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Press Briefing Following the the Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and Head of the U.S. Delegation
James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Harlan Watson, Alternate Head of the U.S. Delegation; Daniel Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State 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 11, 2008

Moderator: Good evening. Welcome to the press briefing of the U.S. Delegation. I would like to introduce Dr. Paula Dobriansky, who is the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and the Head of the U.S. Delegation to COP-14.

Under Secretary Dobriansky: Thank you all for coming today. I’d like to introduce the members of the U.S. team on stage here. On my right is Jim Connaughton, who is Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jim is a senior advisor to the President and his personal representative to the Major Economies Meetings. And here to my left is Ambassador Harlan Watson, Special Envoy to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and our Alternate Head of Delegation.

We are working to ensure an efficient and effective handoff of responsibilities to the incoming administration in the United States, and part of that has involved making sure that many of our talented career officials -- who will remain in their positions -- are front and center here in Poznan. And that’s why I’m very delighted that we’re joined here by Dan Reifsnyder, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development, a real veteran of climate change negotiations from the late ‘80s to the present time.

I’m going to let each of my colleagues say a few, brief words, but let me just begin by saying that we’ve had some important substantive discussions here in Poznan on all of the elements of the Bali Action Plan: mitigation, adaptation, financing, and technology, and shared vision. I think we’re making progress. We’re seeing a deeper understanding on all sides of priorities and expectations, and Parties have begun to put some pragmatic and creative ideas on the table.

So we’ve laid a solid foundation here in Poznan and, most importantly, it looks like we’re on track to agree to a comprehensive and flexiblework plan going forward, including a transition to intensive negotiations in 2009.

With that, let me invite Chairman Connaughton to say some words.

Chairman Connaughton: Thanks. What I wanted to do, because of the interest, is give you the picture of what foundation’s been laid domestically in the U.S. as we go into the transition to the new administration, as well as what processes we now have well established internationally to help carry forward the substance of the conversation here but also outside of this process, the UNFCCC process, in terms of effective action on climate change.

At the domestic level, we now have in place two major pieces of energy legislation, one that focused on technologies and the other that focused on good old-fashioned mandates. I’m pleased that the President-elect voted for both pieces of legislation. Both pieces of legislation enjoyed strong, bipartisan support. And, on the technology side of things, as of today, we have about $70 billion worth of federal funding for technology research, direct incentives, loans, and loan guarantees, for technologies that will capture, avoid, or sequester CO2.

So the numbers have gone up dramatically in the last couple of years, and we’re right now bidding out a big chunk of that $70 billion; it’s in the middle of competitive bids right now in America.

On the mandate side, we now have eight categories of mandates that are not only now in legislation, but are now in the process of implementation and regulation. So we have mandatory new fuel economy requirements which, even as we’re trying to work with the domestic auto industry—that law remains unchanged—there has to be stringent compliance with that. We are working to front-load compliance under that system so we get greater efficiency sooner. We have a new renewable fuel requirement. Unlike other ones around the world, this one actually has carbon weighting, so we’re looking for a net greenhouse gas benefit from the fuels as we go forward. We have new mandatory lighting efficiency standards, I think the most stringent in the world, which will effectively displace the use of incandescent bulbs in most applications. We now have a whole new series of forty-five new categories of appliance efficiency, and the standards will be set over the next five years. The federal government itself has to achieve mandatorily a thirty percent improvement of efficiency by 2015—it’s a very short period of time—and achieve a twenty percent renewable fuel use by 2015.

One final federal mandate: we were pleased to join with Europe and some key developing countries in a new agreement under the Montreal Protocol to accelerate the phase out of HCFCs. That’s actually an internationally binding agreement that includes India, China, and other major emerging economies, which will have the effect of reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol would produce in its first commitment period. In fact, if things go right, it could be as much as three or four times more—a quiet success, but a huge one nonetheless, and we’re now in the process of putting in place domestic implementing legislation which would be of a regulatory nature.

Finally, at the state level, thirty of our states now have mandatory renewable power requirements. Some of them have innovated and actually have mandatory low carbon portfolio requirements, which would include CCS and nuclear. And then we are working with the states to implement and adopt new model building codes, which would seek to get a thirty percent improvement of building efficiency. All told, these programs carry through about 2022 to 2025, and will produce at least 5 billion, probably significantly more than 5 billion tons, of avoided greenhouse gas emissions.

