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U.S. Will Show Climate Change Action at New Negotiating Round
November 12, 2013

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
08 November 2013

Traffic circle in Warsaw
This year’s United Nations climate change meeting will be held in Warsaw, Poland.
A U.S. team goes to the 2013 round of negotiations on global climate change ready to demonstrate that the United States has taken “robust action” to reduce the nation’s level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The U.S. State Department Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern leads the team, and he said November 8 that Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama are both “strongly committed” to reducing GHG emissions and taking other actions to slow the climate change process.

GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere and trap the planet’s heat, leading to warming temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific panel monitoring the planet, issued a report in October saying that the certainty of climate warming has reached 95 percent.

Stern and other negotiators from nations party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be in Warsaw, Poland, November 11–22 for the 19th conference of the parties (COP 19) negotiating session. The U.S. special envoy outlined his expectations in a Washington briefing with international journalists.

Recent U.S. actions to reduce GHG emissions include a decreasing reliance on oil in power generation, adoption of cleaner fuels and steady increases in government requirements on auto fuel efficiency ratings. President Obama set forth a wide-ranging Climate Action Plan in June, requiring multiple actions, including requirements for reduced emissions from power plants.

The power and transportation sectors are the sources of about two-thirds of all U.S GHG emissions, Stern said. “These are not small actions the president has taken. Those are very large-scale efforts.”

Achievement of a far-reaching global agreement on climate change action is neither the goal nor the expectation for the Warsaw meeting, Stern said. Rather “the real objective” of COP 19 will be for negotiators “to lay the groundwork” for completion of a comprehensive legal agreement by 2015. Reaching that goal by that deadline has been a UNFCCC goal since 2011.

The agreement-in-the-making will be a successor to the expiring Kyoto Protocol, but Stern said it will be very different. The 2011 negotiations established that the new treaty will be “applicable to all parties,” according to its language, and Stern said this is an “historic opportunity.”

The Kyoto Protocol required only developed nations to reduce GHG emissions, an element of the agreement considered objectionable by many, and a principal reason that the administration of then-President George Bush rejected the agreement.

Negotiations on the UNFCCC have been contentious at times in their almost 20-year history. Stern was at the center of negotiations in the 1990s, and again under the Obama administration. He says the tone of the talks has evolved into “an ethos, a mentality in which ‘we’re all in this together,’ rather than an ‘us-or-them’ mentality.”

Secretary Kerry expressed a similar assessment in response to the latest findings from the IPCC scientific panel that the scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to a pattern of warming temperatures and rising seas.

“It’s not about one country making a demand of another. It’s the science itself, demanding action from all of us,” Kerry said in an October 22 statement.

Stern said the United States and China this year made great progress in demonstrating their shared commitment to address climate change, reduce GHGs and prepare for a changing climate. The two nations agreed earlier this year on bilateral cooperation in these areas with their environmental and energy agencies working cooperatively on a variety of projects to achieve these goals.

The United States is also providing significant assistance to developing nations and emerging economies in their efforts to move toward cleaner fuels, reduce GHGs and adopt low-carbon economies. Stern said the United States is providing about $2.7 billion in aid so other nations can pursue those goals in 2013 alone.