Stern talking (but not Nick)

by Bryan Walker on March 31, 2009

At the UNFCCC Climate Change talks currently under way in Bonn the US Envoy Todd Stern has unequivocally announced the role the US will be playing in the time ahead.  It is an extraordinary transformation. The hopes raised by Obama still look strong.

Some extracts follow. First, the opening remarks:

I am pleased to be here in Bonn today for this important session. As the President’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, I want to say on behalf of President Obama and his entire team that we are very glad to be back, we want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us.

I look forward to working with all of you and listening to your ideas so that we can chart a new and more effective course forward.

You will not hear anyone on my team cast doubt upon or downplay the threat of global climate change. The science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction-or inadequate actions-are unacceptable.

But along with this challenge comes a great opportunity. By transforming to a low-carbon economy, we can stimulate global economic growth and put ourselves on a path of sustainable development for the 21st century. I would go so far as to say that those who hang back and cling to a high-carbon path will be economic losers in the end because with the scientific facts of global warming getting worse and worse, high-carbon products and production methods will not be viable for long.

 He went on to propose five building blocks as foundation for a strong agreement in Copenhagen:

First, we need a long-range vision that is guided by science. We would like to see Copenhagen chart a clear path to solving the problem. The Montreal Protocol is the most successful environmental treaty that we have, and one of the reasons for its success is its vision: not a series of short-term stopgaps, but a pathway to the elimination of ozone depleting substances over the course of many decades.

We can and should do the same when it comes to addressing greenhouse gas emissions. We would like to see an outcome in Copenhagen in which all countries set a long-term pathway and develop strategic actions that will collectively put the world on the road to a low-carbon future. We will need clear milestones along the way, and we will need to be able to adjust as the science demands.

Second, the United States recognizes our unique responsibility both as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases and as a country with important human, financial, and technological capabilities and resources. America itself cannot provide the solution, but there is no solution without America.

President Obama has taken that responsibility to heart, articulating a powerful and comprehensive commitment to transforming the United States economy to a low-carbon base…

Third, there must be a global response, with truly significant actions by all major economies. The simple math of accumulating emissions shows that there is no other way to make the kinds of reductions that science indicates are necessary.

Countries that are most responsible for past carbon emissions and countries that are on track to be most responsible for future emissions must join together. That is the essence of our common responsibility and we must discharge it for the common good.

Of course our responsibilities are differentiated as well. Developing countries face urgent challenges in lifting their citizens out of poverty and providing them with a better life.

But part of the development challenge is making sure that developing countries have the opportunity to follow a cleaner path forward…

Fourth, as part of our contribution, we have been working intensively on the question of how to establish a structure to ensure that significant funds flow to developing countries. We want to ensure that this structure is well balanced, providing for a robust amount of resources, transparency, sound governance, and the right incentives to establish policy and regulatory environments that can leverage private investment and unleash innovation both in developing countries and around the world. And we must develop appropriate protocols to ensure that low-carbon technology is effectively developed and diffused.

The fortunate among us also have a responsibility to assist developing countries in adapting to the previously unanticipated burden of climate change. We will have to use our adaptation resources effectively, in a way that takes good advantage of the institutions and processes that exist to promote development, and we will need to focus our efforts on the most vulnerable countries and populations, including small island states.

Fifth, we need an agreement that is supported not simply by negotiators, but by the people we serve so it will enter into force with all countries participating. Ultimately, this is a political process, and politics is the art of the possible. We’ll get much further if we do not cling to arbitrary numbers or inflexible dogma.

Let me speak frankly here: it is in no one’s interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won’t gain sufficient support at home in all of our countries, including my own.

Once again, our way forward should be steered by science and pragmatism. It serves no one to produce a weak political compromise that is inadequate to the scientific task at hand, but it no more serves anyone to produce a scientifically pristine agreement that fails politically.

In conclusion:

 But too often when we start negotiating, we find heads being pulled back into their shells like turtles and an atmosphere that is more contentious than collaborative. I think that our challenge as negotiators is to try to capitalize on the creative energy and dynamism we see at the national level and that gets those heads popping back out of their shells.

What matters after all is that we get on a viable, ambitious path to mid-century so we can solve the problem. And that we start now. Stalemate is not an option.

