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Press Briefing at Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Harlan Watson, Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation
Daniel Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Sustainable Development
Remarks to the Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Poznan, Poland
December 8, 2008

Moderator: Good afternoon. Welcome to the press briefing of the U.S. Delegation. There are two briefers today. The first is Dr. Harlan Watson, who is Ambassador and Special Envoy to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our other briefer today is Daniel Reifsnyder. He is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development. We'll begin with a brief statement by Dr. Watson. Thank you.

Ambassador Watson: Yes, and this will be very brief. I think there's been -- although it may not seem like it to the outside world -- we've made a lot of progress within the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. We've completed three workshops: on the shared vision; on technology R&D; and then on risk management and risk reduction. Those occurred last week. We've had a number of contact groups continuing on the other elements of the Bali Action Plan. And I'm pleased to say that progress is being made; deepening understanding.
Off-line, we have been working on the report that the Working Group Chair intends on delivering to the Conference of the Parties -- I believe it's on Thursday. That's coming along very well, and we're very near agreement on next year's work program. And we have completed, and have forwarded a decision that the COP President asked the Working Group Chair to prepare on the outcome of deliberations that occurred here. So I think the atmosphere is good.
I cannot speak, quite frankly, to what's going on in the Kyoto Protocol Ad hoc Working Group. I understand there are a number of issues which may be somewhat more contentious, but, once again, I think that progress is being made and it's a positive step along the way to Copenhagen. With that, I'll stop and be happy to take any of your questions.

Question: Good afternoon. Ambassador Watson, could you talk a little bit specifically about some of the areas where you think the U.S. has been helpful in this process. There have already been suggestions, of course, during the first week that the U.S. is in the [garbled] position. So I wonder if you might give us some examples where you feel like the U.S. has offered some ideas and been helpful to the process.

Ambassador Watson: Thank you for the question. Actually, I'm going to ask Dan Reifsnyder to start off, I think, and if necessary, then I'll add some things.

DAS Reifsnyder: Just to say that we’ve been engaging in all of the different contact groups that have taken place. For example, we made a statement on “shared vision” that was well received in the workshop that took place last week. You may know that we proposed a framework for adaptation some time ago, and we've been filling in that framework and hearing other peoples' ideas as well about the framework for adaptation. We've been engaging fully in the contact group on mitigation. We're engaged on finance -- the financial architecture discussions -- and on technology, in particular. We think that technology is a key piece of the effort moving forward, and we participated in the workshop that took place on Saturday – a very important workshop. Those are some examples of areas in which we’ve been engaged.

Ambassador Watson: Specifically, a very important point is getting the documents out on the decision, the report, and the important work program for next year. I've personally, along with Mr. Reifsnyder, been involved in those negotiations. I think we've played a positive role and made positive contributions in that context, also. So, hopefully, all these things are going to get decided soon so our ministers will not have to be in all-night negotiations as they often are at the end of these meetings.

Question: I wonder -- Barack Obama said that he will be aiming to cut U.S. greenhouse emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, but how far through the U.S. legislative process will that go, need to come, before signing up in Copenhagen. Will it be possible to sign up for that in Copenhagen, do you think, or is it, will it, is it necessary to wait until it's cleared the Senate completely? Thank you.

Ambassador Watson: Well, actually, that is a question I think is more appropriate, perhaps, for the incoming administration to address. We also have Members of, at least a Member of Congress who is here, Congressman Sensenbrenner, who I think, is going to be available -- there he is, right there -- I think he's going to take questions right after this. So, I don't want to speak for the Legislative Branch, since we have a Member here and we have our three branches of government. But I've responded to that in the past.

Question: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more -- in recent days, have you had interactions with the Obama transition team in terms of briefing them on what's going on here, what you expect to happen in the course of next week?

Ambassador Watson: No, I've not been in direct contact with them. As you know, the President-elect asked members of Congress to report back -- he would not be formally sending members of his transition team here, but rather would be relying on reports of members of Congress who would be attending. So we will be fully updating the Congressional delegation on the status of the negotiations, and rely on them to report back to the President-elect.

Question: Harlan, last week, Paula Dobriansky and Jim Connaughton told some U.S. reporters that one of the delegation's goals, if not the main goal, was to ensure that the negotiations here conclude in such a way as to leave all options open for the incoming administration. Do you see that goal within reach? Is there any threat of a door closing?

Ambassador Watson: Well, yes, assuming we get the documents out that I referred to earlier, just in terms of the work program and the report that's going to the Conference of Parties -- and we expect in closing that, we have a couple of commas, I guess, that's all that’s keeping that from being closed. Assuming we close those, everything is wide open. There's no -- and it's not just us -- there's no push from anybody at this stage to foreclose options. I must say, it's shared by most Parties that it's yet too soon. People are still putting ideas on the table.

You saw the 84- or 83-page summary of ideas and proposals which was produced right before this meeting. That's going to be updated, I believe, by this Wednesday or Thursday, with additional things which were submitted here, and ideas that were introduced in the various discussions and workshops. I'm told there are, I believe, as of late last night, something like twenty-nine additional submissions by Parties, twenty-seven, as I recall the numbers, from NGOs, and, two or three from international organizations. So, they're still rolling in, and we may see a yet thicker document coming out of here. So, once again, all the ideas are on the table, and I think we will have accomplished what we said we were going to do.

