Monday, March 16, 2015

Briefing the Ambassador

As I suggested in my previous post, the United States, as the world's largest economy and largest per capita carbon polluter, holds many of the high cards in the global climate negotiations, and the man charged with playing those cards is our special envoy Todd Stern. Stern has laid out a detailed view of his approach in a speech delivered at Yale University last fall, a few weeks before President Obama's historic joint announcement with China's President Xi of their carbon reduction goals. Taken together, the speech and that announcement seem to give a clear picture of the negotiating stance the US will adopt in Paris.

Here are some questions I would like to put to Ambassador Stern:

  • Do you feel the American record on climate change issues since 1992 is an impediment as you represent our nation at Durban or Lima or any of the other international venues? What credit can we claim, and how much apology do we owe the world community?
  • Many have suggested that the US’s proposed reduction of 26-28% over 2005 levels is inadequate to meet the 2 degrees C temperature increase goal. Can you suggest how quickly you expect the US reduction goal to “ramp up” over several 5-year cycles? And shouldn’t we have a specific target in mind for 2040 or 2050 to put us on track for a 2C increase?
  • You point to the “holy grail” of market advantage for non-fossil fuels, but—especially in a period of falling oil prices and increasing demand for coal—what steps will need to be taken, both nationally and internationally, to create that market advantage? Shouldn’t some form of international carbon taxation be on the agenda for Paris?
  • Critics of the UN FCCC process have suggested that the only way to ensure that we don’t burn too much carbon to stay within the 2C goal is to budget it, or impose restrictions at the level of consumption. Scientists have given us fairly clear measures of how much carbon consumption will take us beyond the 2C limit: how can we justify exceeding those levels?
  • You cite the interesting statistic that worldwide fossil fuel subsidies might amount to $500 billion annually—an outrageous fact in view of our global climate goals. Where should we start in the United States to begin phasing out those subsidies?
  • What would you hope someone in, say, 2075, might say about your efforts, and what do you fear they might think, not just of you, but of all of us in our nation and generation?

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