13 january 2010


Sarah Ladislaw: Great, thank you so much Jonathan. I thought your description of what was going on at the Copenhagen meeting was very interesting and amusing.

I can imagine several cloned Jonathan Pershings attending each of the separate working groups. We only have 10 minutes left so I'm going to forgo my prerogative to ask a question and take some from the audience.
We have a couple ground rules. Please say where you're from, your name and your affiliation, ask a question in the form of a question, and, because there are so many of you and so little time, I'd ask you to please keep them as brief as possible out of consideration for some of your colleagues. Kathleen?

Kathleen Kelly: First, thanks to CSIS for organizing this great meeting and Jonathan for your time to share your insights on what happened in Copenhagen.
You mentioned early on in your remarks that many countries were not expecting a legally binding outcome in Copenhagen, but I think what many expected was at least some agreement on a new deadline for putting in place a legally binding treaty.

And we didn't see that come out of Copenhagen. To what extent will the international climate policy process focus on achieving a legally binding treaty and to what extent will this be a priority for the United States?

Sarah Ladislaw: Okay, I'm actually going to take maybe say three questions and group them together.

Kathleen Kelly: I'm sorry, I didn't say my name, Kathleen Kelly from the German Marshall ____.

Sarah Ladislaw: That's right, I know you, so I…Right there, on that side of you, right there.

Lisa Friedman: Thank you so much, Lisa Friedman from ClimateWire and thanks for doing this. Given the chaos of the meeting, especially the end, I'm hoping you could talk to the process.

Is the UN the best place to develop climate policy at this point, international climate policy? Is the UN broken and what role do you see for the MEF going forward, specifically are there meetings set up for the future and what will the MEF take on perhaps over the coming year that maybe we won't see through the UN? Thanks.

Sarah Ladislaw: OK, one more, right behind you right there.

Brian Beary: Brian Beary from Europolitics European Affairs News Daily. I know that European leaders, a lot of them were very upset with the whole way that things went.

I just wanted to ask you about the issue of leadership. Do you think there was sort of a seismic shift that the Europeans for so long were in charge of steering the ship and that they've lost control and that the U.S. perhaps has taken a leadership role?

Have you observed any shift on the leadership question?

Sarah Ladislaw: OK, why don't we start with those and we'll do another round?

Jonathan Pershing: Thanks very much for those questions. Kathleen, your first one about the legally binding nature, I think that the notion of a legally binding agreement is going to be something that a lot of countries are going to work toward.

I think that we would like to see one. I think that the European community would like to see one. I think Japan would like to see one. Australia a very, very much wants to see one.

Many developing countries would like to see one. I think the question ultimately is what form that could take that would be acceptable to the major players, because I think that for almost anyone you could imagine a legally binding agreement that doesn't have any consequence.

Well, that doesn't get you very far. That doesn't satisfy. Conversely, you could imagine a legal agreement that had substantial consequence that countries couldn't ratify.

That also doesn't get you very far and I think the question of what you can take from this moving forward will occupy all of us, something that we are beginning to really work aggressively on.

Mexico is, as a country and as the host of the next meeting, also seriously considering in terms of both process and substance what it might do.

There may be interim steps that we can take. It may be that when we implement the decisions that are in this accord that will raise the levels of confidence about what can be done and how cost effective it is to do those things.

It may be that when the United States comes forward with something that we could commit to, not contingent commitments, but commitments based on legislation that others would feel more confident about what they could do.

So, those are the kinds of things that I think we don't yet know that would dictate how it would come out. But I think that there will be a significant effort to try to move that forward.

The second question, Lisa, you asked the question about is the U.N. the right place and is there a role for the MEF for others. It is impossible to imagine a global agreement in a place that doesn't essentially have global buy in.

There aren't other institutions besides the U.N. that have that. It is also impossible to imagine a negotiation of things of enormous complexity where you have a large table with 192 countries involved in all the detail.