Question: What’s the US position on the Adaptation Fund. There are problems emerging on that issue and there are some NGO organizations calling for the World Bank to manage the funds. What's your comment?

Ambassador Watson: Actually, let me defer to Mr. Reifsnyder on that. He is more of an expert on this situation than I am.

DAS Reifsnyder: Thank you. As you know, the Adaptation Fund was created under the Kyoto Protocol, with a share of the proceeds to come from CDM projects. Because the United States is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol we've not engaged in the discussions of the Adaptation Fund. We follow them because they're of interest to us, but we've not taken positions with regard to the Adaptation Fund directly. Our concern has been to ensure that the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which manages the Adaptation Fund, strictly segregates funds in the GEF Trust Fund from those in the Adaptation Fund. I think that has been done -- so we've been satisfied -- but we've not generally engaged in the discussions of the Adaptation Fund.

Question: What is the U.S. position on including India and China in cutting carbon emissions?

Ambassador Watson: Well, building upon the conversations ongoing within the G-8 --and particularly in the Major Economies Process, in which China and India and other major emerging economies were participating -- the agreement that came out of there is that all countries need to contribute and that's certainly a position that we believe in. You just cannot get to the heart of the issue by having developed countries alone reducing their emissions. In fact, even if the developed countries reduced their emissions by a 100 percent, you're still going to have huge growth. I think it's recognized and, again, I'll defer to Congressmen Sensenbrenner on that -- but I believe in the past our Congress has been very specific on the need for major emerging economies to take action. So, that's where we are.

Question: You are thinking about the need not to foreclose options too soon in, still in the initial phase. Do you think that leaving all options open will give anybody enough time to create an agreement in Copenhagen, number one, and considering that Poznan is a stepping stone on the way to Copenhagen, you must have a picture of what that agreement in Copenhagen is going to look like, at least from your perception? Would you be able to share what you think that should look like?

Ambassador Watson: What we're going to come out of here is an updated document with all ideas and proposals on the table. The incoming chair of the AWG-LCA, who we think is going to be Michael Zammit Cutajar, is going to produce another document for discussion at the next meeting of the AWG-LCA which will take place in, at the end of March and beginning of April -- the first two-week meeting. And, it's basically going to try to synthesize further the ideas, proposals that have been put on the table; try to group things in areas of convergence and divergence -- where we agree and disagree; and whatever gaps might be needed to reach an agreed outcome. And then, after discussion on that for a couple of weeks, we fully expect that we'll be looking at a negotiating text in June.

I might also mention that we still have not really focused in the discussions on the so-called paragraphs 1(b)(i) and 1(b)(ii) -- the sub-paragraphs of the Bali Action Plan that refer to mitigation by developed countries and developing countries. There needs to be a deeper understanding on those sub-paras. Those are going to be the subject of a two-part workshop coming up in the meeting at Bonn. So, understanding those aspects will be important and based upon all of that, I fully expect -- and I think other negotiators will expect -- that come, probably, two or three weeks before the second Bonn meeting next June, draft negotiating text of some kind will be put forward to the Parties, and then things will get down to earnest then. Whether or not it can be possible to get agreement by the time of Copenhagen remains to be seen. It will not -- as I said the other day -- it will not be easy. But I think there's a broad commitment, certainly on the part of this administration, and I think of many other Parties, to come out of Copenhagen with an agreed outcome. It may not be the final, final. But it's something that we really believe will move the ball forward.

Question: Will you recommend to the incoming administration that the MEM process continue or do you think that it's served its purpose?

Ambassador Watson: Actually, I haven't recommended it, but I think there've been discussions, certainly. As a matter of fact, on the Obama Web site under the energy issues segment, one of the paragraphs refers to the Major Economies and the MEM process and talks about strengthening it. I think it's bipartisan -- whether Democrat or Republican -- both have seen value in this process. I'm not going to say the composition of the parties will remain the same or anything, but I believe the incoming administration will carry forward that process.
There's already been an agreement, of course, when the Major Economies group met on the margins of the last G-8 Leaders' Summit in Japan. There was an agreement that Italy would be hosting another Major Economies meeting next year. I can't remember if it's in June or July--I forget the date of the upcoming G-8 summit. But we know that's going to happen, and so, typically, when Leaders are coming together, there's going to be one or two or more preparatory meetings. So I expect that will happen, and the new administration will participate in that fully.

Question: I missed a lot of what happened last week, I've been away, so I apologize if this is a bit too basic. Are you in a position to offer input on the role of REDD in a post-2012 agreement and, if so, where does, does the US have an official stance on the role of REDD? And, a corollary to that is, if you're in a position to shed some light on the sticking points that have emerged in SBSTA the last week? Everybody was quite upbeat, I understand, a lot of technical issues had been raised, but people thought it developed a long time ago.

Ambassador Watson: Just to give you my general impressions: certainly the United States has been actively engaged in the deforestation issue, and is spending a lot of money on it. I know there's a lot of concern about how you do the accounting, and this is one of the MRV -- measuring, reporting, and verification -- major issues, and that the technical experts have been working on the methodological issues. I don't know if, Dan, you're familiar with some of those details or not.

DAS Reifsnyder: REDD is very important to us. We've engaged actively in the discussions of REDD and plan to continue to do so going forward. But, in terms of sticking points and SBSTA, I don't know of any. There have been discussions in SBSTA, as there have been in SBI, but I'm not familiar with any particular concerns that you might have in mind.
Thank you.

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