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Stern's blunt climate comments, cont.

By Juliet Eilperin

For those who aren't satisfied with excerpts, here are U.S. special climate envoy Todd Stern's full comments at the Center for American Progress, as prepared:

· Intro. I am delighted as always to be back at CAP, my own alma mater. It goes without saying that John Podesta and the CAP team have been far ahead of the curve in recognizing and educating others about the defining role that clean energy will play in determining the economic, environmental, and security landscape of the 21st century. So thank you for the invite. And now let's turn to the business at hand - what happened in the international climate negotiations last year, where we are now, and where we need to go.

· What happened in Copenhagen and where are we now. 2009 was supposed to be a momentous year for climate change, with the Copenhagen meeting ordained as the locus for a new climate treaty. Things obviously didn't turn out as planned, though in the end we did achieve something important.

· The truth is that almost as soon as formal negotiations got underway last March, it became clear that the positions of the parties on the key issues were far apart and not getting any closer.

· The working text developed in a series of lengthy negotiating sessions through the spring and summer grew to over 200 pages, a smorgasbord of sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory proposals. Through months of discussions, paragraphs got moved around and occasionally consolidated, but the main issues were never really joined. In short, the UN climate process was on the rocks long before anyone arrived in Copenhagen.

· What Prime Minister Rasmussen and his team recognized by the early fall was that the dream of producing a new, full-blown treaty was almost surely out of reach. The Danes thus began exploring the idea of what they called a "politically binding," operational agreement, which, while not a legal treaty, would still represent a potent step forward in Copenhagen.

· The Copenhagen meeting itself - COP 15 - was a snarling, aggravated, chaotic event. On the second day, someone unhappy with Denmark's efforts during the preceding few weeks to find common ground on the crunch issues among key developed and developing country parties executed a coldly effective hit by leaking a draft agreement that the Danes had supposedly cooked up with developed countries behind closed doors.

· The reaction - some of it real, some of it feigned - was one of shock and dismay. Never mind that at the most important pre-COP meeting Denmark chaired, on December 1-2, at least as many developing countries as developed took part, including some negotiators who later claimed with a straight face never to have seen the document they spent two days discussing. The rabble rousers in Copenhagen broadcast their outrage, and Denmark's credibility as a fair arbiter of COP 15 was irreparably damaged.

· As a result, the Danes' repeated efforts to convene a representative "Friends of the Chair" group to grapple with the tough issues and search for compromise were rebuffed, and any chance to make progress on those issues was consequently blocked. One day after another was swallowed up by these blocking maneuvers, so that by the late night of Wednesday, December 16, with leaders descending upon Copenhagen, the Conference appeared doomed.

· But the next two days proved to be truly extraordinary, and turned things around. Secretary Clinton arrived early in the morning on Thursday, December 17, quickly announcing that the United States was prepared to support an effort to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 - including both public and private fund - in the context of a strong new agreement. This announcement had an immediate impact, especially among vulnerable countries in Africa, the island states, Asia and Latin America, whose stake in getting a deal rose sharply.

· At 11:30 pm on Thursday night, after a formal dinner of leaders with the Queen, the Danes finally pulled together a Friends of the Chair group of some 30 countries, most represented by leaders. PM Rasmussen chaired the meeting joined by the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Australia, S. Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia, the Maldives, Grenada, Bangladesh and many others. Ban Ki-moon joined Rasmussen at the head of the table. Secretary Clinton represented the United States until President Obama arrived the next morning.

· This was a remarkable session and a remarkable tableau, with Leaders negotiating in a free form, unstructured manner. A successful outcome was achieved only because enough leaders refused to accept failure, with notable leadership displayed by European leaders Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown, as well as by Prime Ministers Meles, Thomas and Rudd, and President Nasheed of the Maldives.

· President Obama arrived that morning, and was extremely effective, pressing in particular on the issue of transparency and verification. The day culminated in a meeting among President Obama - assisted by the Secretary of State - and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Singh, Brazilian President Lula, and South African President Zuma. That meeting resulted in agreement on both mitigation and transparency - first that all of these countries would list their national mitigation commitments in an attachment to the new accord (in the form of Appendix I for developed countries and Appendix II for developing countries); and, second, that developing country mitigation actions would be subject to some measure of international review.

· After this meeting, the Accord was approved in the Friends of the Chair session. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Accord was presented to the full Plenary session of 192 countries, where it was broadly supported by representatives of the Least Developing Countries, the African Union, the Island States, and many individual countries. But six countries stridently objected, so, owing to the consensus rules of the COP, the Accord was not adopted in a formal COP "Decision." In the end, the COP "took note of" the Accord, rather than endorsing it.