You need to have processes that do both. You need to have processes that you can take smaller, technical groups to work on technical issues.

You need to bring together coalitions that have common interests and see if those coalitions can expand the level of engagement and support from a larger community to carry it forward.

That is, in fact, the way the U.N. works. It did work this time as well, although not very well and at the very, very last minute, instead of in a more…I would have liked to have had more sleep during the process.

So, I think that the exercise suggests to me it's going to continue to be very difficult. It is a problem though which clearly raises enormous concerns on a lot of grounds for many countries and those are the things which these organizational structures allow to be aired.

We're going to continue to hear them. I do not think in this year that Cuba is going to come around and say this is a brilliant exercise. It's done just right.

Or that the island states who feel that two degrees is not enough are going to say, you know what, it's fine if my coastlines kind of float away. I don't think that's going to happen.

We're going to have a very, very difficult negotiation moving forward and it will be a combination of small and large processes. Will the MEF be one of them? We're working on that.

There are questions as to whether the MEF by itself does all things. It had a couple of, I think, extraordinary outcomes. If you look at the language in the accord, some paragraphs draw directly from the language in the L'Aquila decision that was adopted by the MEF countries.
If you look at the basic structure, it's very similar to the ideas raised by the MEF countries. And if you look at those who were in the small room who agreed, they were the MEF countries as well as others.
The second thing which the MEF did, which didn't get much press and which I think is an extraordinarily significant contribution has been that on technology.

Because the MEF decided that this was one thing we really had to do, the legal structure, the international framing, but a second thing that we had to do was on the technology side and so individual countries have stepped forward to lead on technologies.

We'll be working ourselves with Secretary Chu and the Department of Energy leading on some of the efficiency programs. We will also participate with other countries.

For example, the U.K. and Australia will be leading on capture and storage for coal and coal-fired plants. But the Koreans are working on smart grid. There's work that's underway in Canada on electric vehicles.

There's work that's underway on renewables, which will build off the new work on Irina that's happening in Germany with input from the U.S. and from others.

India is in, Korea is in, Mexico is in, all of the MEF countries are in. That was another MEF outcome that also has to carry it forward.
So, we're looking at how to bring all those things to the next level. The final question, Brian Beary you asked this question about EU politics and the dynamics of the EU.

My own sense is that this would not have happened but for the EU, that the EU has been the stalwart that's been out there pressing for change, willing to take some of the first steps, designing markets.
They were not the first of any market, but they sure were the first with a carbon market and the demonstration effect of that is incalculable.

My sense was that at this particular meeting the interaction was for the first time among a group of countries that were all playing, not just where some were playing.

So the relative weight may be lower, but the collective input is still very high and the value I think is enormous. So, the fact that China joins doesn't reduce the EU level of ability to be a leader. It really puts others also in that status of leading.

And I think that's mostly what happened. My own sense is that for the U.S. to reengage in this process and to have someone at the level of the president doing it who is a charismatic man and who's really effective at these kinds of conversations changes the room dynamic, but doesn't lessen the level of effort of commitment made by Europe.

We still don't know what Europe is going to do. Europe's having meetings this weekend to make a determination as to whether or not this agreement satisfies the ability to move forward to the next level.
They've committed to doing a 20 percent reduction with or without an agreement of this sort and said that if the agreement had adequate and comparable actions by others, it would go to 30 percent.

I hope we'll hear more about that. Our view is that it's quite a robust agreement. We think it will be great if Europe could continue to move forward.
Sarah Ladislaw: Right there. Climate change is all about distributional issues, so I'm trying to be equal in the room.

Marissa Salino: Marissa Salino from Northrop Grumman. You've talked about how important measurement reporting and verification is and was at the Copenhagen meeting.

Was there any discussion of the fact that many of the satellites that do measurement and presumably could be used for verification will be going dark in the 2020s and there's not much in the way of replacements in the pipeline?