So that’s the package. The reason I give this to you is, we are sitting down with the new team and working through what has to be done to carry these programs into effective implementation, even as they consider additional ideas on the technology incentive side as well as on the regulatory side. I’ve spent several hours with my counterparts at a high level. They’re still working on identifying the team that will take Paula’s job and other positions. But it’s been a very constructive discussion so far, and we look forward to full engagement with them as we hand off the baton in January.

Under Secretary Dobriansky: Thank you. I’d like to ask, briefly, Ambassador Watson and Dan Reifsnyder, if both of you would like to say a few words.

Ambassador Watson: Yes, just briefly. I think we have made much progress, and Paula did mention the work program. We have a schedule laid out for the next year. The negotiators will have a negotiating text beginning next June. We certainly had, as she said, a deeper and fuller discussion of all the elements of the Bali Action Plan: mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance, as well as an in-depth discussion of the shared vision. Also, on technology R&D; it was another important component here. We’ve also had important decisions with regard to technology transfer, capacity building, and adaptation. So I think our team has accomplished what it set out to do. I think we’ve got a very good schedule laid out for the new team that does not foreclose options and will hopefully move the work forward in an expedited manner. Thank you.

Mr. Reifsnyder: Very quickly, I think I’m the bridge to the future, and I’m also the bridge to the past, having been here on this issue since 1989. I was thinking today that this will be my ninth transition in working for the federal government, and my fifth transition working on the climate issue. So I’ve seen a lot over the years. It’s been very interesting. I would characterize this transition so far as very smooth, collegial, and cooperative. Thank you.

Question: Paula, America stayed out of the Kyoto Protocol. What did America gain from that? Did it benefit, looking back now? And, secondly, for Harlan, what are the main areas in which your team and the incoming team agree, but, more interestingly, disagree?

Under Secretary Dobriansky: On the first part, we’ve always remained committed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the principles of the Convention. And I think that we have also worked very collegially, broadly, and aggressively with those who did support the Kyoto Protocol or have supported the Kyoto Protocol, and also with those that didn’t earlier on. I would say that I think what’s most important here is, when I look at the evolution of where we were a number of years ago and where we are now, I think quite significantly there is a very strong convergence and desire to have an environmentally effective and economically sound international agreement -- one of which the United States is part, one of which developed countries are part, and we undertake our responsibilities, but one in which, also, major emerging economies as well undertake actions that will contribute to the overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All must contribute.

So, in this context, we have always said that we believe it’s important to have the character of our agreement be common and the content differentiated. And I think where we were before, and where we are now—I think we have made some very significant strides. And I think that it will be an exciting year in 2009, and in terms of reaching a very successful outcome in Copenhagen.

Ambassador Watson: Well, with regard to working with the new team or working with the old team, this gentleman on my left kind of represents both. No disagreement, what the job is, and the job—particularly of the civil servants—is to represent their country and to represent the views of the current administration, whoever that might be. And I want to say that they’ve done it professionally, competently, and, in fact, I couldn’t imagine a greater group of people to work with.

Question: Mr. Connaughton, I’d like to ask you to draw on your experience in a past life as a litigation lawyer and to say whether you think that some point in the future countries or corporations or even individuals could face lawsuits for their deemed responsibility for climate change? Do you think that’s something which is making headway or is it totally out of the question?

Chairman Connaughton: Actually, I didn’t do very much litigation. I was an environmental policy person. I worked mostly on new policies. But, as a lawyer, I can tell you with my experience in these areas, the more you can find constructive approaches based on technically supportable outcomes, around which you can orient investments, you can construct policies that keep lawyers out of the equation.

And I’ve been pleased to be part of countless policy endeavors around which you get the complete outcome you want without ever seeing a lawyer, let alone the inside of a courtroom. For example, the U.S. is cutting its diesel engine emissions by more than ninety percent. It was an outcome done in cooperation between the diesel engine industry, environmental groups, and the regulators—some of the biggest gains in pollution reduction in the history of the United States, and also in the history of the world—and by doing it in a collaborative process, we didn’t suffer through ten years of litigation when the air wasn’t getting any cleaner.

I think climate requires the same kind of philosophy and approach. We can and will spend years negotiating in the international context, as we’re doing here.

