U.S. Makes a Full-Court Press on COP19’s Penultimate Day

The U.S. delegation has kicked into high gear during the last 36 hours.  As Chris noted in his recent post, Todd Stern arrived in Warsaw yesterday and appeared at a U.S. Pavilion event kicking off a program with Norway and the U.K. aimed at combating deforestation.  This morning – today being the penultimate day of COP19   – Stern not only gave his opening remarks to the Joint High Level Segment of the 6th Meeting of the COP/CMP (which were originally scheduled for yesterday afternoon), but also made a short speech at the High Level  Ministerial Dialogue on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

ADP CO-Chairs before listening to the ministers' take on the ADP's mandate.

ADP CO-Chairs before listening to the ministers’ take on the ADP’s mandate.

Special Envoy Stern began this very important statement about the future of international climate change law like any good lawyer, with his theory of the case:  “everything begins at home.”  As observed earlier in this blog, the UNFCCC parties are moving to a “bottom-up facilitative” approach post-Doha of making national commitments based on home country conditions.  And so Mr. Stern described the progress the U.S. has made in decreasing its GHG emissions, despite having turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol under the George W. Bush administration.  Drawing on the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, he urged parties to reduce support for high carbon industries, like coal-fired electricity production, and thus redirect some $400-800 billion per year into a cleaner, more sustainable economy.  Stern also encouraged prioritizing the reduction of methane, HFCs (which Stern said could lead to a decrease of 90 gigatons of CO2 and could be done under the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer), and black carbon.

He closed by summarizing what he sees as areas of convergence and divergence among the state parties at this point in the negotiations.  Where he sees agreement :

1. all parties participate (i.e. Annex 1 and non-Annex 1, developed and developing);

2. national commitments based on self-determination, in line with CBDR and protecting developing country interests;

3. transparency, so that countries may “compare and share;” and

4. beginning domestic commitments now.  On that last point, he announced that the U.S. will be ready to report its commitments before COP21 to be held in Paris in 2015, when this new agreement would be signed.

The area of divergence highlighted by Stern is one that has loomed large in APD debate to date: “self differentiation that does not satisfy the CBDR” or what might be more plainly called keeping the Annex 1/non Annex 1 division of commitments.  Calling this approach a “prescription for orthodoxy, not for solving the real crisis of climate change,” he argued that if these categories of party commitments are to be operationalized, they have to change over time, as countries become increasingly developed and thus increasingly emit GHGs while achieving that status.

Stern do the real work, after his morning speech, in the hallway outside the APD meeting.

Stern (with back to me) negotiating in the hallway outside the APD meeting after his morning speech,

I should note that Stern’s comments followed China’s and preceded Venezuela’s, in this “icebreaking” segment of the HLM dialogue in which state parties were encouraged to be “brutally honest.”  Suffice to say, the U.S. position stood in stark contrast to China’s admonition that “we should never engage in empty talk” that deviates from the UNFCCC (including its annexes and Article 3 principles) and underscoring that the CBDR principle recognizes industrialized countries’ historical responsibility for global warming. Venezuela’s environmental minister, in turn, delivered some tough love to the U.S. bottom-up approach:  This “flexible sort of revised text” simply means self-defined obligations without  international rules, which was not the parties’ meaning of “legally binding” in the Durban Plan.  “Climate change requires more than ambition on statements,” she stated emphatically, it needs a “strong legal regime” that builds on national actions already undertaken and  “wider collective actions” that need international rules, supported by legal weight, to make countries accountable and compliant.  Period.

I think she’s got some very good points.  Stay tuned.  The night is young and the ADP is now in its fourth hour of negotiation after the world’s environmental ministers gave their work a new sense of urgency.