Saturday, December 19, 2015

For U.S. Climate Envoy, New Coalition Helped Turn Tide in Paris

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern embraces Claudia Salerno of Venezuela, who represents a group of developing nations including China and Indonesia, at the closing session during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw, November 23, 2013. (Credit: Reuters/Kacper Pempel) Click to Enlarge.
When the Paris climate talks opened earlier this month, many observers assumed the terrible costs of failure meant some kind of deal was assured.

Todd Stern, the chief U.S. climate change negotiator, was not one of them.

"When seeking legislation or agreement, there are people that are more interested in preventing things from happening," Stern told Reuters in an interview upon his return to Washington this week.  "Blocking is easier than getting things through."

When the Paris talks started on Nov. 30, Stern sensed some countries were ready to settle on a "minimalist" agreement that would leave key issues to be resolved in the future.

He saw an opportunity to break through that reluctance by aligning the United States with a loose assembly of rich and poor nations that shared the long-term goal of getting the earth's average temperature to settle at 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

In 2011 the European Union formed a loose alliance with small island states, a few Latin American countries and the 48 least-developed countries that would push for more ambitious goals in a 2015 climate agreement and challenge the north-south divide that has for decades hampered negotiations.

The U.S. decision to join the alliance added "rocket fuel" to the group, Stern said, breaking through the solidarity of a bloc of developing countries that clung to old positions that would make a new climate agreement hard to reach.

By the end of the talks on Dec. 12, 195 countries agreed on a pact that commits both rich and poor countries to curbing their greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning away from fossil-fuel dependence.

Trouble in Bonn
Stern sensed trouble well before arriving in Paris.

One month earlier, in Bonn, Germany, the last round of negotiations before the Paris summit ended on a decidedly negative note, making a final deal hard to imagine, he said.

Stern got reports from his team that the G77, the main bloc of developing countries, including China and India, was retreating to old, divisive positions, maintaining that rich countries should shoulder all of the burden of combating climate change, especially on finance.

For a Paris deal to be successful, rich countries had expected emerging economies to take on more.

That was when Stern decided the United Sates needed to counteract that negative "hardline tack" in Bonn by joining an alliance of rich and poor "progressive" countries pushing for a more "ambitious" deal, which would come to be known in Paris as the High-Ambition Coalition.

Read more at For U.S. Climate Envoy, New Coalition Helped Turn Tide in Paris

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