But even as that negotiation is going on that falls under the UN legal process, with the prospect of future disputes, when I think of what’s occurred in the last eight years on the cooperative action side, it’s dramatically overtaken what’s perceived to be lack of action. We have the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, by which key sectors are doing major benchmarking and achieving real emission reductions without a lawyer or international diplomat in sight. We have technology partnerships in every technology area that matters, for lasting solutions on climate change. In America, using incentives, we’re going to get a transformational investment in new energy infrastructure in a way that does not cause carbon leakage. So you don’t get politicians concerned about jobs going overseas and emissions increasing over there. Because we are using an incentive, you only get the money and credit if you actually get the reduction in your home country.

And, as we’ve designed our regulatory programs, the new fuel economy program that I mentioned, renewable fuels, appliance efficiency standards—we are very careful to work those out with environmental groups and with the industry on reasonable objectives. So actually I don’t think, I don’t anticipate—I could be wrong—I don’t anticipate any lawyers getting in the middle of that either. So, there is a right way and a wrong way to go forward, and we have shown in the last eight years the capacity at both the domestic level and the international level to design strategies that produce immediate outcomes and reduce the potential for conflicts.

Question: We’ve heard about some progress that’s been made in climate change in the past couple of years, and if you look back over the course of the last few years, is there anything that you would have done differently, or is there anything that you wish had happened that didn’t happen?

Chairman Connaughton: I wish, first, that Russia had made its mind up sooner, as to whether it was going to join Kyoto or not. I think we lost a couple of years of work while that decision was being made. It almost didn’t matter which way we came out, but we lost a couple of years until it was decided whether Kyoto would go forward or not. As soon as it was decided that Kyoto was going to go forward, then countries began to face up to the reality of what they needed to do at the national level to work toward meeting those commitments. And it was at that point that the floodgates opened on technology cooperation, on public-private partnerships, and it was that foundation actually that gave rise to the Asia-Pacific Partnership and then the Major Economies Process. So, I think we just lost several years through that uncertainty.

The other thing that would have been useful was to have gotten going on the cooperative actions several years earlier, because there’s still, most of the countries of the world—with the exception of the EU, Canada, Japan, the U.S., maybe a couple of others—most of the countries of the world are still designing strategies for what they might do on greenhouse gases in the midterm. Until they have that national dialogue, do the economics, and perform the technology assessments, it will be very difficult to get internationally binding commitments because this time around, countries won’t commit first and then figure out how to do it later. I think we’ve all recognized we need to pursue the approach like the one we did in the Montreal Protocol, where we actually did the homework first, and then designed the intentional regime around it. And I think that’s clearly where the conversation is today.

So I think we could have been a little bit further along by several years in those two instances. But we have to come together on these things. I’m just pleased we are where we are today. In fact, with a work program not just as negotiation, but a work program of cooperative action. And I still think that could be more aggressive and move faster. We all have commitments, including the U.S., under the Framework Convention. We have not fulfilled it to the level that we could, you know, those commitments.

And there’s a lot of room to take action without even waiting for a broad, complete, comprehensive new set of agreements. There are things we can do immediately that the Major Economies leaders identified for us. And let me say three right out of the box. The world today could eliminate the tariffs on the technologies that reduce greenhouse gases. And there’s absolutely no reason why we still carry tariffs on goods and services that are going to cut air pollution and greenhouse gases. There’s no reason, if you believe climate change and human health are important public priorities, which I do.

A second one: we do not have an agreed measurement system that has the integrity to support our understanding of the effectiveness of different climate policies. And so whether you’re doing taxes or incentives, whether you’re doing market-based mandates or technology mandates, whether you’re doing international trading or funding clean technology projects internationally, we need a system where one ton of emissions reduced is measured the same way in one country as it is in another, so we can understand which approaches work best. There’s no reason to wait for that. And yet, even after the leaders telling us to do it last summer, it’s been very difficult; the U.S. has found it very difficult to get countries to focus on that.

The third piece is the sectoral approach that you all keep hearing about. There’s plenty of work to be done with sectors working together on benchmarking, sharing best practices, and actually finding opportunities for joint investment—plenty of work to be done, including with developing countries that are small and the big emerging countries. We just don’t have the large institutional capacity to carry that off. We’ve worked very hard, the U.S., to do that through these various partnerships. I think it’s a small investment by most countries, but the yields are proving to be enormous. So that’s an area we don’t have to wait on. We can take action, fully consistent with our current treaty obligations, and actions that, under any scenario, would be fully supportive of any agreed outcome in this international process.

