Date: 12/07/2009 Description: Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing answering questions at the U.S. Delegation press conference at COP15 in Copenhagen on December 7, 2009. © State Dept Image

Dr. Pershing
Deputy Special Envoy
Alternate Head of the United States Delegation
UN Climate Change Negotiations
December 7, 2009

DR. PERSHING: It’s a pleasure to be here today. Good afternoon.

The United States is extremely pleased to be here at COP 15 in Denmark. We are committed to achieving the strongest possible outcome in the next two weeks. The world community has here in Copenhagen the opportunity to reach a deal that could move us much more aggressively down the path to meeting one of mankind’s greatest challenges and to speed the transition to a low-carbon global economy.

The task before us is not easy and there is still much work to be done. However, there is a deal to be done and if we resolve to continue to find common ground we will forge an agreement that preserves our planet and strengthens our economies.

On Friday, President Obama reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to meeting this common challenge when he announced that he would attend the conference on December 18th in an effort to drive progress forward toward a comprehensive and operational Copenhagen accord. Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to the negotiations, the President decided that continued U.S. leadership could be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th.

In addition, the U.S. announced for the first time, in the context of an overall agreement that includes mitigation contributions from all major economies, that it is prepared to put on the table an emissions reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, and ultimately in line with U.S. energy and climate legislation. In line with the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050, this pending legislation would put us on a pathway toward a 30 percent emissions reduction in 2025 and a 42 percent emission reduction in 2030.

In pursuit of an international agreement, we must also address the need for financing to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Last week, the President discussed the status of the negotiations with a number of world leaders, and concluded that there appears to be an emerging consensus that a core element of the Copenhagen accord should be to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable and least developed countries that could be destabilized by the impacts of climate change. The United States will pay its fair share of that amount and welcomes statements by other countries which intend to make substantial commitments as well. Providing this assistance is not only a humanitarian imperative – it is part of a development accord that invests in our common security and the global economy.

These commitments build on an impressive array of measures that President Obama has put into place since taking office, more steps to reduce emissions than ever before. Working with Congress, the President secured over $80 billion to make clean energy a cornerstone of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This stimulus is the equivalent of decades’ worth of public sector energy investment that will have a massive impact in creating green jobs, promoting domestic sources of energy, and combating climate change. We have established a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and reporting requirements for all significant sources, we have tightened appliance efficiency standards, and we will substantially reduce automobile emissions through the first-ever joint fuel economy-tailpipe CO2 standards. And at the center of these efforts, the administration is working with Congress to pass domestic clean energy and climate legislation as quickly as possible.

That is what we are bringing to the table: an unprecedented level of effort, a commitment to act domestically and internationally, in terms of financial and technological support as well as domestic emissions reductions. But to succeed, we need a global effort. We need to capture and build on the many pledges made by countries around the world over the past weeks and months and to internationalize them in our accords here. We need public reporting, with maximum transparency. We need a means to review our individual and collective efforts. These elements of our deal will build global confidence for all nations as we jointly seek to promote the effective implementation of our agreements. Our collective emphasis at this meeting must advance these goals, and we in the U.S. delegation are working to this end.

Over the next two weeks, the United States will be well represented here in Copenhagen by an array of Cabinet and senior level officials who will highlight the strides we have made this year toward a clean energy economy. This unprecedented high-level delegation underscores our administration’s ambitious and comprehensive leadership role in clean energy and combating climate change both domestically and in partnership with other nations around the world. I encourage you to attend the events at the U.S. Center which will happen daily - we will start tomorrow with the high level speakers, December 8 at 12:45 p.m. - and to ask our senior officials about actions the U.S. is taking at home in tandem with our vigorous engagement internationally, including here through the UN Framework Convention on climate change.

Copenhagen is not the end of the process. It is part of our larger collective commitment to strengthening our global economy, raising the standard of living for all people and preserving a safe and healthy planet for future generations. The U.S is committed to working with our partners around the world to seize this critical opportunity.

And with that, I am very happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: The EU said this afternoon it would be astonished if President Obama came here and did not put more on the table. Would you be astonished

DR. PERSHING: What I would say is that the President has put a remarkable amount on the table. What the President has put on the table is a commitment for the United States to move forward, a commitment on emissions, a commitment on financing, a commitment on engagement. And I think what we need to now do is see how these negotiations proceed. We look forward to his coming and engaging in the discussion.

QUESTION: Perhaps a nuance in that question. Andreas Carlgren said that he expects to see more from the U.S. and from China if the U.S. is to increase its commitment – if the EU is to increase its commitment from 20 to 30percent. What is the EU telling you that they want to see in terms of your emissions reduction commitment? A quick second question – what’s your fair share of the $10 billion a year

DR. PERSHING: I think what is interesting about the various frameworks that people are talking about, including the EU, is this question of what’s consistent with the science. How do you think about what ought to be done? What’s the trajectory? And what the U.S. has put on the table is a trajectory that is not only consistent with, but meets the criteria of a robust scientific outcome. We don’t just have a 2020 number, or a 2025 number, or a 2030 number – although we have all of those. We are moving toward a 2050 number and a trajectory with information in every single intervening year. And we are moving to an 80 percent reduction, which is what the science has called for. The science suggests that if you do that, you’d be on trajectory to prevent the kinds of damages that this conference is working to avoid. We look to the EU for a similar kind of long-term trajectory as they look to us. We are currently working on the financial side. We are looking to work with others. We have committed to our share of a $10 billion fund.

