13 january 2010

U.S. climate negotiator presents American view of Accord reached in Copenhagen talks

Center for Strategic and International Studies, Presentation of Jonathan Pershing, U.S deputy envoy for climate change


Jonathan Pershing: The last time I was here, and Frank and I were just comparing notes as I came back in, was, in fact, I think during the release of the report. It was about a year ago and you kind of think about how much has changed over the course of a year.

Last year, when we put that report to gather, we were clearly looking at lots of ways to frame a critical set of issues and bring them under one umbrella, frame a question about how you manage energy security, still very much before us.

Frame a question about how you manage climate change and think about the consequences of it and ways to be practical and find some solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to it, while, at the same time not distorting the fabric of American economic life or of our energy security.

Those kinds of things are still absolutely ripe today. But some things have fundamentally changed and I actually find it useful to think about Copenhagen not so much as a place where we met for two weeks, but as the culmination of a year's worth of conversation, but a year's worth of events that have, I think, altered the fabric of how we think about a number of different critical questions.

So, it clearly begins, in my own personal story and I think in the story of many people observing the process, this year, although it has antecedents in the history and the baggage that date well before that.

So, the Copenhagen meeting, in a formal sense, starts with the Bali action plan which calls for the conclusion of a set of recommendations and policies by Copenhagen. So, in that sense that's a two-year process.

In some sense it goes back substantially further than that. It goes back to the climate change convention itself, which dates back to 1992 and the Rio Earth Summit in which countries committed themselves to try to take actions to try to inventory greenhouse gases emissions, didn't succeed all that well in terms of reducing those greenhouse gases, was then succeeded by a new agreement, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 that set out an additional set of actions and obligations.

All of that, also part of the history. But it goes back substantially further than that in the science. It goes back clearly, in terms of our understanding of the importance of the problem which has successively become more obvious, more evidently critical, more evidently severe enough to warrant the kind of attention that the world is paying to it today.

And if we look at that history, that history goes back a hundred years and over the course of the last 25, I think, has had a continued rise in the level of engagement of the scientific community and, by extension, the policy community based on that science.

Back when we negotiated the first framework convention we had the first IPCC report to look at. That IPCC report was relatively ambiguous in terms of being able to ascribe a cause and effect.

When we did the Kyoto Protocol we had the next report of the IPCC and that report was slightly clearer, indicated that if you were to balance the framing of obligations from developed and developing countries, they were clearly preponderantly from the developed world and solving the problem seemed like a good idea, but a degree of uncertainty inherent in the process.

Fast forward to this process, the most recent IPCC report dates from 2007. I was one of the lead authors of that particular report. We worked quite extensively on the development of the language in it, the ideas that were in it, and the science that was in it.

And, at this point, what we can say is that there is virtually no doubt about the human signature in climate change. There are other uncertainties, other variabilities about how much and where it will happen in the future and how you can project forward.

Those are things we're still working on as a community, but the signature of the science and its impact and the humanities impact on climate is no longer much in question.

And the consequences appear to be increasingly severe and if you look both at that report, as well as the information that's come out since the report, and recall how these reports are done, these reports reflect essentially a consensus among the community of technical and academic experts that has to have been peer-reviewed, that has to reflect the diversity of opinion, that has to reflect dissent as well as assent.

Within that framework we have a number of fairly uncontroversial findings. The change in composition of the atmosphere is uncontroversial. It is rising more rapidly today than it's ever been rising in the past.

When the IPCC first began its work greenhouse gas emissions were rising about 1 part per million per year. They are today rising more than 2 parts per million per year, not controversial.

Not controversial is some of the historical record. There are clearly questions in any individual place, but the collective record, atmospheric measurements look like things have changed substantially.
Nearly a degree's worth of warming in the pre-industrial period, rising more rapidly than we had thought they would rise, not particularly controversial.

Not particularly controversial are some of the physics of how the atmosphere works. One of the things that we know is that when temperatures rise water expands slightly, not very much, but if you're looking at a scale the size of the ocean, enough to matter.
One of the things that we know is when temperatures rise snow melts. No one who's walking outside denies that we're happier today than we were a little earlier in the week when it was quite chilly, but at the end of the day, not much controversy about that.

