2:00 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. I’d like to draw your attention to the front here. My name is Dick Custin and I’m from the Foreign Press Center. I’d like to welcome you all this afternoon to the Foreign Press Center. Before we get started, I’d like to remind you to turn off your cell phones, if you would. We are very delighted to have the Special Envoy for Climate Change here, Todd Stern. He’s going to make a statement first and then he’ll take your questions. We have about 30, 35 minutes total time for this event.
Okay, Mr. Stern.
MR. STERN: Thanks, Dick. Hello. Welcome to everybody, thanks for coming.
As many of you are aware, the major climate change meeting of the year, COP 16, is – starts one week from today in Cancun, so it’s coming right up on us. The challenge, I think, before us in Cancun and the one that we have been, frankly, focused on all year is to find a way to build on the progress made last year in the Copenhagen Accord through the direct intervention of many of the world’s leaders, including President Obama. Even though it fell short of what many had hoped for, the accord took an important step forward in addressing climate change. Progress was made on all the key elements of the negotiations, and much of it in direct, face-to-face discussions among our leaders.
In essence, the accord included, on the one hand, landmark provisions for financing in order to support mitigation, adaptation, technology, and forest preservation – the so-called red issue – all of these things redounding to the benefit of developing countries – that on the one hand, and on the other hand, a crucial agreement among both developed and developing countries to implement a set of mitigation either targets or actions, and to do so in an internationally transparent manner.
What we are seeking now in Cancun is a balanced package of decisions on these points, decisions being a term of art in the framework convention. It is now widely understood that a legal treaty this year is not in the cards. There is broad convergence on the notion that a package of decisions is desirable and the devil will most certainly be in the details. To preserve the balance of the package in Cancun, we need to make comparable progress on all the core issues included in the accord that I’ve just noted.
We have heard a lot of talk this year about capturing the so-called low-hanging fruit by which countries who use that phrase often mean all the provisions dealing with financial and technology assistance, leaving the so-called hard issues of mitigation and transparency for sometime later. We are not doing that. Our leaders did not agree to that last year and we are not going to walk away from what our leaders agreed to. It is not the place of negotiators to try to trump their leaders’ mutual pledges.
But if we do this right, we can have a successful meeting. There is a vision of progress within our reach that would start with first a set of solid decisions this year that includes an adequate level of detail on each of the core issues – mitigation commitments, a green fund, transparency, technology, and so forth. Second, followed by a concentrated follow-on process for 2011, such as special working committees in which the remaining detail on all of these issues would be elaborated. And then this process would conclude with the third step, which would be fully operational decisions.
None of this would preclude or prejudge an eventual legal treaty when the time is right, but our view is that we should be making concrete progress now. In the often repeated view of the United States, a treaty requiring legally binding mitigation commitments from the U.S., the EU, Australia, Japan, other developed countries; would have to also require them of China, India, and other emerging economies, and we just don’t see this happening soon.
So rather than insisting on a legal treaty before anything happens, we should move down the pragmatic path of concrete operational decisions. And again, if we do this right, we can, in relatively short order, start standing up a green fund, create a new technology mechanism, start implementing significant mitigation commitments, put in place a system of transparency and accountability, and make real progress on adaptation and forest protection.
Now, let me take one moment to talk about the fast start finance commitment that developed countries agreed to last year in the Copenhagen Accord, namely to provide funding for developing countries, particularly vulnerable ones approaching $30 billion over a three-year period from 2010 to ’12. This is, by the way, the one element of the Copenhagen Accord that we have treated as unconditional. In the U.S., we have been working hard to pull together as large a financial package as possible and to make what we are doing visible to recipient countries. The U.S. contribution to fast start funding in FY 2010, Fiscal Year 2010, is a total of approximately $1.7 billion, consisting of 1.3 billion of congressionally appropriated assistance and about $400 million worth of development finance and export credits.
This financing is being used in a range of projects all around the world from adaptation activities in Africa and the small island states to assisting Indonesia with efforts to reduce deforestation to helping Andean countries address the impacts of tropical glacier retreat. In our view, these investments are not only good for developing countries; they are important for our own economic, environmental, and national security well-being.