· What about the Accord itself? It certainly doesn't do everything. It is more sketch than painting. But it shows the way forward in a number of important ways and did this at a moment when failure seemed imminent.

o First, it quantifies the ultimate objective of the Framework Convention - to avoid dangerous climate change - by saying that the increase in global average temperature should stay below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

o Second, it provides for both developed and major developing countries to list the specific actions or targets they will take to cut or limit their emissions.

o Third, it makes important progress on transparency by saying that the implementation of developing country actions will be subject to international review, something that already occurs for developed countries.

o Fourth, the Accord includes landmark financing provisions: for prompt start financing approaching $30 billion over the next three years; for a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 from public and private sources, in the context of meaningful implementation of the Accord; and for the establishment of a new global fund; and for creation of a High Level Panel to study different potential sources of revenue.

o Fifth, the Accord calls for the establishment of a new Technology Mechanism and incentives for forest protection.

· The next logical step should be to start work on the financing, transparency and other elements of the Accord that need further elaboration. Progress on these issues should also contribute to the fabric of a larger new regime for climate diplomacy.

· Carrying the Accord forward. Because the Accord was not adopted by the COP, however, two preliminary steps need to be taken. First, the major economies needed to submit their targets or actions to be included in Appendix I or II, as the Accord provided, by January 31. Second, countries large and small need to, figuratively, "sign on" to the Accord - to "associate themselves" with it in the lingo of the UN.

· The good news is that the major economies did submit their targets or actions on time - not always with crystal clarity, but clearly enough for inclusion by the UN in the Appendices it published last week. And over 90 countries have thus far indicated that they wish to associate themselves with the Accord, and thus be eligible to take part in its benefits.

· At the same time, submissions and statements by the so-called "BASIC" group of countries - China, India, Brazil and S. Africa - have been a bit ambiguous. I do believe that they will sign onto the Accord because the consequences of not doing so are too serious - in a word, leaving the Accord stillborn, contrary to the clear assent their leaders gave to the Accord in Copenhagen.

· But statements we have seen from China and the other BASIC countries do evince a desire to limit the impact of the Accord, assuring that it is not treated as an operational document and that negotiations going forward are based solely on the formal negotiating texts as they were left in Copenhagen - except perhaps where specific provisions of the Accord are viewed favorably.

· We have a very different view. The Accord, by its terms, is an "operational" document with landmark provisions and we think it ought to be operationalized. Nor do we think its provisions can be cherry-picked, since, like any meaningful agreement, it represents a balance - not just financing but transparency; not just mitigation by all major economies but technology assistance and dissemination.

· Moreover, we think that the Accord should materially influence further negotiations. This was not a casual agreement. It was the product of hands-on engagement by a set of representative world leaders and it makes no sense to suggest that it should play second fiddle to a negotiator level text that generated wide disagreement in Copenhagen.,

· Analysis. Let me step back now for a few minutes from the events I've just discussed and try to understand what was going on last year, what led to the year-long stalemate and the dissonance in Copenhagen, and what underlies the mixed signals we are seeing this year.

· At bottom, the core issue is the struggle between those who want to continue the Kyoto paradigm of an absolute separation between developed and developing countries, with only developed countries shouldering commitments to reduce emissions; and those who believe we can only address climate change with all major economies accepting responsibilities.

· This is the tension that underlies all the angry criticism of the process run by the Danes. Developing countries - not all, but many - were angered by language the Danes circulated before and during the Copenhagen Conference because the Danes recognized the need for all major economies, developed and developing, to cut or limit their greenhouse gas emissions and to do so in a transparent manner. Similarly, the thing that unsettles some countries about the Copenhagen Accord is that it represents a breach in the firewall between developed and major developing countries. It says, in effect, that solving the problem requires commitments by countries responsible for 80% of global emissions, not 45%.
· Those who insist on a continuation of the Kyoto model (with U.S. participation) often rely on the Framework Convention principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," which has been taken over the years by developing countries to mean that only developed countries can be required to limit their emissions, be subject to transparency measures, and so forth.
· But the phrase has been over-read for years. On its face, it stands for the appropriate principle that all countries have common responsibilities to combat climate change and that more should be asked of those with greater capabilities. But it does not legislate an unbridgeable divide between developed and developing countries. It does not prevent differentiation among developing countries. It does not say that China should be treated like Chad even though its capacities are closer to or, in some cases, greater than members of the OECD. It does not say that capacities can only be judged by the fixed categories of 1992 rather than being seen to evolve.
· Most important, it does not trump the core objective that must guide us - the core objective enshrined in the Framework Convention itself - that we must act to avoid dangerous climate change.