Alden Meyer: Alden Meyer, Union of Concerned Scientists, thanks Jonathan. I think the progress on the two degree target was notable from L'Aquila where it was sort of noting the science to the Copenhagen accord where it's a political commitment by the countries.

But I think it's also clear that the pledges and actions that countries are likely to put on the table at the end of this month are going to be nowhere near achieving the two degrees or putting us on a pathway for
two degrees.

And the concern is if you wait until 2015 to do the review you may have foreclosed options to increase the level of action to get you on a two degree pathway without economic cost in the 2020s and 2030s.
So, I'm wondering what you see can happen that can raise the level of ambition in emission reductions, both from the north and the south between now and 2020 in advance of 2015 that gives us any hope that countries will actually meet the two degree commitment they made.

Sarah Ladislaw: OK and we've got a question right there in the front row.

Hilary Ajune: Hilary Ajune from the State Department. Coming out of Copenhagen are you now it all optimistic about Kerry Boxer?

Sarah Ladislaw: That's a good question. Can we take a couple more or are you good? Let's do David right there.

Dave Garmen:
Jonathan, thanks for your service and my question really follows up on that one. What do we do if we cannot convince Congress to act?

Sarah Ladislaw: And Darren. That was yours? Well, there you go. Want to do one more from the back there?

Jonathan Pershing: Sure.

Valerie Volcovici: Hi, I'm Valerie Volcovici with Point Carbon News. I just wondered how you would characterize China's negotiating tactics kind of towards the end of the summit, because the perception was that China steamrolled it.

And I was wondering if you could characterize your perception of that.

Sarah Ladislaw: OK, follows pretty good.

Jonathan Pershing: Great, thank you very much. Marissa, you asked the question about the MRV and the satellites. The answer is that, no, people at the negotiation were primarily not focused on satellite solutions.

People have talked about them in sidebar conversations. I myself had a number of conversations, both with folks at NASA and others who maintain American satellites and capacity.

I think that's going to be an issue that we're going to have to probably raise. People have looked at a variety of different mechanisms and sources for doing MRV.

One has been this kind of let's call it a technical verification protocol that might be done through satellite data. Another could be through proxy data.

For the vast majority of interrelated greenhouse gas emissions, proxy data is not actually too bad because the scale of trade in fossil fuels really accomplishes much of that and the data is reasonably good.

It turns out satellite data is excellent for forests and on that side you get a big chunk of it there. You can do land truthing with some of the information as kind of a way to do point source estimates and give you more accurate characterizations of data that you got through other means.

I think that ultimately we'll end up with a number of procedures for that. My own sense is that Congress is going to want us to be fairly clear about both what the international community says and what we think, which means that we are likely to do our own work on this.
We're likely to evaluate in our own databases, in our own capacities how performance is moving forward and that will probably proceed in parallel and we'll use all the information available to us to make those decisions.

But I'd also say that the issue is not narrowly about emissions. The issue is also about policies.

If greenhouse gases end up declining precipitously in a particular country, but it turns out that the country has also at the same time released substantial assistance to its steel industry and our steel industry is feeling competitively disadvantaged from that, the emissions are only part of the story.

The policies are also going to matter, so there's going to be some need to have a much more wider diversity of ability to evaluate performance.
Alden, you asked about two degrees, I agree with you, I think there was substantial progress from L'Aquila in terms of where it went. And the question of whether countries will do what they say they will do is only part of it as you note.

The other part of it is whether what they say is enough. My sense is that we need to be careful about taking all of our steps at once.
It was clear to me from the negotiations that one of the difficulties that we currently have is that the art of the practical and the possible is not yet at the same level as the understanding of what they think the science might require.

It doesn't mean that these steps are not valid or these steps are not huge, significant advances from where we are, but it may mean that we're going to have to come back at this and take another bite at the apple.

You don't eat the apple in one bite. You take a bunch of bites of the apple. This first one is a fundamental turnaround from where we had been.

