put into preparing this text, and the hard work that Michael has devoted to this effort during the past year, and indeed throughout his whole career. He’s been a real standout in the effort to deal with climate change. We think in many respects, the text that was put on the table today is a constructive step. There are some elements that we agree with, there are some sections where we don’t agree but which we think nonetheless can serve as a good basis for negotiation. However, the U.S. does not see the mitigation section as a basis for negotiation, because we do not believe that as it is currently framed it can serve as a basis for a sound environmental result. Most fundamentally, as I have said over and over again, the United States is not going to do a deal without the major developing countries stepping up and taking real action. The draft says that developed countries – developed countries – have legally-binding commitments to take essentially Kyoto-style targets, but does not in any sense call upon major developing countries to set forth their own actions or to stand behind them. This is a – kind of basic, a basic element of a deal for the United States. We don’t think that that particular section of the text is an acceptable starting point for negotiation with respect to this issue. But again, as I said, I think the text overall is – has many constructive elements and can help move this process forward. And so, very much appreciate the work that Michael Zammit Cutajar and his team have put into it. I think that’s it for my prepared statement. I’m happy to take questions.
QUESTION: The Chinese negotiator was in here just a few moments before you and took issue with the comments that you made earlier this week about the funding for short-term finance to China, saying that it wouldn’t go to China, and I wanted to get your reaction to that. And then, secondly, on the Senate proposal that came out yesterday, could you talk a little bit more about how that is influencing your work here?
MR. STERN: I’m sorry could you just give me the – what’s the question on the Yafei comment? What – I just wanted to get – I wasn’t quite clear what you were asking me.
QUESTION: I wanted to get your reaction to what he said, which was…
MR. STERN: You wanted my reaction to his comments? Okay, I got it. Look, I think that the particular comments were a bit unfortunate, but let me say I have – I know Yafei and I actually have enormous respect for him. He’s a smart and very effective Chinese official and I’ve worked with him, so I don’t have any particular comment on the particular remarks that he made. But I also don’t have any different view to the one that I expressed [Wednesday] on the underlying substance. The United States is fully in support of significant financial assistance for developing countries. It certainly continues to be my view that that assistance ought to go to countries most in need. And I was talking, by the way, and made it clear when I talked two days ago that we were – that I was talking about the public financing. There’s also a whole other side of financing that involves the carbon markets and that is largely – really entirely – driven by the private sector, and their investment is going to go in all sorts of directions, whether China, India or any other place. But with respect to the remarks he made, I don’t have any different view about those. But I think that’s all for that question.
With respect to the Senate proposal, I think that it’s – I don’t think it so much changes anything that we’re doing here per se. I just think that it’s another really strong step forward in the Senate’s effort to move legislation. I think Senators Kerry and Boxer started the process in the Senate with a very strong bill. I think that the alliance between Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman – all of whom I know and have great respect for – I think is a terrific sign. It’s a bipartisan sign, and exactly the kind of thing that I think we need to get legislation done in the Congress and passed and sent to the President for his signature as soon as possible. And that legislation – for a whole host of reasons, both domestic and international – is enormously important. So I applaud their action.
QUESTION: Given the EU’s announcement of financing – of a financing commitment – can you elaborate on what the U.S. might be willing to do at this point? It seemed like in the initial announcement that Robert Gibbs gave he was focusing just on the year 2012 as opposed to a three-year commitment, which is on the table. And if there’s anything else you can point to that you think – since you’ve been here, there’s been, kind of substantive changes in the kind of big-ticket items that Yvo de Boer talked about today, that would be helpful.
MR. STERN: Well, I think that what we are talking about is a three-year period that ramps – that would ramp up to $10 billion by 2012, so it’s not simply a 2012 number the President referred to – referred to that in – the White House referred to that, I guess, in the release that was put out announcing the President’s plans to come here on the 18th. And that’s consistent as I said the other day with the declaration that was put out in the Commonwealth Group that also talked about financing. It would ramp up from 2010 to 2012, up to an amount of ten billion. So that’s basically what we’re talking about.
