U.S. Climate Negotiator Sees Path to New Global Agreement

Todd Stern (right), who has been engaged all year in negotiations on a second-generation climate agreement, is seen here with Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua at a May press briefing in Beijing.
Todd Stern (right), who has been engaged all year in negotiations on a second-generation climate agreement, is seen here with Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua at a May press briefing in Beijing.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
October 22, 2013

 

The chief U.S. climate negotiator is proposing the main pillars of a new world agreement to control greenhouse gases (GHGs) and limit climate change, pillars which allow greater flexibility in how nations move toward creating clean-energy economies.

Todd Stern, representing the U.S. State Department as the special envoy for climate change, spoke at the 17th annual Chatham House Conference on Climate Change in London. Chatham House, the headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, focused the October 21–22 meeting on workable solutions that will help all nations move toward low-carbon economies.

Stern outlined points for an “ambitious, durable, new international climate change agreement,” which comes up for global consideration in November at the 19th Conference of the Parties meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw.

The core elements of a new climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, Stern said, must “integrate flexibility with strength,” while also being ambitious and inclusive. The Kyoto agreement, signed in 1997 and effective in 2005, set international emissions reduction targets and timetables for reaching them.

Stern proposes a second-generation agreement that allows nations to determine the nature and level of their commitments on their own, “consistent with their own circumstances and capabilities.” He envisions a system that inspires nations to set goals that are ambitious and clear.

“Strong action is a favor we do ourselves because we are all profoundly vulnerable to climate change,” Stern said. “The world will be watching how we measure up.” Rather than an agreement with a rigid structure of rules nations should follow for lowering GHG outputs, the U.S. envoy suggests an agreement that sets standards through “norms and expectations.” Norms have the power to inspire ambition in nations, he says, and he predicts that nations will strive to “enhance their global standing and reputation” by meeting the expectations.

Stern said the negotiations on a new agreement must move beyond “differentiation, the issue that has bedeviled climate negotiations more than any other in the past 20 years.” Kyoto provisions distinguish between the industrialized nations that emitted the greatest levels of GHGs before 1992, when the UNFCCC was created, and the emerging economies that have since become major contributors to the world’s carbon dioxide output.

U.S. opposition to the Kyoto Protocol under the administration of President George W. Bush stemmed largely from this measure. The administration of that era rejected the principle that developed nations were the only ones required to reduce GHGs, and so rejected U.S. membership in the agreement in 2001.

Stern said developing countries should not be forced to inhibit industrial development for the cause of climate change mitigation. But an agreement of the 21st century should not be based on national categorizations established in 1992, Stern added. National emission profiles have changed considerably since then, Stern said, with developing nations accounting for 45 percent of emissions then and more than 60 percent today.

“The world is now emitting as much every decade as all the cumulative emissions that occurred before 1970,” Stern said. “It is unwarranted to assign blame to developed countries for emissions before the point at which people realized that those emissions caused harm.”

Providing aid to emerging economies to help them develop clean-energy economies is another major issue influencing the upcoming Warsaw negotiations. The United States is providing about $2.5 billion a year to this goal, a sixfold increase since 2008, Stern said, adding that significant opportunities exist to attract private investment in low-carbon innovation.

Even with his focus on a future international agreement, Stern reminded his audience, “The most important drivers of climate action are countries acting at home.”

He cited the Obama administration’s release of a new Climate Action Plan earlier in 2013, new proposals on carbon release limits at new U.S. power plants, and new rules to double the fuel efficiency of vehicles.

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