Todd Stern, the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change since January 2009, was another notable speaker at the 6th World Future Energy Summit, part of Masdar’s extensive Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. For those of you who closely follow international climate negotiations, you will see much of the same here that you have seen in previous speeches and conferences. However, if you pay attention to nuance, there may be some quite interesting statements and proposals, and there were certainly several solid points that deserve emphasis. Additionally, I wanted to at least record the speech and make the videos available to you in case you’re interested in watching it for yourself.
So, first, here are two videos that capture most of his speech (sorry for the less than ideal audio and visual quality on these):
And here are some of the points Mr Stern made that I think are worth highlighting:
- There are many benefits to clean energy besides the climate benefit, but the climate issue is the most imperative. (In other words, what is anything worth if we don’t have food, water, a safe home, and a livable climate.)
- The costs of climate change are considerably larger than the costs associated with a clean energy revolution, even if some of those climate change costs will only be experienced in the medium or long term.
- It’s important that each country work its hardest to tackle climate change, and to change into a low-carbon society. “We all — United States, China, the EU, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, India — all of us must challenge ourselves,” Mr Stern emphasized.
- “Differentiation among countries may be the most misunderstood, intensive issue of the entire negotiation.” In other words, different countries need different policies, different mechanisms, and different types of support in order to make the greatest climate action possible. This is something that could be debated at great length, and is something Todd believes is still wildly underestimated, but I think the key he is focusing on is that we need to do a better job of looking at how to improve each country in the midst of its unique circumstances, rather than getting stuck on one or two overarching global goals or solutions. Still, though, where to draw the line between broad policies or targets and country-specific policies or targets will always be a challenge.
- “First, we have to make sure differentiation supports ambition rather than discourages it,” Todd noted. This is a simple but very critical statement, and it’s not going to be easy to achieve, as most countries are currently looking for ways to do less than their “fair share” rather than more than their “fair share.”
- Summarizing the two points directly above, the US is not at all saying that all countries be expected to address climate change in the same way, but that, “for differentiation to support our mutual, overarching commitment to ambition, [climate goals or targets] must be based on real and material circumstances in countries.”
- Countries need to be very transparent about their progress towards achieving their targets, Todd added. “Countries will be more ambitious if they have confidence that their peers are also genuinely acting. Only a system that lets the sunshine in will give them this confidence.”
- “We must be ready to think outside the box [in these] climate negotiations and create a flexible structure that can best achieve the objective of real ambition and the imperative of broad inclusiveness while also accommodating the varied circumstances of parties.” As part of this, Todd contended that national targets will probably have to be internally determined. He thinks they will have a “better chance for being successfully implemented” if determined internally. However, what then is the purpose of the international negotiations?… Our Special Envoy for Climate Change had a response: “But if we do go the route of nationally determined commitments, we will need to focus intensively on how best to ensure ambitious country submissions. One idea might be to require countries to submit their proposed climate programs 6 months or so in advance so that other countries and the broader public will have time to scrutinize the submissions and offer their own comments.” He also added at the end that “we should agree that different metrics for measuring action are perfectly appropriate.”
- “I’d also note that a message of limits, reductions, and constraints is much less attractive than a message of building vibrant, something vibrant and new, a 21st century clean energy economy.” But how to do so in international negotiations is the challenge. “I don’t know yet precisely how to capture a ‘race to the top’ dynamic with respect to climate change, but I think it’s an idea that is worth our exploring.”
- Todd’s last sentence got to the crux of it all: “Let us be guided at every step and in every decision by our shared commitment to conquer this challenge to serve our respective nations and all nations, and to make our children proud.” If only all of our leaders, and the public as a whole, realized what was at stake as much as Mr Stern.
What do you think of the notes above or other comments from Todd’s speech?
For more content from CleanTechnica’s trip to Abu Dhabi, check out our archive pages for Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the World Future Energy Summit, and/or the International Renewable Energy Conference.
Full Disclosure: my trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was funded by Masdar. That said, I was completely free to cover what I wanted throughout the week, and at no point did I feel under pressure to cover any specific events or Masdar in any particular way.
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on some of your favorite social networks, go to zacharyshahan.com or click on some of the links below.