Sunday, April 03, 2016

Todd Stern on Paris, the Future, and Learning from the Past

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern stepped down Friday after seven years as the Obama administration's top global warming negotiator to the United Nations. (Photo Credit: International Institute for Sustainable Development) Click to Enlarge.
The structure of the Paris agreement calls for years of taking stock; renewed emissions reduction and financial pledges; and monitoring, reporting and verification activities that must all be carried out under the auspices of the U.N. body.  Many of the deal's details are left for future conferences, with key next steps due at this November's conference of the parties in Marrakesh, Morocco, and beyond.

For the State Department, that work will be overseen by Todd Stern's former deputy and now successor, Jonathan Pershing.

Stern says his own plans are to write and teach, but also to remain "busy and engaged" on climate change.

The role Stern is vacating was originated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hired him.  Asked whether his next stop might be her presidential campaign, he said:  "I don't have any particular plans for that.

"I very much enjoyed working with Secretary Clinton while she was at the State Department, I'll just say that," he said with customary caution.

Long-term decarbonization plan in the works
Stern declined to weigh in on whether the next administration should continue the "special envoy" position or handle climate diplomacy differently.  But he said it was "enormously useful" to have a high-level official who focused solely on climate change, rather than as part of a broader portfolio, as was the case in past administrations.

The need for a ministerial-level worker who can talk with counterparts in other governments is strengthened, not diminished, now that Paris must be implemented, he said.

An interagency team helmed by White House climate adviser Brian Deese but including Pershing will write a blueprint this year for how the United States can put itself on track to meet Paris' long-term decarbonization goals by midcentury.  The deal called for the world to limit post-industrial warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with an aspirational target of 1.5 C.

Stern said he had envisioned the plan as a "white paper" with ideas for how various sectors of the U.S. economy would achieve deeper reductions over the decades.

"It's not a question of putting forward a 2050 target," he said.  The paper will respect that achieving midcentury goals -- the United States has pledged to cut emissions more than 80 percent by 2050 -- will be an "iterative process" dependent on policies that will be set by future administrations.

The Obama administration will not begin to write the next set of U.S. commitments to the Paris agreement, which are due in 2020 to be realized in 2030.

"That's going to be in the hands of the next president," Stern said.  He declined to say whether any of the GOP candidates now vying to replace Obama would keep the United States on a trajectory to meet its 2025 commitments to Paris -- or to plan a way to build on them in four years' time.

"My own view is that any administration would keep us in the Paris regime," he said.  "I think it would be a huge foreign policy blunder for the United States to try to in any way pull back from Paris, because it is an issue viewed as hugely important all over the world, and it is an agreement that is pretty much universally applauded.

"You can't do it alone, but things don't move well in this area ... without U.S. leadership," he said.  "So I would certainly hope to see that continue."

Read more at Todd Stern on Paris, the Future and Learning from the Past

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