Senator John Kerry spent less than a day at COP15 but his comments during a Wednesday speech at the conference shed light on the U.S. negotiating position as the talks near a close.
Kerry spent the day and early evening speaking with a wide range of environmental ministers and heads of state from China and India as well as the U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and representatives of the Alliance of Small Island States. Kerry flew back to the U.S. late Wednesday evening in order to return to Senate negotiations on health care.
Offering an apology for the lack of U.S. action on climate change over the last twelve years, he said: “But this is a new day. Just as in Rio, an American President is now coming to these talks in good faith—this time, to promise a new beginning and to re-commit the United States to being part of a global solution.”
On the hacked emails and their effect on the climate change debate in the U.S., he said:
“In recent days it has been interesting to watch people who have never even accepted the basic science now suddenly transform themselves into climate change investigators, wannabe Inspector Clouseaus looking for some sort of smoking gun to erase decades of constant and unequivocal research.”
The science is sound, he said, and the emails a red herring.
Then he provided an overview of U.S. commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiencies and funding global adaption and mitigation efforts, before moving to a critique of China, accusing it of being an impediment to global action on climate change and to U.S. action in the Senate:
“Today, there is no excuse for America not to act when we account for just five percent of the world’s population, but 20 percent of its emissions. By the very same token, when 97 percent of new emissions over the next two decades will come from the developing world, that is more than “an inconvenient truth” in our larger struggle. It is a core issue. By 2020 China’s emissions will be 40% larger than America’s. It is inescapable that ultimately, the only workable way forward will be a global solution where all major emitters take on binding commitments.”
The passage above is critical. The U.S. has for many months been setting up China as the fall guy if talks fail. U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern as well as Kerry have been pressing the point that gross emissions from developing economies — particularly China — account for overwhelming majority of global emissions growth.
“A final but critical component of any agreement here in Copenhagen is finance,” he said. “I believe the United States should be prepared to do more as other countries clarify their own efforts for transparency and mitigation. Clearly, funding must ramp up significantly in future years as part of a global deal which includes a structure to direct financing in an effective and accountable way.”
Transparency – a.k.a. monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) – is an important code word to pay attention to over the final two days of COP15. The U.S. is demanding that China submit to a process of verifying its emissions reductions. China has pushed back against this demand, saying, essentially: will the U.S. allow Chinese monitors to verify its emissions and who’s going to pay for this reporting?
On process and the search for a binding agreement, he said:
“And vitally, we must agree on a process to come back together next year to transform the Copenhagen political agreement into a binding international treaty. That process should not delay and I believe an early summer date of June or July 2010 is realistic and necessary.”
Summing up, he said: “Here in Copenhagen we have an opportunity to realign the way nations have dealt with each other. By reaching agreement on finance, emission targets, and a transparent system for global action, we will be recognizing globally that the stewardship of the planet and our appetite for resources will be managed in a new way in a new era.”
Kerry had a difficult job in Copenhagen. He had to convince environmental ministers that the U.S. Senate will act. Kerry faced a tough audience at COP15 and sought to connect success in Copenhagen to success in Washington in the spring. While that may be true, so, too, is the inverse. For these talks to succeed the U.S., as well as China, need to provide greater emissions reduction target. Neither seems likely at the moment.