With regard to transparency, I do want to announce today that a detailed executive summary of our fast start efforts is going up on the State Department website later today, as well as a special website for fast start financing that the Dutch Government is running. In addition, you will be able to find factsheets for the dozens and dozens of countries to whom the United States is providing fast start money. We will start by putting up countries from Africa – again, I believe that will be later today – but we will also have country factsheets for all countries by the end of this week. Factsheets will be on the State Department website. You can get them by going directly to the State Department site or you can get them by going to the Dutch site and linking through the State Department.
Let me then just sum up about Cancun. I would describe myself right now as neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I think the issues and the differences among countries are very real and the issues are challenging. As I indicated a few minutes ago, we do see a way forward, but only based on what our leaders agreed to last year in the Copenhagen Accord. We are not going backward and we expect other countries to join us in the same approach. The United States is eager to make progress in Cancun and is determined to do everything we can to ensure that that happens.
I’ll be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. Just a reminder that if you do have a question, please wait until the microphone comes to you, and then give your name, your news organization, and which country you are from. And finally, we are pleased to have Foreign Press Center New York joining us today too, so I’ll be calling on them as well.
So, questions? Yes.
QUESTION: I’m Brian Beary, Europolitics. My colleague interviewed you last week and one of the points he raised was going back on commitments that were made in Copenhagen, I believe you said something about some countries are not even sticking by what they agreed to do in Copenhagen. Can you just elaborate either on what countries or what specific issues were agreed in Copenhagen that you feel are not – the promises are not being made good now?
MR. STERN: Yeah. Well, I – look, I’m not going to talk about specific countries, and actually we don’t know yet because we’re going into the critical two-week negotiation in Cancun. A lot of people say a lot of things during the course of a year to try to position themselves; it’s the – kind of the way that negotiators operate. So we don’t know yet if there are countries that are going to actually back away.
We – look, as I said, the Copenhagen Accord basically had promises, on the one hand, for money, technology, adaptation, forest protection, which went to the benefit of developing countries. We also thought it enormously important that there were mitigation undertakings made, agreements to implement targets by developed countries and actions by developing countries – those who chose to list their action. But there are a lot – 80 countries or so chose to list their actions. I’m not sure how many – many developed, and I’m not sure what the exact number is, but many developing countries, certainly all the large ones.
So it’s important that that basic agreement by both developed and developing countries to implement those actions that they listed or those targets that they listed be carried out. The Copenhagen Accord did not say you’re legally binding, you’re not, you’re mandatory, you’re voluntary; there was just an agreement across the board to implement the actions that – the actions or targets that you listed. So we want to see that carried forward. That’s number one.
Number two, there was an agreement that there be international transparency with respect to the actions that countries – mitigation actions that countries pursue. And there was a term that was agreed on in the final somewhat dramatic negotiation at the end of the day on Friday, December 18th, which is international consultations and analysis. Well, what does that mean? What’s the system? How do you carry that out?
It is important that countries give life to – recognize that that’s an important phrase negotiated by leaders – and that we start to spell out what that means. We’re not going to get it all spelled out in Cancun, but we need to make some important steps and not sort of cast it aside.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Ching-yi Chang with Phoenix TV, Hong Kong. I have – today, China’s special envoy for climate change said that COP cutting emission is not only environmental issue but also economic development issue. So how do you respond to that? And also, what’s your expectation in cooperating with China in the coming meeting? Thank you.
MR. STERN: I completely agree with him. It’s just absolutely – it’s an economic and a development issue. This is what makes climate change hard. I mean, climate change – you can’t deal with climate change without dealing with entire economies. I mean, fundamentally, carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions come from a variety of sources, but the most important source is the burning of fuel to run economies. So there’s absolutely no question; I entirely agree with my Chinese colleague on that point.
