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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Goals for COP-19 Convention on Climate Change

Todd D. Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change 

Washington, DC
November 8, 2013

2:30 P.M. EST


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us here in Washington, and those in New York, for this briefing on U.S. goals for COP-19 with Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.

The 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change starts next Monday in Warsaw, Poland, and Special Envoy Stern will be leading the U.S. delegation there. We’re very pleased that he had time to come and brief us before he departs.

You received his bio when you came in, so in the interest of time, I’m just going to let Special Envoy Stern have a few words at the podium. We will go directly into questions, so I just want to ask all of you to please identify yourself with your name and your outlet before you ask the question. Please also wait for the microphone. In New York, if you have a question please approach the podium and we will call you in due order.

Now, with that, I’ll pass to Special Envoy Stern. Thank you.

MR. STERN: Hi. Thank you very much for coming. I’m just going to say a few words at the top and then we can go straight to questions. Before I get into U.S. objectives for the upcoming climate negotiations, I want to just give you a couple of words on U.S. engagement on climate. We have been very busy on this front. As you may know, Secretary Kerry and President Obama are strongly committed to climate action, both domestically and internationally, and there’s been a good deal going on this front this year. We’re taking robust action at home, including under the banner of the Climate Action Plan that the President announced in his speech in June. We have issued important draft regulations on carbon pollutions from new power plants, and are hard at work developing regulations that will cover existing power plants.

The President previously issued landmark rules regarding vehicles. Our whole vehicle sector is going from an efficiency rate of 27 miles per gallon when we started up to over 54, so more than doubling over the space of about a dozen years. And there are still more regulations that are in the works regarding heavy-duty vehicles. Those two sectors, by the way – power and transportation – are about two-thirds of our total emissions, so those are not small actions that the President is taking; those are very large-scale efforts.

We have also issued strong efficiency standards for a whole range of appliances that – basically everything that makes a building work, from heating and cooling to all sorts of other appliances within buildings. Those are issued out of the Department of Energy. And we have doubled renewable energy from wind and solar during the first – during the President’s first term, and he has pledged to double it again.

We are also leading on the international front. The President – rather, Secretary Kerry recently announced, along with his Chinese counterparts, new bilateral cooperation with China that was rolled out in the context of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue from a few months ago. We have made strong progress on HFCs. That’s industrial gases that are an important pollutant. President Obama and President Xi from China issued a statement to this effect in their – during their meeting at Sunnylands, and then again a further statement on the margins of the G20, and the G20 itself issued quite a strong statement about HFCs, and in particular about using the expertise of the Montreal Protocol to phase down production and consumption of HFCs. And this is an action that could have quite significant impact in terms of reducing emissions.

We have played also, I think, a quite important role in the context of ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, to take a significant step toward addressing aviation emissions. A big ICAO meeting happened several weeks ago in Montreal.

And in addition, I want to announce today that, based on provisional data, the U.S. will be providing, or has provided for Fiscal Year 2013, $2.7 billion in public climate finance to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. This is actually an increase from our last fiscal year number, which was around 2.3 billion, and I think should address the concerns of some countries that after the so-called “fast-start” period ended, and there was a “fast-start” pledge that covered the years 2010 to 2012 made by all developed countries, there was some concern that after that ended, that our climate finance efforts would sort of tail off. And just the opposite is happening.

This year – and of course this is the purpose of the upcoming meeting in Warsaw – we will be turning attention in that meeting to the negotiations under the UNFCCC, and I think we have an historic opportunity created by the call in the Durban Platform from 2011 to develop a new climate agreement that would be applicable to all parties. Those words in the negotiating mandate represented, in our judgment, a breakthrough, because what they mean is that we all agreed to build a new climate regime whose obligations and expectations would be applicable to everybody. That had never happened before; that has never happened before. There’s a lot of work to be done in doing that, but that was, I think, a very important agreement.

This meeting in – this COP-19, Conference of the Parties number 19, in Warsaw. And I think the real objective of Warsaw is to lay the groundwork for the – that negotiation that I just referred to that is supposed to complete at the end of 2015 in Paris. So the Durban Platform – Durban was the COP that was held in 2011 – Durban Platform set up essentially the negotiating mandate for this new agreement that would be applicable to all parties, and that it would be – it was designed, is designed, to be completed in – at the end of 2015 at the Conference of the Parties that will take place in Paris.

