U.S. Elections' Impact on Global Climate Work Mulled: Envoy

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By Anthony Adragna

May 12 — Nations around the world are “considering” what impact the U.S. presidential election will have on the world’s second greatest emitter’s work on climate change going forward, but the outcome of the race won't alter their efforts, the country’s top climate negotiator told reporters May 12.

Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said one of the “most powerful outcomes” of the 2015 international negotiations in Paris is that countries agreed to take steps to address the problem that weren't contingent upon U.S. actions.

“Their [China's] thirteenth five-year plan is not going to be withdrawn because of the U.S. presidential election,” Pershing said. “Some countries are basically saying, ‘I didn’t do my national commitment because of you. I did my national commitment because of a host of domestic pressures.’ And this applies to pretty much all of the major players.”

That's not to say countries aren't concerned about the potential election of a president who might back the U.S. out of its international commitments, Pershing said, though they are also encouraged that the business community appears to be taking climate change action seriously on its own.

“The business community seems to be acting independently of—although facilitated by—the formal agreement itself,” Pershing said. “If that continues, I don’t see any scenario in which U.S. business won’t compete in that new market and in which those new technologies won’t be part of the future of the energy system.”

Interest in the presidential race comes as nations around the world look to shift the rhetoric on the need for solutions to climate change into action. The next opportunity to maintain the momentum that emerged from Paris will be May 16 in Bonn, Germany, when delegates from nearly 200 countries will gather for the first large-scale multilateral climate negotiations since the completion of the Paris Agreement (87 ECR, 5/5/16).

Goals in Bonn

Beyond maintaining momentum for climate action, Pershing said the U.S. has a number of goals during the upcoming meeting in Bonn. Those include discussions with some countries about how they would formally join the Paris Agreement and maintain inclusiveness for those nations that need longer to formally complete the process.

“Our sense is the momentum that has been created in Paris is a precious thing,” the climate envoy said. “Maintaining that and keeping that enormously positive spirit ... is really going to be a quite essential component. We're quite optimistic about this. People seem to have turned the corner—at least in our discussions with those countries we have spoken with—from being extraordinarily worried about the negotiation of the agreement to being very focused on the implementation of the agreement.”

Other goals in Bonn include making progress in a number of technical areas: establishing a mechanism for transparency—which Pershing called a “central tenet” of the agreement—and verification, helping developing countries get access to low-carbon technologies and beginning to create an instrument for evaluating the overall effectiveness of global climate change action.

Pershing also said it was critical to “mobilize private capital” in support of new technologies, adaptation assistance and other priorities.

In Effect This Year?

There is ever-increasing optimism that the Paris Agreement could enter effect as soon as this year, according to Pershing. That will only happen if at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of global emissions formally ratify or otherwise move to join it.

“[That process] is going much faster than we anticipated when we did the negotiation,” Pershing said. “I think it's quite plausible that we could get there this year.”

With countries representing at least 50 percent of global emissions already on board or formally joining this year, just one more significant entity may be needed for the accord to go into effect. Some possibilities to get over the finish line include Russia, Brazil or the European Union bloc of countries, though Pershing said it appeared the EU might not act until 2017.

Pershing previously told Bloomberg BNA after the United Nations signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement that he could “imagine” the accord going into effect without the European Union (79 ECR, 4/25/16).

End-of-Administration Goals

Before President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017, Pershing said he'd like to see key components of the Paris Agreement, including transparency, financing and investment programs, “in motion.”

But an overarching goal would be having the international climate accord agreement in effect or “tantamount to doing that because we're just missing one country.”

“That would make me very happy,” Pershing said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com