Press Conference by Executive Secretary of Climate Change Convention on Recent Meeting with High-Level United States Officials

6 March 2009

Press Conference by Executive Secretary of Climate Change Convention on Recent Meeting with High-Level United States Officials

6 March 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




While President Barack Obama’s nascent Administration was still “orientating itself” on the ebb and flow of current international climate change negotiations, Washington’s support for a United States cap-and-trade scheme had boosted expectations for a strong new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, according to the head of the Climate Change Convention Secretariat.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at a Headquarters press conference that he had been “very encouraged” by his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he had met with representatives of both Houses of Congress on the prospects for the passage of climate change legislation.

He said he had also held positive meetings with senior Cabinet members and other officials, including from the Environmental Protection Agency.  “I’ve come back from those meetings very much encouraged […] I believe there is huge enthusiasm and energy in both the House and the Senate to put cap-and-trade climate change legislation in place in the [ United States].”

With talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol set for Copenhagen in December, he said he had sensed a “huge willingness” on the part of the Obama Administration to work towards an agreement.  The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ends in 2012.

Describing an apparent willingness to take an ambitious domestic agenda to Copenhagen and to engage with international partners so as to arrive at an ambitious outcome, he said he had also sensed a realization on the part of Congress that financial support to help developing countries become more environmentally friendly and mitigate their carbon emissions would be an essential part of the Copenhagen puzzle.

Mr. De Boer said the new Administration had evinced a desire to continue what was being done in the major economies process, which brought together the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters to discuss ways to halt climate change through broad cooperation.  That process could be an excellent platform for developing a better understanding of how that group of countries could, by working together, show greater ambition.

In responding to questions, however, he cautioned that the new administration had been in place for less than five weeks and its lead climate negotiator, Todd Stern, had been formally in office for less than two.  So while it was only natural that the whole international community was holding its breath to see where the United States would go on the matter, any Administration needed some time to develop a sensible answer.  “My impression is that the new Administration is orientating itself on the position that its wants to take.”

He went on to say that the Administration was also familiarizing itself with the international processes it felt could be useful in helping produce a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen.  As for specifics, the United States wanted an agreement in Copenhagen, it wished to work with major developing countries, and it recognized the critical importance of finance and technology to help the developing world engage.

To queries about his meetings with Congress, he expressed hope that strong climate-related legislation could make it out of sub-committee by May, and that the House process would proceed quite quickly after that.  The Senate was bound to be more complicated, but there was a sense that, heading into Copenhagen, the relevant legislation would be well-developed, if not actually passed.  At the end of the day, people were concerned about what the representatives of Governments would commit to in Copenhagen; that was what the country would be held to, not the intricacies of the congressional process.

Giving an update on the process in the run-up to Copenhagen, Mr. De Boer said the Climate Change Secretariat was busy preparing a document that could serve as a basis for discussion at the next negotiating session, to be held later this month in Bonn, Germany.  That document would focus on three things: areas where there appeared to be significant convergence of opinion among Governments on key aspects of what needed to be in a Copenhagen agreement -– and there were some “very encouraging” points of convergence on a number of key political issues; areas where there was a significant divergence of positions, either because countries held fundamentally different views on the arrangements or because different options were being considered; and gaps were there were not yet enough information or suggestions from Governments to flesh out an agreement in Copenhagen.

“So the March meeting will aim to fill in the blanks and make sure that we get closer to a comprehensive Copenhagen agreement,” he said, adding that the next step would be to turn that document into a full negotiating text for a subsequent preparatory session in June.  From then onwards it would be “all stops out until Copenhagen”.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.