QUESTION: You said the United States is committed, but you can’t speak for the Senate, right? Has the Senate remotely indicated that it’s committed to the extent that you did – 67 vote support for any of those markers you’ve talked about?

DR. PERSHING: What we did in the process of developing the numbers that we put on the table is to have had extensive consultations with members of the House and the Senate. And this reflects the President as the executive, his interest and his view in what we think would be a consistent message that we could bring back home, and where we think we could move the process forward. And that is what we bring to the table at these meetings.

QUESTION: One environmental NGO said that the legislation - the American climate deal legislation - was hijacked by the fossil fuel industry. Just like the aging power plants, more than 30 years, lasted as long as they could last, and the percentage of clean energy is 6percent. So do you think the House deal is a good bill or bad bill?

DR PERSHING: I think the question really in evaluating the adequacy on any kind of legislation is what kind of goals it sets and what kind of realistic expectations you can have to meet the goals. That particular piece of legislation is based on a long term vision of what it takes to solve the problem. It is a vision that moves the United States down the curb of greenhouse gas emissions at a level that no other country has even begun to seriously contemplate and puts in place a set of recommendations on an annual basis for those reductions. An 80percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is what the science suggests, and an 80 percent reduction is what the bill calls for. And I would highlight that it is not only the legislation that has passed through the House - that 80 percent number is consistent with legislation still in draft form that is currently moving in the Senate.

QUESTION: You said that the U.S. commitment is consistent with the science and the trajectory, and thereafter what you have put on the table is consistent with that. Are you saying that your current commitment, which people point out to is a 4percent reduction in 2020 compared to 1990 levels, is based on minimum reductions accepted by the broad scientific community, or is it just the U.S. scientists that you are listening to.

DR PERSHING: The answer is that at the end of the day no particular year turns out to be the dispositive number. What is critical is what kind of trajectory you are on; what the overall long term pathway would be. What the IPCC has done in which those numbers came out - and I was involved in drafting of that language because I was one of the lead authors for that chapter of the IPCC report - what the IPCC has done is to look at a range of different scenarios which might reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 450 parts per million, largely predicated on a 2 degree number. In that framework, the long term change that they seek is in the order of an 80 – or slightly more than 80 but in that framework – percent reduction. That’s what’s called for. That’s what we are doing.

Then the question is what happens in the near term? What about what you do in 2030, in 2025 or in 2020? We have done the calculations. The calculations suggest that we deviate from the pathway by about one part per million. I don’t know any scientist who thinks that 1 part per million in year 2100 will change whether we make it or don’t make it. Everyone seems to think it’s about 450, within a range. Our number gets us there. But then it depends on what others do.

The U.S. currently is responsible for about one fifth of global emissions, which means that four fifths come from other countries. Which means that unless we can work out a successful global agreement, the little bit that we may contribute – and going forward, it is less and less – because the commitments we are beginning to put on the table reduce our contributions substantially - unless the world can combine its efforts we won’t solve the problem, which is what we are here to negotiate.

QUESTION: I have a question: in the past, the only international, legally-binding agreement that the U.S. has signed to is the WTO agreement, and unlikely that everybody is talking about the U.S. is now going to sign any legally-binding agreement on climate change. So I wonder, what kind of commitment the U.S. can make to work with a global partner and also how can make this commitment work because what happened was… President Obama made remarkable speech at the G-20 in London about untying global trade protectionism and human rights for the country and started to put sanctions on Chinese tires and steel so how can make the commitment work? Thank you.

DR. PERSHING: Thanks very much. I think in the context of the work we’re doing here, one might go to a different agreement to which the United States is a party, which is a legal instrument and which was ratified - that’s the Climate Change Convention itself. We are party to that convention. It incorporates legal obligations - for us, for other developed countries and for developing countries. All countries have to inventory emissions, all countries have to take policies and are supposed to publish and implement the policies that they take. We are doing that. We are calling on others to do that. We believe that this negotiation here could yield that kind of an outcome. We don’t see the process far enough advanced at this meeting to support a legal treaty. We see it beginning with a political arrangement that would be operational, that would move elements and activities forward immediately and that would then be followed by negotiation of a legal arrangement. And we believe we could be party to that legal arrangement.

QUESTION: The chair of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri, this morning defended the IPCC in the wake of what is rather unwittingly being called “Climategate,” the theft of emails from the climate research unit at the university of East Anglia in the UK. How much damage does that do to the United States position, given that it has been leapt upon by climate skeptics, not least in your country, where therein a very large number were there also in the Senate? What damage does it do to the… your chance of getting your bill through the Senate and therefore to your position here in Copenhagen?

DR PERSHING: So the short answer is, I think it will have virtually no effect at all. My sense about the climate emails that have been stolen and the information that they have provided is that they have released a barrage of additional information which makes clear the robustness of the science, the multitude, the enormous multitude of different strands of evidence that support the urgency and the severity of the problem that have been managed in multiple places around the world. What I think is unfortunate, in fact shameful, is the way some scientists who have devoted their lives are being pilloried in the press without due regard to the process. The science is incredibly robust, and as we look forward, I worry much much, more about not acting urgently than I do about what will ultimately be a small blip on the history of this process.

Thank you.