Intervention of the United States: Plenary Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action Under the Convention
Special Envoy for Climate Change
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.
My central belief is this: that to succeed in containing climate change we must be guided by both science and pragmatism.
Only if we are flexible and pragmatic, respecting each others’ different circumstances and concerns, will we be able to make strong and decisive progress. Too much time has been lost over the years locked in sterile debates. Now, as we face a gathering danger, let us focus on finding the common ground that can lead to agreement, rather than holding our ground on fixed positions. None of us has a monopoly on truth.
Let me suggest that we can establish a foundation for a strong agreement in Copenhagen upon the following five building blocks.
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.
We have many tools at our disposal to make this happen, and President Obama is intent upon using them. For instance, the President’s economic stimulus bill provides some $80 billion of new spending and loan guarantees to accelerate the clean energy transformation of the United States. This is an historic achievement. I would note that China has taken similar strong steps to promote clean energy in its stimulus plan. The world needs to make this a green recovery.
In addition, President Obama is working actively with key members of Congress to implement a nationwide cap and trade program that would cut emissions by more than 15% from current levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Our Environmental Protection Agency is paving the way for more stringent standards for auto emissions and other regulatory measures. And the President is pursuing a ten year, $150 billion investment program for clean energy research, development, and deployment to speed key technologies to market and make the mitigation effort easier for all countries in the coming decades.
This overall effort, especially the centerpiece cap and trade program, will largely set the level of the mid-term target and the longer-term pathway that the United States will take for reducing carbon emissions.
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. I like to tell the story that earlier this decade India had only about 55 million people with phone service, but, rather than insist on following the industrialized countries’ path of wired service, India leap-frogged to cell phones, with the result that a few years later 350 million Indians have phones. We need a similar leap-frogging of fossil fuels in the world of energy.
I should say that I am enormously impressed by actions that many developing countries are already taking—India, South Africa, Brazil, China, Mexico and others. I have learned a great deal in the course of the very active consultations I have been conducting in the six weeks since I was sworn in at the State Department, and look forward to continuing that process.
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.
I would suggest that we fashion an agreement that is guided by the laws, regulations, and programs we put in place nationally. I have observed often that when we look at what the major economies of the world – both developed and developing – are actually doing and planning, there is substantial cause to be encouraged.
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.
We look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, in the days and months ahead.