If America does what President Obama believes it can and must, and all of us collectively do what we can and must, then this negotiation can mark the time when we turned the corner and finally put the world on a safe and sustainable trajectory. We will not have solved the problem once and for all, but we will have made a powerful beginning in a more coordinated and comprehensive manner than at any time in history.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

jonno March 31, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Looking good, so far…

AndrewH March 31, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Wow!

I guess the ETS Review select committee will take note.

password1 March 31, 2009 at 1:35 pm

More reasons for optimism…
From the 30 March report on the negotiations, here:
http://www.iisd.ca/climate/ccwg5/

Even further reasons for optimism included a new coffee machine in the Maritim Hotel cafeteria, perhaps providing the extra energy that would be needed to plow ahead. After the AWG-LCA Chair’s brief informal consultations on Monday evening, it seemed evident that more energy would be needed also later in the year: Several delegates were overheard talking about the inevitability of further sessions in 2009, although yet to be agreed upon. A few were even seen scanning real estate pages in the local newspaper as they contemplated the need to move their home to Bonn for the next several months.

Gareth March 31, 2009 at 2:27 pm

I’m hoping that we’ll have a guest blog from Bonn soon. No promises, but I’m told it’s at least half written…

I’ll see if I can get a comment on the coffee. ;-)

Bryan Walker March 31, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Andrew, your select committee reference prompted me to send Rodney Hide a link to Stern’s address, along with one or two comments on Act’s current policy – I looked at the policy again to make sure, and it’s embarrassing to read. One hopes that the possibility of working with Labour and the Greens which Gareth’s recent post discussed will rescue the government from having to pay any further attention to Act on the matter.

Gareth March 31, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Rodney seems to have delegated the ETS review job to John Boscawen. I’ll have my chance to speak my piece and answer their questions on April 9th. I’ll give ‘em a Stern talking to…

AndrewH March 31, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Good for you Bryan – I hope you’ll let us know Rodney’s response.

And… go for it Gareth.

Ayrdale April 2, 2009 at 8:12 pm

…yes, I’ve been in touch with Rodney too. Sent him this from Timesonline…

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/chris_ayres/article6011157.ece

Gareth April 2, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I wouldn’t bother, Ayrdale. Rodney’s too busy with government business to take note of the views of a crank… ;-)

Laurence April 3, 2009 at 12:15 am

I’m sure he’s chuffed to know that you’re on his side Ayrdale, but if you really want to make him smile send him this as well.
http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090331/acesa_summary.pdf

Laurence April 3, 2009 at 12:40 am

Sorry bill here http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090331/acesa_discussiondraft.pdf summary above and first impression here in case you want to read it http://climateprogress.org/2009/03/31/waxman-markey-energy-global-warming-bill/
Any minute now Gareth will fix the edit function

Bryan Walker April 3, 2009 at 8:23 am

Ayrdale, your sloppy Times columnist seized on Freeman Dyson’s reported remarks in an article in the magazine section of the New York Times. Dyson is a frequent critic of global warming predictions, but has not worked on climate science. His comments on James Hansen’s position verged on the ad hominem. He accused him, as the villain-in-chief of the global warming fuss, of consistently exaggerating the dangers and of over-relying on climate models. Hansen has pointed out, when asked for a response, that he does not rely on models in the first instance. “I always try to make clear that our conclusions are based on #1 Earth’s history, how it responded to forcings in the past, #2 observations of what is happening now, #3 models.”

On Dyson, Hansen comments: “His philosophy of science is spot-on, the open-mindedness, consistent with that of Feynman and the other greats, but if he is going to wander into something with major consequences for humanity and other life on the planet, then he should first do his homework — which he obviously has not done on global warming. My concern is that the public may assume that he has — and, because of his other accomplishments, give his opinion more weight than it deserves.”

And you – and Rodney Hide – may like to consider this further extract from Hansen’s informal response to the NYT affair: “There is nothing wrong with having contrarian views, even from those who have little relevant expertise – indeed, good science continually questions assumptions and conclusions. But the government needs to get its advice from the most authoritative sources, not from magazine articles. In the United States the most authoritative source of information would be the National Academy of Sciences.”

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