Look, we are – on your second question, we have been in a very significant engagement with China since the time that I came into this job in February of 2009. And I have had many meetings and have a very cordial relationship with my counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, vice minister of the NDRC there. I actually visited Beijing a few weeks ago and spent a day and a half with him. So it’s an important relationship, important in many ways but important on this issue as well. And we have, obviously, some difference, but we are, I think, doing our best to see if we can find common ground. So I hope that happens.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. My name is Haijun Ren with China’s Xinhua News Agency. My question is after the midterm election, President Obama confessed that it is unlikely to make climate bill in nearly two years, and some senators in planning to change the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon taxation emissions. So I wonder how the U.S. assure other countries in Cancun that it could honor its pledges, its emission reduction pledge the President has made last year.
MR. STERN: Sure. Well, I think the President has made clear and we have made clear that the United States is standing behind the pledge that we made last year. No change in that. Obviously disappointed in not getting the energy and climate legislation passed through the Senate, but there are, as the President said in an interview, there are different ways to skin the cat. And we will be – but there are a number of things that we have already done, significant things.
EPA has put in place the most aggressive vehicle standards ever. Don’t forget, vehicles in the U.S. represent about 35 percent or so of emissions. That’s a big deal. They have also announced rules that – well, the first rules covered the years through 2016. They now have a process in place to go from 2017 forward. The first set of rules take mileage standards up to 35 miles per gallon, and after that EPA is looking at a range of possibilities that would go between 47 and 62 miles a gallon, and are also extending those rules to heavy vehicles and the like. In addition, there’s a number of other possible EPA regs under consideration that will involve stationary sources and other things. So EPA is certainly an important part of it.
And I think that there will be other kinds of legislation. I think that there is not likely to be the comprehensive legislation that was on the table for the last year and a half in the near term, but I think there will quite plausibly be other kinds of relevant legislation that affects energy and affects greenhouse gases. And we’ll be looking at a whole variety of measures. Remember, this is a 10-year period we’re talking about. This is 2010 to 2020. We’re in year one here, sort of year zero even. And I don’t think there’s any question that we will make the 17, and the President is fully committed to that.
MODERATOR: We’re joined by one of our member journalists in New York. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s Tom Lane of the BBC. I had a question about what the U.S. thinks of the suggestion of moving towards ad hoc groupings or forums like the G-20 and moving away from the UN framework. Some here are saying that it seems that the dog is dead but the tail still wags. And how would you respond to that?
MR. STERN: I don’t think the dog is dead yet. I have said on a number of occasions, including in a couple of speeches that I gave in recent months, that I think that the UN Framework Convention is the venue where we ought to be acting. It has history and credibility on its side, and we should be trying to make progress there.
I have also said and I think that we cannot be in a posture of continued stalemate there and have that venue remain as the central venue for climate change. So I do think it’s the right place. I think it’s going to remain the right place. But I also think it is incumbent on all countries there who want the UFCCC to remain the venue for climate negotiations to make it work, because year after year a stalemate will inevitably lead to a migration toward other places, but that is not something that the United States is looking for.
MODERATOR: Right up here in the front.
QUESTION: Christoph Von Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. I have two questions. The first is who should talk at this climate conference. Another criticism is whether it’s the UN or another body, but which person also talks there, whether should it be the secretaries of the environment, or not rather since everything is connected, the secretaries of economy or the deputy heads of government or whatever, meaning that secretaries of environment normally don’t have the good standing necessary in their national governments.
And the second question. You connected Copenhagen to Cancun. I would like you to elaborate how to connect Cancun to South Africa. What has to happen in Cancun in order to be on a good way to 2011 over there?
MR. STERN: Both very good and interesting questions. On the first point, look, the starting point is obviously it’s up to each country in their own sovereignty who to send. I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong or problematic about having environment ministers or energy ministers or whatever – or what have you, or climate ministers, depending on the country. Countries do it all different ways. I mean, in the United States, obviously, we use our foreign ministry, the State Department. That’s true for some other countries as well.
I think that it is – one thing that is a feature of U.S. activity, whether it’s on climate change or other issues, is a quite active interagency process. I mean, I was very, very much engaged on this back in 1997 when we were getting ready for Kyoto and I worked in the White House, and the – so it’s not – in the U.S., the issue is not simply left in the control or the purview of one agency, be it the Treasury Department, the EPA, the State Department, or whatever. There is an interagency process. State’s got the lead, obviously, in the negotiations, but there’s an interagency process that’s run by the NSC which gets the needed input. And it’s taken very seriously. And we – and again, I’ve seen it from the vantage point from the State Department. I saw it on other issues when I was the counselor at Treasury for Larry Summers, and I saw it from the White House vantage point when I worked in the White House. And I think that’s important.