I think that, in our judgment, we are committed to negotiating an agreement that will be ambitious in terms of the emission reductions that are aimed for, effective, and durable. The only way to do that is going to be with an agreement that is broadly inclusive. Again, that’s the applicable-to-all-parties part. To do that, it will need to be sensitive to the needs and constraints of parties with a wide range of national circumstances and capabilities and designed to promote increasingly robust action.

I think that we can do this. I think we can get it right. It’s going to be important to evolve the kind of dynamic of these negotiations, which have been going on in one shape or another for 20 years, the climate negotiations, to kind of move toward an ethos and a mentality in which we’re all in this together rather than in a kind of us-or-them mentality.

So let me stop there, and am happy to take questions from anybody who might have them.


QUESTION: (Inaudible), China Daily. Yeah, I want to see – I mean, you talked about President Obama and Secretary Kerry have a very strong commitment, but obviously, I mean, Congress, they have huge obstacles to this. How that undermines the U.S. leadership? The other, you talked about China and U.S. joining hands. Yeah, but how – what they’re going to do more in this upcoming meeting and how not turn this into sort of a bickering between advanced country and developing country again? Thank you.

MR. STERN: Thanks for the question. So, good question. Let me make a couple comments. First, you’re absolutely right, that it is extremely difficult at the moment to get action out of Congress. The President has made climate change a central priority, a major priority, in his Administration for the second term. He signaled that in his Inaugural Address; I think it was the policy issue, if I remember, that was mentioned in the Inaugural. He spoke strongly about it at the State of the Union as well. And he called on Congress to act and he also said if Congress doesn’t act, then he’s going to step up and act under the authorities that he has.

Now, those authorities are of two kinds. When we talk about power plant regulations, or we talk about vehicle regulations, he can do those things because there is preexisting legislation, right. So the power plan regulations are prepared and issued under the Clean Air Act. Well, the Clean Air Act has been in existence for a long time. And the Clean Air Act allows the Administration to take these steps. There are other steps that he can take that – on his own presidential authority, particularly insofar as they apply to his own Administration. The efficiency standards that the Department of Energy issues also are issued under preexisting legislative authority.

So even though the Congress right now is not willing to take new steps, there are authorities that the President has. And as I said, power and vehicles, that’s about two thirds of our emissions. So it’s certainly not the case that we are hamstrung and unable to act. The President is acting strongly. It is also true that we could do more and that we should do more and – if we had Congress in a posture where they were prepared to act.

With respect to the U.S. and China, I think that we have a very – actually a very good relationship. I have worked closely with my colleague and at this point very good friend Vice Chairman Xie from the NDRC. We meet all the time, and I think we have very good understandings.

Beyond that, as I said, this Climate Change Working Group was launched in the first instance, was announced by Secretary Kerry on his visit to Beijing. I think it was April 13th, somewhere around there. And we have between that time and the S&ED, worked quite closely with the Chinese and established five different kind of initiatives under the umbrella of that working group. So we’re working on carbon capture, use and storage on the smart grid, on energy efficiency, on heavy-duty vehicle efficiency, and on kind of work on essentially monitoring, measuring emissions. And we’re working quite closely with the Chinese.

I think that there is an important – I mean, you asked about developed and developing countries, right – are we just going to bicker? I think we’re not bickering. I do think that this notion that a new agreement needs to be applicable to all – what that means in the climate context essentially is that this is not Kyoto. Kyoto set up an agreement where all of the real obligations in it applied only to developed countries explicitly. That was part of the agreement; there was no bones about it.

That’s not what we’re doing now. Now we’re talking about an agreement whose obligations, expectations will apply to all countries – not in the exact same way, in a very differentiated way. I mean, we are completely sensitive – and that’s what I meant when I said that you have to be sensitive to the different circumstances and capabilities of different countries, because now, if you’re applying it to everybody, you’ve got the whole range of countries all over the world. So you’ve got to be sensitive to different national circumstances and capabilities, and we think that’s completely appropriate.


QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Inga Czerny from Polish Press Agency. You said that the objective is to have this international agreement in Paris in the end of 2015, so I would like to know if Washington – if U.S. would be – would accept to having Warsaw a sort of binding roadmap – how to achieve this goal in 2015?

MR. STERN: Yeah. It’s a good question. Look, I think that some form of roadmap or path forward, whatever we end up calling it, if we could do that, that would be a good idea. I’m not sure if you said “binding”?

QUESTION: Binding.

