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U.S. Climate Negotiator: “Real Progress Can Be Made”
September 20, 2011

U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern says that progress can be made to address greenhouse gas pollution and climate-related problems even if an international pact is delayed

By Karin Rives
IIP Staff Writer
19 September 2011


Washington — Seventy days remain until international leaders will gather in South Africa to discuss ways to tackle climate change. The road ahead is tough, U.S. lead climate negotiator Todd Stern told reporters September 19, “but I’m not pessimistic.”

A meeting held between leaders from 17 major economies in Washington September 16–17 to discuss the road forward was productive, Stern said, adding that several outstanding issues, such as the future of the Kyoto Protocol, remain thorny. The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, is linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organization that runs the annual climate talks.

Several of the 37 industrialized countries that signed the Kyoto agreement in 1997, including Japan, Canada and Russia, have said they won’t support a second term. It looks now, Stern said, as if the European Union is the only party willing to sign up for a second period.

The United States did not sign the original agreement. U.S. negotiators maintain that they would agree to a binding agreement if all leading developing countries such as China, India and Brazil are also part of it.

“The world is a dramatically different place,” Stern said, referring to the time that has passed since the United Nations–led discussions began nearly two decades ago. “Just look at China and the fast degree to which it’s growing — six times the gross domestic product of 1992 already — and China is projected to be twice the size of the United States in [greenhouse gas] emissions in 2020. You just can’t go forward with a new legal agreement that simply is based on the same precise [Kyoto] structure.”

Stern also said that a future agreement must be based on a “genuine” will by all major polluters to reduce emissions. “So we don’t have a situation where countries make a commitment to do x, y or z to mitigate their emissions, but then there’s an asterisk that says, ‘But we only want to do this if we get financing and technology support,’” he said. “There can be no escape hatches.”

The Major Economic Forum on Energy and Climate held in Washington was the 12th meeting since 2009. The meeting also serves as a platform for partnerships and regional agreements on clean energy and climate projects that fall outside of the United Nations structure. The 17 forum members are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The forum invites other countries to attend such meetings. This time, representatives from Colombia, New Zealand, Singapore and Spain attended.

While in Washington, participants discussed funding for developing nations and other provisions that came out of last year’s climate talks in Mexico. The United States and other developed nations have promised to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries tackle emissions and adapt to climate change that is already happening. So far this year, some $15 billion has been invested in such green investments, Stern said.

Much of the future discussion will center on how to use government funds as effectively as possible, while at the same time leveraging capital from the private sector. Even in a strong world economy, governments will need some assurance that investment of public funds carries limited risk and a reasonable return, Stern said.