Washington — U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told delegates to the 6th World Future Energy Summit that the world faces "a fundamental challenge and a genuine opportunity" in new international climate talks.
Stern said that at the recent conference on climate change, participants pointed the way forward for development of a new agreement having legal force that would be applicable to everyone, not just developed countries, in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol.
"So this was a landmark moment," Stern told delegates in prepared remarks January 15 at the World Future Energy Summit being held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. "Now we have to deliver."
The purpose of the U.N.-sponsored climate change negotiations is for nations to reach a new agreement by 2015 that would go into force by 2020.
In a wide-ranging speech, Stern said the central focus of future climate change talks must be on doing what it takes to start solving the problem, which is the point of the international effort to rein in dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and preserve a hospitable world for everyone. That is the central objective of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.
A crucial element in the success of the climate change talks must be flexibility, Stern said.
"Anyone can say we should demand draconian, legally binding commitments to slash our emissions and to have those commitments subject to a rigorous compliance regime with tough penalties for noncompliance," Stern said. "But this is really just ambition on paper, because in the real world, countries will reject obligations they see as inimical to their core interests in development, growth and eradicating poverty."
"What we need is real ambition to achieve maximum action in a way that nations will embrace because they see it as consistent with their core interests," Stern said. "At the same time, we all must challenge ourselves to take a deeper look at what pursuing core interests really means. The fact that moving to clean energy may have a cost in the short run cannot be taken as an excuse not to act."
Stern told delegates that some actions can be taken at low cost or even no cost, but other actions will have some costs. However, Stern said, over time the efforts will pay off, especially when the full cost of fuel choices - pollution, health impacts and energy security - are taken into account.
"So, yes, real ambition has to be consistent with the core interests of countries, but countries need to expand the boundaries of their own thinking about what is and isn't consistent," he said. "We all ... must challenge ourselves."
Stern also said the agreement nations are pursuing must cover everyone.
"Developing countries now account for about 55 percent of greenhouse gas emission and are projected to account for some 65 percent by 2030," he said. "We simply cannot address climate change on the theory that all commitments must come from developed countries."
Stern said the openness that countries show in implementing their commitments will be a critical element for any new climate agreement. Nations are more likely to be ambitious if they have the confidence that other nations are also genuinely meeting their commitments, he said.
Stern told delegates that commitments to mitigate or reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are rooted in national policy planning stand a better chance of being successfully implemented than producing abstract numbers agreed to in an international conference. "If we do go the route of nationally determined commitments, however, we will need to focus intensively on how best to ensure ambitious country submissions," he said.