Sea levels are rising and sea levels are projected to continue to rise and glaciers are melting and, if we take a look at the spatial surveys of Antarctica, the spatial surveys of Greenland, the spatial surveys of the ice cover in the north up in the Arctic, every single one of those has declined.

This last year, which people thought was not particularly anomalous, still rates as one of the five highest in our record. So, it's not as if there's a discontinuity, it's there's a continuous drumbeat of increasingly severe indications of the consequences.

And let's now fast forward to why might we care because those sound like they could be fairly modest indications of change. Well, we care because it looks like if you're in Bangladesh with several hundred million people very close to sea level, you have a problem when the sea levels rise.

It looks like a concern because when you think about the hot spots, the areas of security around the world, those that are exposed currently to conflict turn out often to be those same areas that are exposed to drought, exposed to food insecurity, exposed to consequences of environmental degradation from poor performance.

And all of those are exacerbated by climate change. That's a security concern. It's not about climate in the narrow sense that I worry about a degree, it's climate in the wider sense that it affects the distribution of economic wealth.

It affects migrations of populations, not at the scale of 10 or 20 or 100, but at a scale of Katrina multiplied by a thousand. That's a very difficult thing to understand even how to begin to manage ways that you could forestall the worst of those impacts, the worst of those damages resonate among the community.

And let's talk about the community. Over the last 10 years, since we did the Kyoto Protocol, virtually every other country in the world has signed on.

So the United States, for a while, was in the company of Australia, which made us quite happy, but then we had a new election in Australia. Kevin Rudd was elected. And Kevin Rudd, the very first thing that he did days after his election was, in fact, to go to Bali and to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

We are now in the company of San Marino. I don't know how many of you have been to San Marino. It's not a very large place. It's lovely, not very big, that's it. There are no other countries in the world who are outside of the Kyoto Protocol except for the U.S. and San Marino.

So you look at that framework and you think about where the world is and what the world view about the problem is, set aside for a moment whether you do or don't agree that Kyoto was the right approach, the world made a decision that it did believe that and the U.S. was outside of that agreement.

And the consequences diplomatically to being outside of that agreement have also been real. They've also been notable in many of our own interactions in processes.

I've talked to a number of companies who have been in the green energy space working on how they can develop new efficiency programs, solar programs, technology programs or consulting on these opportunities.
And many of them are reporting back or were reporting back that the U.S. was always burdened by the fact that the country had not moved forward. And if they could have a consultant from Holland or a consultant from Norway or a consultant from Brazil, they'd rather do that and have a consultant from the U.S. because of this policy.

That's a staggering statement and that was still at the surface. If you look a little bit deeper, you see the kind of reporting that was being done, any international issue of almost any sort, it didn't matter what it was, that had a relationship to the United States and the first line was the United States, which is a problem in Iraq and a problem on climate change, is doing X.

That was the first paragraph of all the reporting and I was living in France for much of that period and working at the IEA, that was the reporting in France, that was the reporting in the U.K., that was the reporting in Brazil, that was the reporting in Mexico.

This kind of breadth and the sense of dismay and concern was pervasive and permeated the lot of the relationships that were undertaken.
So fast forward now and where do things stand? We came to Copenhagen working out a deal and I'll come back in just a minute and try to articulate some of the pieces. Who came?

Unprecedented levels of state national representation came to this meeting. Over 100 heads of states participated themselves or heads of government participated themselves in these negotiations.

If you take a look at the list of participants and it's an extraordinary thing just to kind of look through, historically the participants list has been drawn from the ranks of environment agencies of countries around the world.

You have a smattering of foreign ministries, you've had a few, very, very few people who do energy policy, virtually no one who does finance policy. Look at the list today.

The list today is made up of 100 heads of state at the top of the delegation page. It is followed often by multiple, very seldom less than two, but multiple cabinet level official equivalents, ministers of environment, ministers of energy, ministers of resources, ministers of forestry, ministers of agriculture, ministers of science.

