Todd D. Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change at the State Department and President Obama’s chief climate negotiator, testified on the economic and environmental impacts of the recent climate negotiations set to be finalized in Paris this December.
The chairman of this subcommittee, Senator Barrasso, expressed concern that the United States will have to make the majority of economic contributions while other nations – particularly China – will pose as a free-rider.
In response, Stern assured Mr. Barrasso that China will indeed provide climate finance. He argued that cooperation among all major nations requires non-legally binding targets that will bolster, not undermine, ambition. Legally-binding targets would create much more difficult hurdles to overcome.
The question of legally binding vs. non-legally binding agreements became an important topic of discussion. The former would need approval from Congress, whereas the latter could bypass congress as a political deal. As such, Mr. Stern was asked if any part of the deal contained legally binding agreements.
He noted that while the deal is still being worked out, any final agreement will act in accordance with the law. Stern also added that they have confidence that the law will hold in courts, but acknowledged that challenges will undoubtedly occur.
The next topic of discussion concerned developing countries and the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Stern confirmed that 110-112 INDCs have been submitted thus far, and that these nations see climate change as a significant issue. For instance, they realize that the cost of inaction significantly exceeds regulatory costs, especially for nations with coasts. He then discussed the pledges China and India have made and the progress they have made so far.
However, Stern acknowledged that these agreements must be updated continuously to amp up commitments. Each country will make their own decisions as to how to best contribute to lowering global temperatures while still maintaining solid economic growth.
For the United States, Stern argues that a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is perfectly feasible. China and India have also committed to significant reductions, but they cannot suddenly make emissions negative.
The last point sums up the overall hearing quite well. Stern made the case that non-legally binding agreements serve as the best way to get many nations on board. Legally-binding agreements might be included as well, but this will require approval from Congress – a much more difficult path. With non-legally binding agreements, nations can also adjust and adapt to their economic and environmental situation, making the deal much more appealing to developing nations.
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