I can’t vouch for or speak to what other countries do, but I think that that – I think getting buy-in from more than one agency is a very important thing. I think many countries do that. Probably some countries don’t, but it’s a very desirable thing to do so that you have your whole government on board, whoever it is that is actually representing you there.
On your other issue, I think that I meant to be speaking to that a little bit in my opening remarks, with respect to the link between Cancun and South Africa. I mean, what I see is, again, a set of decisions – I don’t – when I say see, I don’t mean I predict. What I would like to see is a set of decisions that go part way – I would like to see them go all the way, just they’re not going to go all the way right now – so a set of decisions that lay out some core principles and enough detail so that it’s – the guidance is clearly there on a green fund, on a technology mechanism, on mitigation commitments, on transparency and so forth. Then a concentrated, dedicated, and probably special process or processes during 2011, because the usual processes of moving these issues can be very slow.
And so I think setting up a special working group or working committee or whatever to elaborate what we mean by – like how does a technology mechanism work exactly; how should international consultations and analysis work exactly. Let’s spell it out so that you then get to final decisions that can become operational and actually work. Now, can we do that by South Africa? I think that will be great. Maybe we’ll get some of it done, maybe we won’t. But I mean, the length from Cancun to South Africa is potentially quite – could potentially be quite tight. We’ll have to see what happens.
Right here in the front.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Gregorio Meraz. I’m a reporter with Televisa. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are too many countries that promise to do something, but however the level of emissions next year is going to be the biggest. I would like to know what is it possible to do to prevent that. Second, I would like to know what is the role of Mexico in this conference? And third, if you’re – have any concerns about security. There are some rumors that maybe the blue helmets from UN will be providing security.
MR. STERN: Well, look, your first question is what can you do to prevent emissions from going up. I think that the reality is that the first step that needs to be taken occurs at the national level. I think international agreements are important to get people on the same page, to have certain systems that – for providing assistance and providing transparency and things like that. And I think that by stitching countries together in an international agreement, you can also increase everybody’s willingness to do more.
But in the first instance, action takes place at the national level. So the way that you’re going to get emissions to come down over time is to have action at the national level. Now, the reality is that almost all the growth in emissions right now is in the developing world, which I don’t say by any way of criticism. It’s just a – it’s just connected to the fact that the developing world is developing. It’s perfectly normal, perfectly natural.
But the developed world is basically on a flat line in terms of maybe growing a little bit but not much at all. And the growth, the very dramatic growth is happening in the developing world. And the challenge is going to be fundamentally – it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s fundamentally for the developing world – for technology to develop enough for the developing world to develop but in a – on a lower carbon model than the old industrialized countries used at a point when there weren’t low-carbon alternatives. So we’ve got a very rapidly – and a lot of this is going on, but it’s got to keep going on in an aggressive way, develop low-carbon alternatives, and get those disseminated, and so forth.
Mexico’s role – look, they’re the president of the COP. I think the Mexicans have been very, very active, working very intensively all year. Secretary – Foreign Minister Espinoza’s team, I think, has been doing a very good job moving all over the world, talking to countries, trying to see what their concerns are and how to facilitate agreement. They will have an important role. The president always has – the presidency of the COP always has an important role at these meetings to try to bring countries together. And there’s, again, 192 countries. It’s easy for there to be a cacophony, a lot of voices making a lot of noise, and it’s hard to bring them together into something that’s a little bit more harmonious, and that’s what they will be trying to do. And they deserve all of our support, because it’s a hard job.
I don’t have any comment because I don’t have any knowledge about the security situation, so I’ll just pass on that.
MODERATOR: The gentleman in the back row, right in front of the cameras.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Can you give us a sense of India’s role at Cancun and your role objective to address the climate change –
MR. STERN: I’m sorry, my role – India’s role and what else?
