Jeez, Mr.Stern: 2 degree C target is just a guidepost?

Durban, December 7: Transcript of the US press briefing by Todd Stern, Durban, December 7, 2011

Todd Stern: Negotiations are continuing...Both Kyoto and what happens in the future, questions and the issues relating to implementation of Cancun Agreement... Let me take your questions.

Q: On what answer he might have to the Guatemalan delegation question about how many in the world must die before the world reaches an agreement 

Stern: I wouldn’t give that answer. I appreciate the concern behind that question… We all understand that this is an important issue that affects an enormous number of people and will affect a larger and larger number of people as we go forward, so there is an imperative for countries at the national level to take action and for the international process to be as effective as possible.  

Q: Financial Review: On the Green Climate Fund, its governance structure, sources of finance, and the demand by the BASIC countries  

Stern: I think the Green Climate Fund negotiations are going pretty well. The focus of the negotiations is not on the underlying instrument itself which was completed in October. The negotiation right now is over the covering decision that the CoP will adapt… I think there is good progress on that issue.

You had asked a question about whether there would be an independent board, and my answer would be yes. The design of this fund would be rather like the existing financial entity that relates to climate change which is the GEF. There is intended to be a fair amount of independence. The language of the underlying treaty, the underlying framework convention, is that the financial entity is supposed to operate under the guidance of and not under the authority of the CoP… That’s exactly the way it’s been designed. The board hasn’t been picked yet. The board will have a fair amount of independence, but it will be taking policy guidance from the CoP. 

You asked about public and private finance, and they are both going to be important. We don’t believe in prescribing specific percentages. I think there is a vastly larger pool of private capital in the world that’s potentially available if the right kind of mechanisms can be put in place and the impediments that exist right now to even more private finance in being devoted to infrastructure in developing countries if those can be addressed through public government, public policies and instruments… that’s a big challenge. But there should be as much public money as possible and there is no doubt about that.

Of course there should not be an empty shell, but I don’t think any donor countries are prepared to put money in yet as there isn’t quite any place to put it in yet even when the instrument is approved and we get going if you don’t have the thing set up yet... You will still have a number of technical operational details that will have to be worked out by the board. I would expect that most donor countries will be waiting to have the thing up and running… before contributions…   

Q: DPA News: On the money in the green fund

Stern: Yes, if the green fund gets working in the way that we hope it gets working, it will be a very important channel, one of the channels through which some of that 100 billion dollars will flow, but not the only channel… 

(On how much money will the green fund will have) We gave a platform to Mexico in the spring of 2009 to talk about the fund at that time and in the major economies forum meeting, and I think the Mexicans had a figure of 10 billion dollars but that is not at all relevant now… I would not suggest that 10 billion dollars is the right amount at all…  

Q: IANS: On the Indian position that there will not be any binding commitments

Stern: The truth is that I wouldn’t say there is a conflict between us right now. We are not insisting on a legally binding agreements at the moment… When was the time when the most actual progress got made with respect to real action in climate change, I would argue that it was last year… when you had commitments by countries amounting to over 80 per cent of global missions being made and an agreement to a transparency system which is supposed to be set up this year… not to mention the green fund, technology centre and so forth and I would argue that precisely one of the things that unstuck the previously stuck negotiations was the fact that it wasn’t legally binding, it’s  politically and morally binding… Nobody takes CoP decisions lightly. They are after all decisions made under a legally binding treaty. But the fact is it wasn’t allowing countries like India and the US to act. We are not arguing that there needs to be a legally binding agreement. Many people are, but we are not. We are also not saying that there are no circumstances in which we could do it. But you are pointing to the circumstances in which we could do it. And those are not consistent with where India’s at right now… That’s fine and that’s reality. That’s why we tend to say that the conditions are not quite right yet for that kind of agreement, but I don’t have any quarrel with India at all…

Q: AFP: On how the US views the 2 degree target set in Cancun, on whether it is something rock solid, something that should not be surpassed and whether, in conversation with delegates, he has used the word ‘aspirational’ to describe the target. Has he used the word ‘aspirational’?

Stern: I don’t know…let me tell you what I think…whether I have ever used the word ‘aspirational’ or 'not' I don’t remember all the words I use. But I’ll tell you the way I look at it, which is consistent with the way many countries look at it and different from the way some other countries look at it…we look at 2 degrees as an important and serious goal that ought to guide what we do, that ought to guide the way we act in order to attain it…Its important, its serious and it is a guidepost, I would say. That is still different from looking at it as an operational cap that you must meet and that if you see yourself off it, based on science, … you have …some kind of mandatory obligation to change what you are doing, whether you are in the United States or Europe, China, wherever you might be… I think when we look at science and you see the trajectories…it ought to inform our sense of what might be done, it might well cause us or anybody else to say “jeez, we need to do more”, we don’t see it as akin to a national target…I mean it’s a nuance, but that’s the difference. 

Q: Reuters: Has the US agreed on the operation of the GCF, and on the options on going ahead 

I don’t want to negotiate through you…I have talked to you on a legally binding agreement…I can briefly restate it, which is…for us any agreement that will be legally binding needs to bind all the major players fundamentally in the same way or at least with the same legal force and would also need to embrace the concept of the 1992 division, it can’t be eternal, it’s got to evolve…and on that point I’d like to point out just another concept..countries said that since 1992 has evolved  which is a constant feature of climate negotiations…which is the phrase ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’… the whole phrase is ‘and respective capabilities’…they are master words…because they capture the concept that as countries develop … we have never had a problem with the concept of CBDR as we think it is properly understood… it amounts to a firewall between one sort of countries and another set of countries as said in 1992 even though it is radically inconsistent … on the green climate fund, there is a negotiation going on just now to finalise … I have a fair amount of confidence that this is going to be get done in a positive way. We are very supportive of the green fund…  I dont have any reason to think that we are not going to be supportive of the green fund. But there is a negotiation that is still going on. So we will let it finish.