MR. STERN: Yeah. Well, I don’t know about – I mean, “binding” has a particular meaning in these negotiations. What I think is important is that there ought to be a signal about how we’re going to move forward. In the first instance, in the upcoming year – so there’s two years, basically 24 months until Paris, so there’s a lot of things that need to be done between now and Paris to have an agreement that people can actually sign on to.

I think, by the way, that the two years that have elapsed between Durban and now have been well spent. I mean, I don’t think anybody who kind of lives within the bubble of these negotiations thought it was a good idea to start literally negotiating and laying text down on the table and all of that right away. I mean, what we’ve had is a kind of conceptual period, a discussion period, ideas have been discussed in all kinds of different forums, and that’s been completely appropriate. I think that we’re kind of getting to a point where you kind of gradually start to narrow things down, and you start to actually gradually focus on what can actually be in an agreement.

I think that path between now and, in the first instance, next year’s COP, which will be in Lima, and then all the way to Paris – some sense of kind of what the process is, what the timelines are, what should be expected when and by whom – that, yeah, that would be a good idea to do if we could do it.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Liou, People’s Daily of China. Probably cooperation between – cooperation on the climate change issue is the most important cooperation between United States and China among all the issues, so would you please speak, like, more about the cooperation between the two countries? And also, would you please introduce some – any progress on the issue about technology transfer and financial support from developed countries to the developing countries? Thank you.

MR. STERN: Thanks for the question. Well, yeah, look, I think that the cooperation between the U.S. and China is increasing all the time. I was just explaining the new Climate Change Working Group that got launched at the time of – or first announced at the time of Secretary Kerry’s visit in April to Beijing, and then further developed at the time of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in – that was in July – June or July.

And that work will continue. I mean, there are now, again, as I said, five different initiatives that we’re working on. People on my team are interacting with, are sending proposed kinds of implementation plans to people on Vice Chairman Xie’s team. So we mean to make progress with respect to the work that we’re doing in all of those areas. So that’s within that particular working group.

I know that there are other aspects of progress and cooperation that go on between our EPA, for example, and the MEP, the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China. There’s a lot of work that goes on between our Department of Energy and the NEA in China. We have new heads of both the EPA and the DOE: Gina McCarthy is head of the EPA, and Ernie Moniz the head of DOE. I know them both well for many years and they are real leaders on this issue. I mean, they have a broad portfolio, but they’re very focused on climate change, and very powerful and effective leaders in their own rights, so – and very much engaged with China as well. I know Secretary Moniz was just in China in the last week or two.

So I think we are eager for a deepening relationship with China on these issues. We’re the two largest emitters. China, at this point, is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and is growing rapidly in that regard – will probably be twice the size of the U.S. before all that long, and that’s because China is a tremendously successful economy and has done extraordinary work in developing its economy, and so its emissions profile has gone along with that. But China is also doing a great deal of work to develop a lower-carbon economy, to develop renewable energy and nuclear energy and other ways to reduce its carbon footprint, if you will.

So I’m very encouraged by our possibilities. We will need to work together to get on the kind of footing for a new climate agreement that – again, that was sort of outlined a little bit in the Durban platform, but I think we can do that.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. STERN: Oh, well, I mean, so, with respect to financing, there was – as I said before, there was a fast start finance commitment by developed countries to do – to provide $30 billion of public funds over the three-year period – 2010, ’11, and ’12 – and that commitment has been met. The U.S. is, as I said, continuing to – we did about – I think around $7.5 billion ourselves in that period, and this year’s numbers seem to be coming in at around $2.7 billion.

We’re also working with – the developed countries made a commitment to mobilize $100 billion dollars a year by 2020 from all sources. So that’s public sources, carbon markets, private sources, all sources. And we’re working very actively with other developed country partners – we’ve had a number of meetings to this effect this year in working on how to both increase our public funding, but also to use public funding and public policy to leverage much larger-scale private investment. And technology is part of that.

Sort of by definition, there’s a lot of technology transfer that happens any time you have the kind of investment that we’re talking about. And there’s a new technology institution that we agreed to, and that is well along the way to being set up. It was agreed to in the first instance in Copenhagen, a technologies center – climate technologies center and network. We’ve been a big proponent of that, so this is working on a lot of different fronts.


QUESTION: French newspaper, Liberacion. Three short questions: First, when you mention an agreement applicable to everybody, does it mean a binding treaty? If not, why not? Second, can you give us actual figure for U.S. carbon emissions, related – compared to thousand-90? And third --

MR. STERN: Compared to?

QUESTION: To 1990.

MR. STERN: 1990.

