17 June 2009

Jonathan Pershing on the outcome of the Bonn climate talks

Jonathan Pershing is the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, and was the lead US negotiator at the Bonn climate talks. Here´s what he had to say, and a few comments to decode its significance:

Asked about the bilateral meeting held between the US and China during the talks, he said that the US is “working for a conclusion not just here but in other forms – perhaps most notably the MEF [Major Economies Forum]”. The emphasis in these bilaterals is on a “foundation of shared understanding”. Pershing left Bonn to join Todd Stern´s delegation in Beijing for “an engaged conversation” that was “very fruitful” (Stern is Special Envoy for Climate Change, the US lead negotiator).

The timing of these bilaterals was not arbitrary - it served to keep key Chinese negotiators in Beijing, which can help to isolate them from the rest of the G77 (developing countries) grouping. It might also serve to set up a media blame game in which the US looks to China for greater commitments, despite the fact that US per capita emissions remain three times higher than those of China and are historically on a wholly different scale.

A new agreement?
“The US is of the view that we need a new agreement... we need to frame what comes next.” The US has proposed an “implementing agreement of the Convention, to which we are a party.... we are of the view that all Parties must take action, including the US, but that doesn´t excuse countries like China or Korea.” [The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio in 1992, and is the legal basis for the Copenhagen talks later this year]. The US submission is “framed as a complete agreement... which frames a vision of how we might move forward.” He also noted that “we are not a party to the Kyoto Protocol.. so our intention is using the Convention structure going forward”

The key political point here relates to fears that the legal form of a new agreement could undermine the Kyoto Protocol. The latter has many negative aspects to it - most notably, it is the basis for carbon offsetting under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). But the intention is not to scrap this, but rather something called "differentiation" - dividing up the grouping of developing nations. Such a move also absolves the US of its failure to ratify Kyoto.

Pershing also emphasised a “long term strategy” in which developed countries set a quantitative limit in relation to a baseline year while for developing countries “the actions are binding but not the outcomes.” He also stated that the US plan requires that developing countries “state when they would take on these kinds of commitments” to a quantitative reduction in relation to a baseline year.

Some “additional resources” are anticipated by the US especially for the “less developed” countries, and technology is a “central part” of this discussion.

Historical Responsibility
On historical responsibility, he drew attention to remarks by Stern at the last meeting in Bonn, summarising in these terms: “we recognise as a matter of fact that the US has historical responsibility for the largest share of emissions going back” and recognising also that the US has a “significant capacity” to take action.

Redefining "finance" within a private investment framework
The “vast majority” of the money for tackling climate change is private finance, Pershing said. The aim is to “leverage the various tools at our disposal to shift these investments” so we need a “marginal shift” to do this. He explained that the money concerned is not the whole cost of projects but, for example, the difference between regular coal power and CCS, or between “low till and no till agriculture.”

On public finance, he noted that public finance is generally emphasised in the UN context and said that “we´d like to change that debate”. In this regard, he highlighted offsets as a means to “provide substantial streams of money” if they are “scaled appropriately.”

Instead of paying the US climate debt, the proposal here is to reframe the issue in order to open new markets for the private sector.

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