QUESTION: I wonder, sir, if you could expand a little bit on why you object to the mitigation provisions in Mr. Cutajar’s text. I note that in the section entitled “Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions by Developing Country Parties,” the text suggests in brackets that these Parties may undertake autonomous mitigation actions in the order of 15 to 20 percent by – 15 to 30 percent by 2020. Is the objection that it doesn’t specify reductions beyond 2020?
MR. STERN: No, no, no. The mitigation section is unbalanced in a whole host of ways, but on that particular point, we believe that both developed countries and the major developing countries need to reflect their strong actions in this agreement and indicate their resolve to stand behind them. What this says – this agreement says actually that developed countries shall take legally-binding commitments, and developing countries may. “Shall” versus “may”. “Shall” and “legally-binding” versus “may”. That’s – you know, that’s one point. There are other things that are may be somewhat more technical, but important. So it’s – it is – but the fundamental point is that – again, to maybe repeat myself a little bit from the other day – there is no question that developed countries have the largest historic role in putting the emissions up in the atmosphere that are there now and the United States has the largest role among the developed countries. We don’t make any bones about that. We completely agree with that, and we completely recognize our responsibility to take action now. And that’s what we’re trying to do, that’s what President Obama has been all about this whole year, both in the legislation that we’re supporting and in all sorts of executive actions that he has taken and is continuing to take. It is also true that virtually all of the growth of emissions – 97 percent, according not to the U.S. but to the International Energy Agency in Paris, virtually all of the growth in emissions is going to come from the developing countries. And, so you can’t – and most of that from the big ones. And so you can’t – I mean, you know, if we’re talking about the need to try to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees rise, as compared to pre-industrial, we talked about the need to keep parts per million at a certain level, or whatever. You can’t even have that discussion if the major developing countries aren’t taking a real role. So this is – this structure is kind of a structure that reflects, you know, “old think,” if you will, and we can’t get the problem solved that way. So, we don’t want to start a negotiation from the basis of – from that basis. And that’s really – I mean, this is very much driven by an environmental imperative.
QUESTION: The new bill that was announced in the Senate talks about a 17 percent reduction. Are you concerned that compromises in the Senate, when it goes into committee, could actually lower the ambition of that target? And how difficult do you think it will be to get 67 senators to vote on a target in an international treaty? You’re going to have to get Senate votes from deep red states, states which have voiced their strong opposition to a 17 percent cap and to carbon trading schemes. How do you think you are going to resolve this problem?
MR. STERN: Well, on the first issue, I am sure there will be a lot of debate on all aspects of this legislation, including the target. I think that there is quite a lot of support, though, for a 17 percent number. That is the number that is part of the bill passed in the House. And again, there is – so in this bill, the new one that we are talking about – it’s not a bill yet – the proposal from Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham – you have a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. You can’t do much better than that in terms of tri-partisan. So, I think it is a very good sign that you have got that kind of support around that number. You know, it is also true that there are elements of the legislation, as it was passed in the House, as it was introduced by – the legislation, actually, that was introduced by Senators Kerry and Boxer – and I am hopeful that in the actual legislation, as opposed to this framework that gets introduced by these three senators, that there are certain provisions, called set-aside provisions, with respect to international – using some of the allowances to support international forestry, plus certain accounting provisions with regard to the way international off-sets are used, that could actually increase the effect of the target by quite a bit.
So, you’re asking a critical – I can’t, you know, I can’t say – could it go down by a point or two? It could. Could it go up by a point or two? It could. It could also go up by a fair amount, effectively, as a result of these other provisions. But I think that 17 is a quite, sort of sound basis for the bill.
