Todd Stern: 2015 climate deal must be flexible, ambitious, durable

Clare Saxon Ghauri
22 October 2013

LONDON: Today US climate envoy Todd Stern shared next steps for America and the rest of the world on the global UNFCCC climate treaty which is due to be agreed in 2015, suggesting more 'flexibility' as the greatest opportunity for success.

Ahead of COP19 in Warsaw next month, Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change for the US government spoke at Delivering Concrete Climate Change Action: Towards 2015 at Chatham House London, where he first highlighted the importance of corporate action to 'transform our economies from high to low carbon', as well as governments to 'set the rules of the road, provide the incentives, remove the barriers, fund the R&D, and spur the investment needed to hasten this transformation.'

Speaking about the global climate deal that is to be signed by 2015 and come into force in 2020, among several elements he suggested that greater flexibility would be key to the treaty's success. He said: "In the United States, President Obama has put his shoulder to the wheel with his new Climate Action Plan, which builds on aggressive measures from the past few years. Last month, for example, EPA issued draft regulations to control carbon pollution for new power plants, and is hard at work preparing regulations for existing plants. The President has also issued landmark rules to double the miles-per-gallon of our vehicle sector. These two sectors – power and transportation – account for some two-thirds of our national emissions. And the President has also issued strong efficiency standards for building appliances, has doubled our use of wind and solar power, and is pursuing a suite of other actions.

"But national action will only rise to the level of ambition we need if it takes place within a strong and effective international system. Effective international climate agreements serve three vital purposes. First, they supply the essential confidence countries need to assure them that if they take ambitious action, their partners and competitors will do the same. Second, they send a potent signal to other important actors – sub-national governments, the private sector, civil society, research institutions, international organizationsthat the world’s leaders are committed to containing climate change. Third, they prompt countries to take aggressive climate action at home to meet their national pledges.

"We have, now, an historic opportunity created by the Durban Platform’s new call for a climate agreement “applicable to all Parties.” Some have said those four words in the Durban negotiating mandate are nothing new in climate diplomacy, but make no mistake, they represented a breakthrough because they mean that we agreed to build a climate regime whose obligations and expectations would apply to everyone. We have had a system, the Kyoto Protocol, where the reverse was true, where real obligations applied only to developed countries, listed in the Framework Convention’s Annex 1. The point of “applicable to all” in the Durban Platform was to say, in effect, that this new agreement would not be Kyoto; that its obligations and expectations would apply to all of us.

"What Durban recognized was that Kyoto could not point the way forward in a world where Non-Annex 1 countries (developing countries as listed in 1992) already account for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions and will account for two-thirds of those emissions by 2030.

"Our task now is to fashion a new agreement that will be ambitious, effective and durable. And the only way to do that is to make it broadly inclusive, sensitive to the needs and constraints of parties with a wide range of national circumstances and capabilities, and designed to promote increasingly robust action."

After explaining suggested elements in more depth, Todd Stern summarized by saying a successful agreement requires:

  • Flexible strength built on nationally determined commitments, relying on rules where needed, and elevating the role of norms and expectations.
  • Differentiation and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities that accomplishes what developing countries need but without undermining ambition or the political cohesion the UNFCCC needs by perpetuating a two-track system.
  • Financial assistance grounded in public finance but recognizing that the opportunity is based on a new paradigm in which public funds and public policy in donor and recipient countries leverage large-scale investment.
  • Complementary initiatives that broaden the overall international climate system in service of the UNFCCC’s central objective of avoiding dangerous climate change.

He concluded his speech with: "Remember that the point of our efforts–always–must be the results we can produce, consistent with everyone’s circumstances and capabilities. The Montreal Protocol has proper jurisdiction. It can handle every issue from assistance to differentiation. And it has the expertise and will have the funding to get the job done. We need to seize this opportunity."

Read Todd Stern's full speech

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US EPA sets pioneering curbs on power plant pollution

China and US agree on phase-down of potent GHGs at G20 Summit

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