So I tried to be a little specific for you. And the leaders said, “do it.” The leaders this summer said “do it.” So it’s not even a question of having to do a process to decide what should be done. The leaders have told us to do it. We just need to get on with it.

Ambassador Watson: You know that I take the world as it is. My only regret is that I’m not twenty years younger, maybe a lot taller, and a lot more handsome. But outside of that…

Question: A quick question for Paula Dobriansky. You mentioned how you want developing economies to take concrete action. Obviously, we’ve seen a few of those plans outlined in the last few weeks and months, whether it’s Brazil or Mexico or South Africa. Could you just broadly comment, not commenting on any specific plans, but to what extent does it answer some of the desires of the United States and the industrial world?

Under Secretary Dobriansky: Thank you for the question. I think what we have seen is very important movement by a number of countries. In fact, in the number of bilateral meetings that we have had with a number of the major emerging economies, we have told them directly that we have found many of the announcements that have taken place are significant, they’re noteworthy, they provide an important foundation to build upon. That’s why, going back to the first question, where we’ve been and where we are now, it’s just as significant, in terms of the kinds of exchange and discourse that is taking place. But your question goes really to the heart of it. We are witnessing this on the part of a number of major emerging economies. It’s a very important move and it’s one that we very much welcome.

Question: This is a question for Chairman Connaughton. There’s been a lot of back and forth at the conference in the last week or so about whether we need to see action domestically on legislation in the U.S. before we can move forward on an agreement in Copenhagen. I wonder, sir, how you see that? Harlan said the other day that maybe you’d have something like a final agreement in Copenhagen but certainly not a final, final one, maybe what a lot of people were thinking a year ago. So just wonder what you think about these expectations, and what do you think about the order of this?

Chairman Connaughton: First, I think your question actually applies broadly to all countries. In fact, there are very few countries today that have in law a climate mitigation(?) strategy for the midterm. Most of them are working through their 2012 commitments. Even, we see today, the discussions in the EU over proposals announced more than a year ago, we’re still sorting out the details at the EU level and that still has to translate into legislation at the member state level. So, we’re all in the same boat on this, not just the U.S.

I think one key distinguishing feature is the one I described in my opening remarks. Unlike most other countries, America now has mandates supported by substantial incentives, so it’s not just a mandate, but actually high confidence that there’s financing available for it in eight of the most significant sectors that contribute to greenhouse gases. The one I left off that doesn’t have a mandate are our farmers. And we’ve got a big chunk of fifty billion dollars going to our farmers to do sequestration on their less productive lands, so—it’s harder to regulate farmers, as we all know—so we just decided to incentivize the heck out of them.

So, when you asked about what’s going on in America, and you want a sense of what we are capable of achieving, and a sense of where the political class is, Democrats and Republicans, federal and state—you’ve got a big chunk of what’s going to be there already enacted in the law and now people have been making major investments toward it. I think the new administration brings some additional ideas to the table, and they’ll be weighed against what’s currently been voted into law. Again, I want to underline: the new administration, the President-elect himself, voted for these laws. And so, I think that’s going to be a pretty strong indicator of, at least the basis for what America’s contribution is going to be.

President Bush thought it was very important that we come forward aggressively and get it done, so that the world had a clear signal of what our political bodies thought would be reasonably achievable. That’s why, to be consistent with what Paula said, we are encouraged that other countries are doing the same thing. I think it’s very important this time around that we go after the extremely good, and there’s a lot of talk of the perfect still, but if we can get the extremely good in all the major economies, with real national programs, that have a level of accountability that we can actually bank on, that’s a very powerful place upon which to draw a new international agreement.

If, however, we’re in a situation where our friends in Europe are trying to dictate the environmental outcome for Mexico, or the U.S. is attempting to define what’s reasonably achievable in South Africa, that’s not a very constructive place to be. I think what we need to do is help each country build out its portfolio of strategies consistent with its own capabilities, which is also part of our treaty obligation, and then find the ways to reinforce those outcomes. I am so optimistic that if we roll up our sleeves and look at what we need to do through a more practical lens, we can come up with something quite consequential, quite soon. It’s only when we fall back, and we have to spend enormous amounts of time on the five to ten percent that’s riddled with conflict, where we end up delaying years and years and years.

So I really think that we should go for that ninety percent sweet spot and use that as a foundation for action that follows.

Thank you.

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