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Panel Discussion: From Poznan to Copenhagen via Washington

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Conference on Rising to the Challenge of Climate Change Globally and in the U.S.
Washington, DC
November 10, 2008

Thank you Elliot. It is an honor to be part of this distinguished panel. I thank the Embassies of France, Poland, and Denmark for convening this important dialogue. Ambassadors Vimont, Kupiecki, Petersen – thank you.

I also want to acknowledge my distinguished fellow panelists.

The United States recognizes the active and constructive roles taken by the nations represented here – France, in making climate change a priority for its EU presidency, and Poland and Denmark in their consecutive service in the presidency of the UN climate talks. I also want to applaud Ambassador Bruton and his colleagues in the European Commission, as well as the future EU presidents the Czech Republic and Sweden for their work during this critical period.

Finally, thank you to the Newseum for hosting this timely discussion.

We know that the challenges related to climate change are among the greatest we face this century. The United States remains firmly committed to taking a leadership role in developing a new global response to climate change.

This is certainly a critical year for international climate negotiations. This December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan marks the mid-way point of the two-year Bali Action Plan that we launched last December and a key step toward our shared goal of developing a new global climate architecture in Copenhagen next December.

This is also a consequential time for the United States, as we prepare for another transition of our government. The current Administration will continue to do all it can through January 20, and we are already working hard to ensure a smooth and efficient handoff of responsibilities. We will be interacting with representatives of President-elect Obama’s transition team. We also expect that members of the transition team will send representatives to Poznan as observers.

In Poznan, our highest priority will be to set the stage for an effective outcome in 2009. After three interim sessions and an unprecedented Major Economies leaders meeting, we have made significant progress this year. We look forward to building on that foundation in Poznan.

What do we want to achieve in Poznan? We hope that Poznan can produce a deeper understanding of Parties’ priorities and expectations. And, in particular, we hope to agree to a robust work plan that transitions into an intensive negotiating phase by next spring, after we conclude our review of key issues in the Bali Action Plan.

We have to keep in mind that all of the elements in the Bali Action Plan – a shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology, and finance—are linked. We do not expect to be able to move forward in Poznan with partial or premature decisions. It is also important that we avoid foreclosing options for the new U.S. Administration. We will be urging our partners to bear this in mind during December’s talks.

We are also pleased that Poznan will highlight the importance of research and development in clean energy technologies. To effectively address climate change, we need nothing less than a clean technology revolution. Recent modeling commissioned by our Department of Energy indicates that an effective R&D investment effort could lower the costs of mitigation by seventy percent. That’s a huge potential.

I commend Polish Environment Minister Nowicki for his efforts to raise the profile of technology in the Poznan meeting, and also Polish Economy Minister Pawlak for convening an important meeting immediately before the UN Conference on sectoral approaches to addressing climate change.

In Poznan, we will be discussing the collective effort that will be required to address climate change. There is a bipartisan perspective in the United States, which recognizes that if we are to succeed in addressing climate change the United States and all major economies will need to take mitigation action. Just as the United States must, and will, do its part, so must others. This is reflective of simple mathematical facts. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will not be stabilized unless every major source of emissions is reduced.

In this context, I would like to acknowledge and applaud the recent statement of the European Environment Council that substantial emissions cuts will be required not only from developed countries but also developing countries, particularly the most advanced among them.

We will succeed next year in Copenhagen if we agree on an approach that meets the test of environmental effectiveness, while also ensuring the continued welfare of our people -- including through continued economic growth and opportunity. Put another way, success means a combination of ambition and practicality.

In Poznan we plan to address areas that we think will help us to craft this new approach. Such as:
  • What are common responsibilities? In the UN climate talks, we discuss a great deal about what should be differentiated. We support the concept of differentiation. But there needs to be more discussion on what should be “common.” We think it would be useful to spend time discussing which elements of the agreed outcome on emissions mitigation will be common for all Parties.
  • A second question is, What are “developed” and “developing” countries? We have long talked in the climate negotiations about “developed” and “developing”, but we disagree how these concepts would be applied. In order for the Convention to remain relevant, we need to consider how to make sure these terms reflect the reality of today’s economies and emissions trends.
  • A third question is, How do we reflect “national actions” in an agreed outcome? The concept of “nationally appropriate” actions – a key part of the Bali Action Plan -- is linked with countries’ capabilities. We agree with those who believe that the UNFCCC should provide a means of recognizing the actions that countries are taking, and encouraging more action. We believe that all countries should put forward their nationally appropriate mitigation actions in a manner that is measurable, reportable, and internationally verifiable. We would expect that the extent of these actions would be consistent with the circumstances and capability of each country.
Finally, a note about our domestic policy: Successful international steps to address climate change depend on domestic actions – including any additional steps the new U.S. administration, working with our Congress, may want to take to reduce emissions.

When you look at progress in recent years, there are some encouraging signs. Between 2000 and 2006, France achieved the highest reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions of any major economy with a six percent cut. The United States was close behind, with a net emissions decrease of three percent.

Like other nations, we will need to continue to make progress at home. As the new Administration and new Congress takes office, we expect a continuation of the vigorous debate we have had here in the United States in recent years. This dialogue will have major ramifications on the positions that the United States takes internationally.

While I have no doubt that both the Administration and Congress will tackle this issue head-on, it is essential that the international community give the incoming team the time to engage on these issues. In addition to the full range of federal programs to reduce emissions – and consideration of new programs -- the United States will continue to benefit from strong action at the state and municipal level.

In that spirit, I commend the organizers of today’s event for inviting representatives of the states of Pennsylvania and California. We have already learned much from states’ actions on climate change and we will undoubtedly learn more in the months and years ahead.

In conclusion, as you know, the President has invited the leaders of the Group of 20 countries to a summit here in Washington later this week to discuss financial markets and the global economy. As we work to address the current financial crisis, addressing climate change remains a priority for the United States Government. We have already invested substantial resources – over $45 billion since 2001 – in the fight against climate change and will continue to invest more in the future.

And, it is important to note that many of the opportunities available to address climate change – particularly in the rapidly emerging economies – have a very low cost. In fact, according to a number of independent assessments, many of these policies and measures would actually yield cost savings. In sum, we want an agreement in Copenhagen that is environmentally effective and economically sustainable.

Such an outcome will address the profound challenge of climate change for generations to come. And what we do in the coming months can put us on the path toward addressing this critical challenge and lay the foundation for the next President’s administration to succeed in these complex negotiations.

Thank you.

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