QUESTION: And third, when you give the figure of $2.7 million --

MR. STERN: Billion. Billion.


MR. STERN: Billion.


MR. STERN: $2.7 billion.

QUESTION: Billion. Okay. This year, fiscal year --

MR. STERN: Right, 2013.

QUESTION: Yeah. Still, this is to relate – isn’t it – this figure relates to the $100 billion that had been pledged in Copenhagen? And how modest is that compared to this Copenhagen figure?

MR. STERN: Okay. Number one, the agreement in the Durban – the so-called Durban Platform, the negotiating mandate – if I can get the words right – the agreement was to prepare a protocol, another legal instrument for an agreed outcome with legal force. Those were the words that were agreed to, and so not completely clear what kind of legal agreement, but we take this to be a legal agreement of some kind, and I think that’s what most parties do. And I think that most legal agreements, even including the framework convention, for example, are – have elements – if you actually disaggregate them, there’s elements of the agreement that are binding and elements of the agreement that are not binding.

And all issues concerning exactly what the specific quality of – or specific nature of the legal agreement will be here are all subject to negotiation. But we take the Durban platform to be an agreement to negotiate a legal agreement, and we’re in the middle of those negotiations.

U.S. carbon emissions. We are – I think the best thing would be for me to – our office can get you the exact numbers. I believe that we are in the neighborhood of 9 or so percent below 2005, but these numbers vary – year to year – so I’m not certain if those are exactly the most recent. I think our reduction from that baseline, which is actually our baseline, is the largest of any country in the world, I think. Again, we can double check these numbers. Against 1990, I don’t know. I think that our numbers have us back about even or so with 1994, if I’m not mistaken, so probably a little bit above 1990. But 1990 is not the baseline that we have used, although it’s a baseline, for example, that the EU has used.

On your financial question, I want to make sure we’re not confusing sort of apples and oranges. The $100 billion commitment is by 2020, so we’re still seven years away from that, and it is from all sources. So it’s not just public money; it’s public and private and carbon markets. The $2.7 is public money, and it’s right now. And if you think about it – I’ll give you an example, our Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, has done a great job in mobilizing and in providing climate financing. They have actually increased what they do in this sphere from, I think, around $10 million or so a year when we first came into – when President Obama first came into office – to over $1 billion dollars a year now. That’s just the public side.

They also, when their money leverages, it pulls in other investment from the private sector. So let’s say they’re providing funding for a geothermal facility or a solar plant or whatever it might be, they put in – it could be a loan, could be a loan guarantee, it could be risk insurance, it could – any number of ways they provide funding, which then pulls in private investment, which would not otherwise have occurred. So their billion probably produces another billion or billion and a half dollars from the private sector. We’re not counting that in that $2.7, but that kind of money will be counted as part of the hundred, and there’s much, much more of that.

So basically, in our view, it’s where you’re using public funding or public policy to pull in private money, then that’s – that appropriately counts. And I think that’s the way most people look at it.


QUESTION: My name is Keisuke Yoshimura, from Kyodo News, Japan.

MR. STERN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I want to ask you your view about current negotiation of Montreal Protocol. I ask this because it’s very important issue for United States to set next ambitious target – maybe next year? So I want ask this. Another question is that common but differentiated responsibility – maybe everyone asks you about this, but I want to confirm U.S. position about this differentiated responsibility. Thank you.

MR. STERN: Well, Montreal Protocol is – obviously is a different treaty organization. It was established to deal with ozone-depleting substances that were creating a hole in the ozone layer. And it is probably the most successful environmental treaty that has ever been established. It actually took a problem and has significantly solved it. It’s not finished, but it’s done really important work. It should be a lesson to other treaty organizations in many respects because Montreal has been an organization – treaty organization that is pragmatic, that is not polemical or ideological. It’s not polarized. It’s gone about its business of phasing out or phasing down industrial chemicals that were causing a hole in the ozone layer and substituting for them other substances that don’t affect the ozone layer. So it’s done a very good job in that respect.

The way in which the Montreal Protocol is important for us in the climate change arena right now – one other sort of preliminary point, which is in the course of doing that, the Montreal Protocol has probably reduced more – almost certainly reduced more greenhouse gases as a kind of side effect, if you will, than have been reduced under the UNFCCC.

Now, there is a particular substance that was developed as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances. These are hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, and they don’t damage the ozone layer. The problem is they are an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and they are rapidly rising. They’re not a large percentage of greenhouse gases now, but they are the substances that are used to make air conditioning work, for example, or refrigeration, which is exploding in its growth, and particularly in the developing world – which is a great thing, because there’s many, many countries in warm areas that need that. But it is important that we now get a substitute for the substitute, right?

