U.S. Will Stick With Pledge to Cut Emissions up to 28 Percent at UN Talks, Stern Says

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By Dean Scott

Dec. 1 — The U.S. has no plans to strengthen its “highly aggressive but achievable” pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent over the next decade as it resumes negotiations that are to conclude with an international climate accord in 2015, the top U.S. climate negotiator said Dec. 1.

“There will always be some people who complain, but this is a very aggressive target,” Todd Stern, the special envoy for climate change, told reporters at a State Department briefing held to coincide with the opening of United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru.

Negotiators resumed the talks with an eye toward late 2015, when they are to conclude the talks in Paris with an agreement in which developed and developing nations alike pledge actions beginning in 2020 to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. pledge unveiled in November—to cut emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, from 2005 levels—“will roughly double the pace” of Obama administration efforts already under way to cut emissions, Stern said.

“We are not planning for that [pledge] to move” beyond 28 percent, according to Stern, who will lead U.S. negotiators during the high-level round of the talks in the Peruvian capital, which are to begin Dec. 9.

Stern also said the global climate accord should be “a lasting and durable agreement” but should include a provision to review and possibly strengthen it “on a periodic cycle.” The U.S. will push for the agreement to be reviewed every five years, he said.

The U.S. and China jointly announced their targets Nov. 12. China, which has previously rebuffed taking on a target in which it would begin making absolute cuts in emissions, vowed its emissions would peak by 2030 and begin declining after that date.

The Dec. 1-12 UN talks in Lima will serve as the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 10th Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The UN framework convention was the 1992 treaty that launched negotiations to address climate change.

Significantly Strengthened U.S. Pledge?

The U.S. offer unveiled in November significantly strengthened its previous target, pledged by the Obama administration in 2009, to cut emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

That 2020 target would require a relatively modest 1.2 percent cut in emissions each year, according to White House officials.

By contrast, a 28 percent-by-2025 cut would mean the U.S. would more than double the pace of annual reductions to 2.8 percent a year, Stern said.

This year's talks are not expected to yield significant breakthroughs, which are not expected until the final round in Paris one year from now. But negotiators in Lima hope to produce what Stern called an “initial” text that sets out key elements of the 2015 deal.

Negotiators also are to get an agreement on what nations are to include in their emissions reduction pledges—known as intended nationally determined contributions—that are to anchor the agreement. Top emitters, including China and the U.S., are to formally offer detailed pledges before April 2015.

Developing Nations' Offers Key

Stern said all countries are expected to offer actions to curb their emissions, even if their pledges fall short of making absolute reductions in the near term. But a vow from developing countries to “peak” emissions—or even a pledge to trim emissions below their “business as usual” trajectory—would be an important contribution, Stern said.

“The fact that China's absolute emissions aren't going down before 2030 [under its pledge] doesn't mean that they are not going down a whole lot, when compared to where they would otherwise be without action,” Stern said.

China's pledge to commit “to a peak point, after which its emissions will start to go down, is historic,” he said.

If enough rapidly developing countries commit to slowing their rate of emissions growth, “the impact can be just as great as the United States or Europe making the reductions that we're making,” Stern said.

But he said all countries should be prepared to pledge actions to cut emissions when they unveil their nationally determined contributions that will anchor the 2015 agreement, Stern said.

“Everybody's got to do mitigation,” the U.S. negotiator said. “And the big players on the developing country side really, really, really have to do mitigation,” he said. “That is a core principle of this negotiation, as far as we are concerned.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

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