US eager for progress on climate deal


THE US is focused on making “solid, pragmatic progress” towards reaching a binding international treaty to tackle climate change, according to Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s chief climate envoy.

Speaking in Washington before travelling to Bonn for informal talks convened by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Mexican president Felipe Calderón.

The purpose of the three-day meeting – which is being attended by representatives of more than 40 countries – is to begin preparing the ground for next December’s UN climate change conference in the Mexican resort of Cancún.

Mr Stern said the latest talks, which started yesterday, were taking place in a more realistic atmosphere quite different from the high expectations that were raised ahead of last December’s Copenhagen climate summit.

Asked why the EU had found itself sidelined then while the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa made a deal, he said part of the problem was that Europe’s leaders had “carried expectations to Copenhagen that weren’t the same as in other places”.

Essentially, they had “got ahead of what it could be possible to achieve”, he said. “Expectations are in a quite different place than last year, and we’re focused on making solid, pragmatic progress. It’s more aligned than it was.”

Among the issues on the agenda are adaptation, forests and technology transfer on which some progress was made in Copenhagen as well as the more contentious issues of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and finance for developing countries.

The US is still “in concept, completely prepared to do a legal agreement” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mr Stern said. But any agreement would have to be “symmetrical”, involving China, India and other major economies.

Asked if the passage of stalled climate and energy legislation would be a prerequisite, he said: “Even if we had a [White House] Rose Garden ceremony signing the legislation tomorrow, the big question is whether those countries would do a legal agreement.”

As for whether the legislation would get through the US Senate this year, Mr Stern said: “I’m not going to put a percentage on it.” The whole issue had been “complicated for President Obama by the reality of the financial and economic crisis” that faced the US.

However, he said the president had not put his “green” initiatives on hold “while we were trying to yank the economy out of the ditch”. Instead, he was “moving forward on all fronts” with the stimulus package and new environmental standards.

Mr Stern conceded that the Senate Bill, which aims to achieve a 17 per cent cut in US emissions by 2020, had hit a bump in the road when one of its sponsors, Republican senator Lindsey Graham, withdrew his support. But he added: “I don’t think the game is over”.