Where we were, even under Kyoto, was a relatively small share of global emissions addressed and, for some of the countries in theory covered by Kyoto, like the United States, that were not in, the emissions grew by 17 percent.

So too aggressive a number doesn't get you very far either. This gives some flexibility on that and hopefully the process for review will, in fact, move us to levels that are commensurate with required needs.
That ends up being something that everyone has to engage in. That's something that we will engage in, trying to promote in the administration aggressive and robust policies at home, that we will engage in diplomatically by encouraging others to do the same in their countries.

That civil society will engage in at the private sector finding technological solutions and reduce costs we'll engage in. It's a much more comprehensive conversation, which this sets in motion.
Will it do everything that we need? No. Is the alternative something that we'd prefer? Absolutely not, because the alternative is not some perfect deal.

And this is a conversation that I had just yesterday with some members of the Alliance of Small Island States who said, well, why don't we just wait because we could have had 1.5 degrees.

That was not going to happen and if we wait we will lose the possibilities that are in this agreement and you need, in my view, to take those steps when they come and to build on them, because if you don't take them, you just waste time.

You don't necessarily have a better outcome next time. What you have is whatever outcome you might have gotten now but a year or two years or three years later and I don't think we can afford that time either.
Hillary, you asked the question about my optimism on Kerry Boxer. I think that that's a conversation better answered by others. There are many in this room who follow that conversation in great detail.

My sense was that when Mr. Kerry was at the meetings he was optimistic that the Senate would, in fact, act. He was quite optimistic about that.

He was less clear about when and he was substantially less clear about exactly what that action would consist of. So, that doesn't give you much of an answer, but here's someone from the inside giving you a much better answer than I can from the outside.

I think actually there will be action. I'm really quite optimistic. I think that part of the objective that we had was to create space for the Senate to feel that this was not inappropriate to the United States because we were not isolating ourselves.

We were not moving forward without others. We, in fact, took the world with us. We now can demonstrate also that this is in our collective interest and we're going to play our role and our part.

So, I'm optimistic that this helped in that discussion. Dave, you asked the question about if no congressional action. I don't think that's a plausible scenario.

And so my current thinking about that is that it may be a little while and so more likely is that we have this year to work on, while we are still doing our legislation, and we have it in a month.

I mean the original hope was that we were going to have legislation before Copenhagen. Obviously, we don't have legislation yet.

I think the current hope is that we have it fairly soon in the first half of the year and we'll have to see how that plays out. And in that case, we're going to have to start working alternatives if it doesn't happen.

But, at the moment, we're optimistic that things will continue to move forward. Valerie, you asked the question about how to characterize China and Chinese tactics.

My own sense about it is that China has a very particular set of constraints under which it was operating. It does not feel confident about its ability to predict the long-term change in its economic structure.

And, as a consequence, was rather reluctant to take on legally binding obligations on the basis of a projection that had some uncertainty.
I think it was unfortunate that [during] the early part to the meeting when senior people were in Copenhagen they didn't meet with other senior officials from other countries. I think that was a mistake.
I think it was a bit of a mistake to not have China push back more aggressively on Sudan, which was egregious in the kind of language that it used throughout the negotiations.

What they have been effective? I don't know. Should they have done more? I believe they should. Those kinds of things I think will correct. We'll see different performance, different behavior, different processes going forward.

What I think I'm waiting to see really is what they inscribe at the end of the month. If they inscribe what they said we're on our way to a successful outcome.

If they do not and it's substantially less, it will be a significant thing which we'll have to really devote our best minds to to move us forward.

Sarah Ladislaw: Well, that's great. Thank you, Jonathan. You've really given us a picture of a degree of success coming out of a very chaotic process, so I thank you very much for sharing that with us.
Maybe we can keep the trend of you coming by in January and giving us an update going or something like that. Please join me in thanking Jonathan.

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