I mean, the HFCs are fine with respect to the ozone layer. They are very much not fine with respect to climate change. And so what we need to do now is to phase down HFCs and replace them with substances that don’t harm the ozone layer or climate change. And this is doable. And we have proposed – and there were something like 110 countries or so in – a year or two ago signed onto a resolution in Montreal calling for such a phase-down. And the phase-down has – rather than a phase-out – what a phase-down means is you do this in a way that’s pragmatic, in a way that doesn’t force countries to replace these chemicals until there’s a good substitute, but to work on the substitutes, and then to replace when the substitute’s available.

The Montreal Protocol is the best place to do this because they have expertise. This is what they do. Montreal Protocol, their reason for being is to get rid of problematic industrial chemicals. So they’ve got expertise, they have a fund, which is well-financed and is specifically designed for this purpose. And we have been pushing a lot now – and again, they say we and a lot of countries, over a hundred countries who sign this resolution – to use the Montreal Protocol for this purpose. There has been opposition to that effort by a number of countries – not a large number, but some countries who insist that anything having to do with greenhouse gases has to take place within the UNFCCC.

We think that’s unfortunate. Montreal has perfectly good legal jurisdiction to do this, and we think it’s unfortunate to insist on that because the UNFCCC, unlike Montreal, actually doesn’t have any expertise in phasing down industrial chemicals. So our view is: Keep your eye on the ball. What we’re trying to do is to actually reduce greenhouse gases. Experts say that if we do this, we can reduce 90 gigatons – that’s a huge amount – 90 gigatons of greenhouse gas – of carbon equivalent, CO2 equivalent, between now and 2050. So you hear a lot of countries talking about ambition gaps and we haven’t done enough and we need to more – well, this is a really easy place to do more. So hopefully we can do that.

CBDR, we believe U.S. recognizes CBDR, “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities,” as a principle of the original framework convention. We see it as a completely appropriate principle that is intended to recognize, in essence, the different circumstances and capabilities of countries. What we do not think is tenable – and I said this in a speech recently in London – is the notion that you would take that principle and insist that it means that the categories of countries established in 1992 – which in the climate world are known as annex ones developed and non-annex one developing – that the obligations and expectations, the who has to do what of a new agreement, should be determined by membership in those categories established in 1992 on a basis of – and on a basis that the categories never change.

So you could certainly have categories that evolve based on countries’ changing circumstances. We didn’t have any problem with that. Or you could have the annexes’ categories stay as they are, but not really have a real operational impact on the agreement. What we don’t think works is to say those categories determine operationally how the agreement works, and they never change. And 30 years, 50 years, 60 years later, you still have all of those same divisions even though the facts on the ground, the material facts of GDP and GDP per capita and emissions, are all dramatically different. That’s what we think doesn’t work.

But CBDR, read in any kind of reasonable way from our perspective, is proper, we support it, it should be an enduring principle of the convention.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more.

MR. STERN: Okay.

MODERATOR: I think we’ll go to New York for that. New York, go ahead with your question, please.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Martin Gelin from Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. The U.S. has, thanks to the oil and natural gas boom, become the world’s biggest oil producer. How long do you think the boom will last, and what will that mean for American energy policy?

MR. STERN: Well, thank you for the question – I’m not the best person to ask how long the additional oil and gas supplies that have been discovered in the U.S. will last. I think that the supplies are quite substantial, though, so I think it’s not a short-term thing. I think they will be there for quite a long time.

I think that having resources that are domestic rather than imported is probably good for any country. I think it’s good economically for the United States. I don’t think that – and we are, under any circumstances, going to be using fossil fuels to some extent for quite a while. At the same time, I don’t think discoveries like that can or should in any way change or deflect us from the underlying imperative to transform, over time, the energy base of the economy from high to low carbon. I mean, if you want to deal with climate change, that’s the name of the game. You can’t really do it otherwise. So – and that transformation is based on fundamentally two things: Using energy more efficiently so you can do the same amount of work using less energy, and using sources that are not fossil fuel sources.

So obviously, natural gas is – maybe not obviously, but natural gas is only about half as polluting from a climate change perspective as oil and coal. But sources ultimately that are not polluting from a climate perspective, such as renewables and nuclear as well, are certainly where things are going to have to evolve.

Thank you very much, everybody.


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