QUESTION: At Cancun.
MR. STERN: Yeah.
QUESTION: And secondly, where do you place – do you see countries like India, China, and Brazil emerging as a bloc on the issue of climate change negotiations?
MR. STERN: Okay. So I think that India had a very important role last year in Copenhagen, and I think India will have a very important role this year, particularly if we have a chance of getting anywhere. I think. India has the potential. Obviously, it’s an important voice on the developing country side. But I think India also has great potential to speak from a posture of credibility, frankly, on kind of both sides of the aisle, if you will. And I think India has shown both a commitment to principles but also a willingness to think in a new way and to be pragmatic. And I think that’s been quite important.
I don’t – you asked about a bloc. I don’t know that I would call it a bloc. There is – China, India, Brazil, and South Africa last year formed themselves into a group that they – that is referred to as BASIC. And I think they meet on about a – have been meeting on about a quarterly basis. They’re in a lot of – they communicate with each other. There’s all sorts of groups. There’s groups, and crisscrossing groups, and groups on top of groups in this whole world. So I don’t regard that as a bloc, but I think it’s a group of some of the most important emerging countries, and they clearly share ideas and views, and I think that’s fine.
MODERATOR: We turn now to one of our journalists in New York.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is Pincas Jawetz, Sustainable Development Media. In Copenhagen, besides of the appearance of this group on – was it last Friday, there was also a lot of talk about business-to-business kind of relations and the development of technologies across border between developed countries, developing countries. Now, do you see this kind of small step, business by business, continuing in Cancun?
MR. STERN: I think so. It’s a good question. I don’t actually know exactly what the plans of the Mexican Government are with respect to business-to-business activities. I know that they have been planning to have some such activities and to reach out to the private sector, whether on the business side or the NGO side. And I think that that’s clearly important. I mean, if you think about what’s going to solve this problem in the long run, it’s obviously going to be the role of businesses, particularly businesses that either produce or consume a lot of energy, clearly quite important. But I don’t know the details of what the Mexicans are planning.
MODERATOR: Let’s see. Right here.
QUESTION: I’m Ingeborg Eliassen of Aftenblad of Norway. According to press reports, almost half of the Republican new members of Congress don’t even believe there is an urgency in the climate matters. How do you expect this fact to influence your work?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STERN: Well, it’s interesting. I don’t actually think it’s going to influence my work in a direct way. I think that what the United States is able to do in terms of taking action domestically, however, is obviously quite important and has a indirect, if you will, but important indirect effect on my work.
So as I said in an answer to an earlier question, I think that there’s going to be a set of activities, some through the Executive Branch, some through the Congress, that are going to be important. And look, there are going to be members of Congress who are opposed to doing anything. Although you have to think about what kinds of activities might be involved. I know President Obama, when he spoke to this issue, rattled off a few examples of the kinds of things that you might be able to anticipate a collaboration on even with people who are not excited about the climate change problem.
So if you thought, for example, about a very revved up, intensive effort to work on the electrification of the vehicle fleet and the production of electric cars in the United States, it could be a very good thing for our auto business, for creating jobs, for manufacturing in Ohio and Michigan, for example – all things that could be quite appealing in many ways and could also have a big impact on greenhouse gases, even though it’s not kind of presented as that – as the – that’s not – it’s not framed in that sense. So I think that there are things that will be doable even with people who are – who do not profess belief in what science is obviously telling us all.
I said – I was asked about this question after the MEF meeting and I think this is becoming my favorite quote lately because I’ve used it and I’ll probably keep using it. But one of our great senators, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said years ago that everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. And that’s something that some of our friends in Congress are going to have to learn.
QUESTION: Christina Bergmann, Deutsche Welle, German international radio and online services. Sir, what do you think of California’s cap-and-trade bill, and do you rely more on the states taking action now that the federal government obviously is not as able to?
MR. STERN: Well, I think that – a couple things. I would – I think state action has always been important. I wouldn’t say that we’re going to rely more on state action now, because I think you have to act at a federal level. If you’re going to act at the scale, it’s necessary for the United States to do what we need to and should be doing.