With respect to your 67 votes question, that’s a very real question. It is not relevant to the discussion we are having here, because, you know, the real focus is on the proposal by Prime Minister Rasmussen, which contemplates a non-legally binding, a politically or morally – if you will – binding agreement, but not a legally-binding agreement now. Note that is with the understanding that the effort to get a full legal treaty goes on and should go on at a high level of intensity. But an agreement that comes actually out of Copenhagen will not be an agreement that would be subject to ratification, whether in the United States or anywhere else.
QUESTION: I don’t wish this to be U.S.-centric, but I do like to be called upon when I have a question. This is very helpful but, for those of us who have been following this for a long time, this dance between the U.S. and China seems to feel like it needs to come out… Is there an ad hoc U.S.-China working group draft? In other words, can you foresee any language, other than saying, “this not good language”? Have you proposed to China, or any proxy, language that you would see as sufficient to indicate serious intent by the big developing countries?
MR. STERN: Oh, you know, I think that we can get there with China. You know, there is probably no country that I have spent more time with this year. I mean, I haven’t added it all up, but my guess is if I added up all my hours, I’ve probably spent more with China than anybody else – a tremendous amount of time with my good friend Xie Zhenhua, who I have met in Beijing, Shanghai, Washington, London, Italy, all over the world. And I think that we have actually made quite a bit of progress during the course of the year and had really very constructive talks, really from the beginning. I’ve met, I guess maybe once or twice with He Yafei, who is not a climate negotiator per se, but I’ve also always had very constructive dealings with him. So there is not a China-U.S. draft per se, but we have discussed all of the major issues. We have, I think, made progress on some and are still working on others. And look, I absolutely think that there is a deal to be done here. I have said that, you know, for quite a while now. I don’t think there’s a deal in the bag. That’s a totally different matter. And I think whether we get a deal or not hangs in the balance. But there’s a deal to be had with respect to all of the major issues and we’re going to be working at it.
QUESTION: You didn’t answer my question – is there language – is there something you could stick in that gap?
MR. STERN: Oh, there’s certainly – well – there’s – I could stick language in the gap that would be satisfactory to us and I think that with respect to – which issue are you asking on in particular?
QUESTION: In terms of meaningful participation?
MR. STERN: Yeah, well, I think that there is – I don’t think we are all that far apart based on the conversations that I have had, so I think that we will be able to get language. I’m not going, you know, I’m not going to put language down at a press conference, but I think that –I actually think, Andy, that there is – there actually literally is language that we could both agree to if we can get to the kind of serious stage and work, you know, for getting their help.
QUESTION: I’d like to know what you think about the Alliance of Small Islands. They are very concerned the temperatures shouldn’t increase more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Have you taken that into consideration, and what can you tell us about that?
MR. STERN: I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time talking with folks from the small island states. And I think that nobody has more legitimate concerns than they do. And I think they are generally enormously constructive. I’ve spent really a lot of time talking with friends from Grenada and Barbados and other countries as well. I think that the broader focus here is on 2 degrees. I understand their focus on 1.5, and I am absolutely not going to criticize it. I think that if we can take a strong step that is informed by the 2 degree goal, if you will, I think that would be great. I think that part of what we need to be doing here is to regard this as an initial step. I think that one of the things – if I’m not mistaken, I believe that in this – yeah, in this text that Michael put down there is a call for a review period after a few years to take stock – not many years – 2016. I think it’s a great idea. I mean, I think that we should do that. And I think that we need to keep a very close eye on exactly what the science is telling us. And if actions need to be ramped up further, then we should. There is also – you know, one of the things that I have said from the beginning of my tenure here is that we’ve got to combine science and pragmatism. And that you can’t be just pragmatic, cut the deal in a way that is not sensitive to the science. And you can’t – you’re not going to get anything done in what is, after all, a political world if you are looking at science in a way that is not attached to the – kind of the art of the possible. So, I think that 1.5 is not kind of in the realm of what we can get done right now, but I think it is something that we should keep our eye on. And I think if we could get done a deal that is in the 2 degree framework, that would be a great start.