POLICY:

U.S. negotiating team brings blueprint for voluntary climate pact

Tout President Obama's Climate Action Plan. Ask for support to prevent countries from "backsliding" on a global 2015 agreement that binds all major emitters. And say that compensation for climate damage "isn't a productive avenue" for the United Nations to travel.

Those are some of the U.S. delegations's suggested talking points for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's 19th annual conference in Warsaw, Poland, this week and next, according to a State Department memo obtained by ClimateWire.

"With discussions on the post-2020 framework really beginning in earnest over the last 12 months, Warsaw represents an important milestone toward 2015. This year has seen a constructive discussion on the substances of the agreement which is a welcome development," the five-page briefing paper notes.

Diplomats from around 140 countries are gathering in the Polish capital to hammer out the broad outlines of that 2015 deal, which the United States hopes to shape as a voluntary pact by which nations declare what kind of emissions-cutting contribution they are able to make, and those cuts are monitored and verified under international standards.

According to the document, U.S. officials believe there is "convergence" among many countries around the plan from both developed and developing countries, "though differences remain on the details of both the structure and content of commitments," particularly on whether there will continue to be a strict division between rich and poor nations within the U.N. climate regime.

Hope for early and ambitious emissions targets

The Obama administration, as it has said publicly and in submissions, would like to see countries put new emissions targets on the table in early 2015. The European Union is pressing for September 2014, when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is holding a climate leaders' summit in New York, and some developing countries say they want to wait until 2016.

"In Warsaw we will seek to establish an expectation that parties will submit their commitments by early 2015 so as to finalize an agreement in Paris," the memo says.

It encourages U.S. delegates to say, "The idea is that 'sunshine' will provide an incentive for countries to put forth ambitious commitments in the first instance and, even if not, there will be an opportunity for countries to decide to enhance their commitments before they are finalized."

And it notes that when nations agreed in Durban, South Africa, two years ago to strike out on a path toward a 2015 agreement, the United States won a hard-fought battle to ensure that the new deal would be "applicable to all" countries. Not allowing nations to "backslide" on that point, the memo argues, is critical, and it suggests that delegates ask for other countries' support.

Likely more controversial is the administration's public posture on an issue known as "loss and damage" -- that is, addressing the worst impacts of climate change that can't be avoided, like rising sea levels that force mass migration or a storm of the magnitude of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines last week.

A compromise over damage compensation?

Developing countries last year won a fierce battle to start creating an institutional mechanism on loss and damage. They want it to be an independent body under the U.N. climate regime that studies and eventually compensates countries for unavoidable losses.

The United States and many other industrialized countries object to the language on compensation, fearing it will leave them open to liability claims, and are pressing to keep the mechanism within existing programs that help vulnerable countries adapt to the worst impacts of global warming.

"We want to be responsive to the very legitimate concerns of vulnerable countries about the impacts of climate change, without creating approaches that could make it harder for the UNFCCC to focus on the very challenging mitigation and adaptation efforts we will have over time," one set of suggested talking points reads.

It continues, "It's also our sense that the longer countries look at issues like compensation and liability, the more they will realize that this isn't a productive avenue for the UNFCCC to go down."

The comments won't likely sit will with developing countries and activists who have been demanding a fund for the hardest-hit countries. But the reality is that even before the Warsaw talks began, many top advocates for a loss-and-damage mechanism, like the Philippines, said outright that they would be willing to compromise on the issue of compensation in order to get a mechanism developed.

The State Department declined to comment directly on the cable, but said in a statement, "The US is dedicated to achieving an ambitious, effective and workable outcome in the UNFCCC and in Warsaw, and our positions are designed to further this goal. We are engaging with all countries to find solutions that will give momentum to the effort to tackle climate change."

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