Having said that, California is a very big state in its own right and must be probably 15 percent or so of the U.S. in terms of population. And it is also – it has also in many ways, and with respect to many environmental issues historically, been a leader that sometimes yanks the rest of the country along with it. So I think it’s very important what California’s doing. I think it was enormously important in the recent election. I mean, I’m a Democrat, so the recent election had a lot of bad news from the point of view of – from my own political point of view. But there was a piece of quite good news in California on this issue that the effort to derail the AB 32 cap-and-trade bill in California was defeated.
I don’t know the details, per se, of that legislation. I’m not going to comment on the design of the California bill versus something else, but I think that it’s very important and I hope will become a great example for the rest of the country.
MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions and we’ll take the first one here.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Jose Diaz with Reforma newspaper from Mexico. And I have a very quick question. It seems that the media reports there is a fixation on specifically commitments on lowering emissions.
MR. STERN: Specific?
QUESTION: That there is a fixation on – the commitments of countries on lowering emissions. But from your perspective where you stand at this moment, which are the specific areas that you see there’s going to be concrete results in Cancun? What would be the deliveries coming that you can foresee at this moment?
MR. STERN: Yeah. Well, it’s an interesting question. I think that – I actually think we’re either going to see progress across the range of issues or we’re not going to see much progress, because I think we are certainly committed and I think many countries are committed to the proposition that the balanced decision from – the balanced set of agreements in Copenhagen must also become a balanced set of decisions going forward in Cancun, so that if you have key issues on sort of one side of the equation or the other that aren’t getting anywhere – look, I mean, if we – if I said we really want to go forward on mitigation and transparency but we can’t get anywhere on financing or technology, I guarantee you the developing countries would not move, and they would be right not to move.
And you could say the same thing vice versa, right? I mean, if people say let’s move – well, I got the way to do this. Let’s just do technology, financing, forests, adaptation, and we’ll do those other hard things – mitigation and transparency later, well, then we’re going to say no. So we’re going to need to – and I think people understand this. I mean, there’s been a lot of talk about this lately. But as I said before, the devil’s going to be in the details. So then the – and by that, I mean there’s going to need to be pretty similar pace of moving forward. We’re not going to race forward on three issues and take a first step on other important ones. We’re all going to – we’re going to have to sort of get them all moving kind of in a similar – at a similar pace.
And I – there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be able to happen. I mean, it is not the case that it’s too complicated, that there’s too much that people don’t understand, that people don’t know how to – I mean, we could sit down and write what these would look like, but it’s easier to say that than to get the ultimate agreement in a very large and a very contentious body. So we’ll see.
MODERATOR: Last question. Let’s see – yes. Yes, right – yeah.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian. As everyone remembers, the meeting last year was sort of characterized by this intense and sort of crazed debate about process and – between the rich countries and the poor countries. How – what expectation do you have that all those tensions are going to flare up again and sort of sabotage the efforts that you’ve made? What sort of precautions have been made to ensure that it doesn’t flare up again?
MR. STERN: I actually don’t – I don’t think that those process concerns are going to flare up, and I think that the reason is that the Mexican team that has been working on this all year, I think, has been extraordinarily focused on preventing precisely that, and has been reaching out in a very intensive and concerted way all through the year to parties on every part of the spectrum. And North and South, East and West, Copenhagen Accord supporters, Copenhagen Accord haters, I mean, they’ve been working with everybody to try to make sure that everybody feels that the process has been transparent and inclusive, and that we don’t run into the kind of process problems that people were so chagrined about last year in Copenhagen.
Obviously, there were substantive reasons that people were concerned last year as well and those are issues that – we’ve been talking about those already today. I think we can make progress, but there’s challenges. But on the – but you’ve raised the process question and it’s a very good question, but I’m not anticipating that, and largely because of what I think has been extraordinarily good and intensive efforts by our Mexican colleagues to try to prevent that.
MODERATOR: Okay, Mr. Stern. Thank you so much for joining us today.
MR. STERN: Okay. Thank you very much. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Just a reminder, the transcript will be on the FPC website within the next couple of hours. Thank you for joining us and we’ll see you next time.