Countries sent senior, senior people because the problem is no longer narrowly one around the environment. It's a problem that's now much more encompassing. It speaks to trade. It speaks to energy policy.
It speaks to diplomatic interests and diplomatic initiatives that countries are undertaking. It speaks to development and development agendas of the poorest and the wealthiest.

That's a new framework that's reflected in Copenhagen. So, with that broad background, what actually happened there? So we went to Copenhagen and we had the framework.

I think, fairly early on it became relatively clear that we were not likely to end up with a legally binding treaty. It was fairly obvious already months before the Copenhagen meeting began.

And while that, I think, was a disappointment, certainly to us a disappointment, certainly to many a disappointment, it was quite clear that, disappointed or not, we weren't going to have that outcome.

So, what could be done? What things could be done to advance the solutions to the problem recognizing that the legally binding structure that I think many had hoped to see wasn't foreseeable in this timeframe.

What could we do? We could end up with a political deal, a political agreement which would carry forward the key aspects and the key actions that could really begin to work on this problem.

And that means that it's not any longer an agreement that would be limited to the OECD nations, not any longer limited to an agreement that would encompass the United States and Europe and Japan and leave out China and India and Brazil.

And for those of you who've followed U.S. domestic politics in these discussions, that's been one of the most difficult things historically for us to understand and to cope with.

Why would the U.S. take on clear obligations for action if some of our competitors were not and competitors are not limited in their geographic distribution to the OECD?

Competitors are broader. Competitors come in different places with different concerns, but they have to act or the balance isn't manageable.

And it also had to encompass the major emitters, because it doesn't really make very much difference in our current structure if you have relatively low per capita emissions, but a very large country and, therefore, very large emissions.

Our system is to be set up on the basis of sovereign nations and sovereign nations have authorities and control where actions go and, therefore, you need those major emitters.

If you have an agreement which covers 30 percent of emissions, you're not going to solve the problem. You need an agreement that focuses more widely. You need an agreement that's more comprehensive.

We also had to have an agreement that gave us some confidence that people were doing what they said they would do. It's fine to say here is a piece of paper and I'll trust you.

And it's the trust but verify language that we've had a lot of history on in other arenas is a history that's going to be repeated here. This is now getting at the heart of economic growth for countries.

And countries are going to be very, very careful as to how they proceed in the absence of good information about what each other is doing, so it had to have that. It had to cover elements that deal with the next step. Where are you going in the future?

And where you're going is predicated on what kind of choices you make in no small measure on technologies that either exist, but are not widely penetrating or that don't yet exist, but that we need to have in order to solve this problem at a cost we are prepared to incur.

What kinds of technologies? Those are the efficiency technologies. Those are the technologies on alternative fuels. Those are likely to be the technologies on nuclear power.

Those are technologies that deal not just with the energy sector or with the agriculture sector. If you take a look at greenhouse gas emissions 60 odd percent come from CO2. The remainder comes from other gases.

How do you deal with forestry, by itself come anywhere from 10, maybe as high as 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions? Both a technology and a policy and practice approach to what you might do.
And it had to provide enough flexibility that countries did not feel straitjacketed into a narrow, individual country's vision or approach.
It had to give flexibility so the program that might be run by India would be acceptable, while a fundamentally different program that might be run by Korea would also be acceptable.

That kind of flexibility is a prerequisite for success. If everyone has to do the same thing, the question of who's same thing you do and how that fits to others who don't meet that mold become quite critical.
I think we succeeded in all of these pieces. I think we got a political agreement that began to frame all of these issues. And so let me spend just a few minutes walking through some of the elements of the text and where it takes us.

It's very short. It's all of 12 paragraphs long with two appendices, and that's both its strength and, to a certain extent, its weakness. It doesn't tell us with enough specificity how we're going to do all those things.

And that remains something that we're going to have to be working on over the next year or years. But it does do a number of the things that I just mentioned. It works on the science.

It starts off with a basis that says that the IPCC is a good guide for where we might try to go and the IPCC uses a two degree number, two degrees increase Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, as a reasonably good metric for what we should try to set ourselves.
Is it enough? Many people think it's not. The island states in particular think it should have gone further. They believe that 1.5 degrees would have been more appropriate, but the IPCC in the next report might give us that guidance.