· If we keep our eye on this core objective, the imperative of bringing all major emitters into a regime of climate commitments is clear. There is simply no other way to head off the coming crisis. As I have said before - just do the math. Developing countries account for around 52% of emissions now and are projected to account for approximately 66% by 2030. They will produce some 97% in the growth of emissions between now and 2030, with some 50% of such growth coming from China alone.

· And this same understanding of the core objective makes it incumbent upon the United States to take strong domestic action. In the past year, the President took aggressive action on energy and climate, from dedicating some $80 billion of our economic stimulus package to promoting clean energy to establishing historic new fuel economy standards and leading international efforts toward phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Now Congress needs to pass strong energy and climate legislation this year.

· This is something we must do for our own good -to contain the gathering storm that threatens to ravage our natural world, damage the health safety of our children and undermine our national security; but also to secure a job-creating, robust economic future. My favorite comment to this effect comes from Sen. Lindsay Graham, who said just a couple weeks ago: "Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China. Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy."

· Going forward. So where does this leave us?

· It is not clear how climate diplomacy is going to play out this year. We are committed to making progress; to fleshing out the Copenhagen Accord, and to pursuing the effort to construct a broader global regime. We will seek to work with our partners, both developed and developing to this end. And, as has been true since we put in our formal submission to the Secretariat last April, we support a legally binding regime - provided that regime is symmetrical, imposing legally binding obligations on all major players in a balanced way.

· But let me also say that we cannot allow ourselves to get tied up in the kind of ideological debates that play to the folks back home - wherever that home may be - consume time and produce no solutions. Finding solutions must be our only guide.

· Process and form must always be understood as a means to an end, not something to deify as an end in itself. It's time to get down to work, to be guided, as I have said many times, by the dictates of science and the wisdom of pragmatism, and to make real progress.

· Thank you.


Juliet Eilperin

 |  February 9, 2010; 5:51 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Stern says that. “the fundamental science of this issue is quite clear”. If by that he means that carbon dioxide absorbs heat in a small portion of the range of wavelengths that the earth emits while cooling, and thereby retards the emission of that heat into space, he is correct. If he means that that attenuation of the rate of heat loss is causing or will cause a significant increase in the average temperature of our climate, he is wrong. That portion of the thesis is far from proven. To paraphrase Dr. Trenberth in one of the leaked emails, “Where’s the heat”. The putative accumulation of heat during the past 10 to 15 years is so well hidden in the biosphere, that no one can locate it. It is not in the atmosphere, it is not in the oceans; where is it? Is there a mechanism by which our climate system rejects heat to the cosmos that is not included in the IPCC models? It seems quite likely.

Mr. Stern goes on to say, “the growing sophistication of the modeling goes way beyond any particular set of data or any particular set of problems that occurred with regard to East Anglia or some mistakes in the IPCC”. This too, is false. Engineers and programmers who devise and run models of industrial processes are amazed at the relative naiveté of the climate models. Furthermore, the models do not mimic the behavior of the atmosphere very well. For example, where is the tropospheric hot spot? I understand that Gavin Schmidt thinks that the data vindicate the models, but the persons who collect and analyze the data disagree, and so do most other real scientists. Do remember that running computer models is not science. The purpose of computer models is to perform legions of complex computations rapidly within the bounds of observed measurements. Science does not allow extrapolation beyond the bounds of measurements, which is what these computer models are doing.

Then, Mr. Stern says, “the overwhelming body of evidence is not disturbed by those events." This is just wishful thinking. The emails and notes in the margins of computer code of temperature analysis algorithms call into question the accuracy of the entire temperature data base that forms the justification for the modeling exercise. It seems possible that most of the observed temperature rise was caused by the Urban Heat Island effect.

Mr. Stern is also wrong when he claims, "Things obviously didn't turn out as planned, although we did achieve something important." We are very fortunate that things didn’t turn out as well as Mr. Stern wished. In addition, what Copenhagen did accomplish is important only in that it probably represents a loss of momentum by those who wish to limit economic growth by strangling the energy supply.

Posted by: snorbertzangox | February 10, 2010 11:08 AM
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