This one is not so explicit and the view was let's take the approach that has more buy in, that's got more public acceptability, that's predicated on a fairly conservative estimate and use that as a place to start.

So, it puts two degrees in and it urges countries to get to two degrees collectively, not to exceed that number. In order to get there you have to have peaking.

We certainly have sought some years for peaking. If you think about when that should happen it's got to happen pretty soon or you can't actually hit a two degree number at all.

Couldn't get a number for peaking, but have the concept of peaking. Strongly, strongly resisted by many developing countries, particularly India and China, because their view was that peaking demanded of them more than they felt they could immediately put on the table. And we see that throughout this, of countries balancing national interests against a collective global interest and that balance comes for everyone at some point.

Peaking, however, and the idea of it is enshrined in this agreement. We speak to something for developing countries that absolutely central. We speak to the issue of poverty alleviation as a central and core part of any next step.

But, for the first time, and I think Frank pointed this out in his opening just comments, you know longer have the luxury of thinking about poverty alleviation in splendid isolation.

It is now tied to other things about the global economy and the global environment. You can't solve the poverty problem if climate continues to change at this rate.

You will not have enough food. You will not have habitable cities. You will not have systems that can be managed because of the consequences of climate change.

And, for the first time, it talks about this being indispensable to sustainable development, an explicit formulation. It speaks then next to adaptation.

When we began this negotiation, and I say began in 1990 or '89 when we first set up the U.N. decision to have an intergovernmental negotiating committee, we thought we could solve it.

We thought we could fix the problem so that there would be no need for adaptation. Mitigation, avoiding the climate change entirely was possible. It is clearly no longer the case.

We clearly already see climate impacts and all the science indicates that the inertia of the system and the rate of change in the system will make those impacts worse. We have to figure out how to cope and how to manage those impacts.

That's right up in front. For the first time in this agreement, adaptation is the first action that's listed. We then speak in two paragraphs to what developed countries might do and what developing countries might do.

There is annex one and non-annex one and those are fungible categories because it's not a limiting factor. You don't say I'm developed today and I won't be in the future.

And we are beginning now to let's call it tear down the wall or at least put a bunch of doors and windows in the wall between developed and developing countries.

That very hard and fast line, a significant reason for the U.S. inability, political inability, unwillingness to join, now really moved through.

So, for the first time, we actually have statements of commitment by the major developing economies, a fundamental shift in this agreement from what we've had at any point in the past.

So what are developed countries supposed to do? What are we supposed to do? We're supposed to enshrine and inscribe a target for greenhouse gas emissions. What do we intend to do?

Well, the president has been quite clear about that. We intend to follow Congress. And this, I think, is, again, a departure from where we had been in the process leading up to and following Kyoto, where the administration went out with a statement of what we thought we could do, brought it home and it was not acceptable.

We did not have the work, the background, the legwork, the spade work done to bring home an agreement that would be accepted by Congress. This is being done at the other end.

This is being taken from the perspective that it's a joint exercise. It is built on work that was done in the House of Representatives. It is built on recommendations given to us by members of the Senate currently working on their own legislation.

I think, in an ideal world, the session wouldn't have happened until we had legislation domestically, but the timing internationally doesn't really wait for any individual country.

The process is underway, it's moving, but we have an enormous level of outreach to try to connect our recommendations to those coming from Congress.

And the recommendations that we've got are here, that there is a caveat in the way we are making them and we explicitly say it will be contingent on that discussion.

So, we're working to make that legitimate in the government, as our government is constituted fundamentally different than others, go forward.

What are we also asking for? Measurements and reporting and verification we asked of us and we will ask it of others. On the developing countries side we end up, again, with very explicit activities and obligations.

There was an agreement that there is a bit of a difference between a developed and a developing country. I think there's no one who doubts this.

The consequence even of a country growing as rapidly as China is that they still have only one quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions per capita of the United States. If you take a look at the inland interiors of India, you still have three to 500 million people with no access to electricity.

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