COPENHAGEN -- The top U.S. climate negotiator stressed today that the next international global warming agreement must include major commitments from a suite of fast-growing countries; otherwise, greenhouse gas emissions will go up too fast to solve the problem.
"If you care about the science -- and we do -- there's no way to solve this problem by giving the major developing countries a pass," State Department envoy Todd Stern told reporters during the third day of U.N. climate talks here. "We're not talking about the same kind of need for actions from the vast majority of developing countries. But the major ones, it's going to be absolutely essential."
Citing International Energy Agency data, Stern said U.S. emissions are peaking and will trend down over the next two decades, while 97 percent of the growth in greenhouse gases between now and 2030 will come from the developing world, with China contributing about half of that.
"China -- I'm not being critical -- has an extraordinarily successful economy, and it's in a different stage of development than we are," Stern added. "But emissions are emissions. You've just got to do the math. It's not a matter of politics or morality or anything else. It's just math. And you cannot get the kind of reductions you need globally if China is not a major player in this. That's the reality."
Stern's comments come a day after China's senior climate diplomat, Su Wei, insisted to reporters that the United States, the European Union and Japan were not doing enough to tackle global warming.
"The historical responsibility of developing countries is actually low," Su said, pointing to a pledge from President Obama to curb U.S. emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Su offered up his own interpretation of the U.S. figures to say that Obama's efforts, when calculated against the 1990 baseline widely used in international talks, amounts to a 1 percent cut.
"I'm not very good at English, but I doubt that just a 1 percent reduction can be regarded as remarkable or notable," Su said. "In other words, the emissions of the United States continue to grow even though the United States has long completed industrialization."
U.S. officials said yesterday that Su had misinterpreted the numbers based off 1990 levels and that emissions would have fallen by about 6 percent from that threshold. Legislation moving through Congress uses a 2005 baseline, a point that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has criticized for creating an apples-to-oranges scenario making comparisons easily manipulated on the international stage.
Stern spoke within hours of his arrival in the Denmark. He said he would be working over the next nine days to reach a political agreement on the key contours of a new international agreement that would succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
Within that new accord, Stern said, the United States will insist on accountability and transparency from developing countries as they make their own commitments, a key threshold for senators who ultimately must ratify a new climate treaty.
"There needs to be transparency so everybody can have confidence that everybody else is undertaking what they said they're going to do," Stern said. "And there needs to be a sense where the whole world is going with respect to emissions. We can't be in a world where transparency is just trust -- 'Trust us, and we'll tell you what we're doing' -- there's got to be some type of consultative-type process that allows countries to look at each other and get confidence that everybody is doing what they say they are."
China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa have in recent weeks begun spelling out some of their offers for curbing emissions, including a pledge from Beijing to reduce greenhouse gases 40 to 45 percent by 2020 relative to economic growth.
"It's one of the things to be optimistic about actually in the long run, and I hope in the short run also," Stern said of the proposals. "If you look around at what countries in the world, they're actually doing a lot. China has put down a number. It might not be the number everyone would like to see. But it is a significant proposal."
Still, Stern explained that the developing countries' proposals needed to be included in the international agreement, "not just that it's a press release domestically."
No U.S. funds for China -- Stern
From the developing world's perspective, any commitments developing countries make must come with financial support from the world's wealthy nations -- U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer has put the price tag at about $100 billion per year. Stern today focused only on a short-term pledge that the United States would offer its share of a $10 billion fund for 2010-2012, though that money would go toward the world's poorest countries, with an emphasis on adaptation and forestry.
China, with a $2 trillion reserve and a revved-up economy, won't be a recipient. "I don't envision public funds, certainly not from the United States, going to China," Stern said. "There's inevitably a limited amount of money. The amount ought to be as high as it possibly can be, but it's necessarily going to be limited. That's just life in the real world."
Developing countries in recent days have criticized the amount of funding from the developed countries, including the short-term figure. "If divided by the world population, it is less than $2 per person -- not enough to buy a coffee or a coffin in some of the poor countries suffering floods and droughts as a result of climate change," Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who speaks for the Group of 77 developing countries, told reporters yesterday.
Stern pushed back today at the idea that the funding was necessary to account for the United States' historical contribution to global warming, something that some international activists have taken to calling "climate reparations."
"I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like," Stern said. "Let's just be mindful of the fact for most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions cause the greenhouse effect. It's a relatively recent phenomenon. It's the wrong way to look at this. We absolutely recognize our historical role in putting emissions in the atmosphere that are there now. But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I categorically reject that."
Environmentalists offered mixed reviews on the U.S. envoy's opening remarks.
John Coequyt of the Sierra Club said Stern was spot on in calling for transparency and accountability from the developing countries. "That's a helpful frame for these negotiations and probably a good way to judge the final outcome of the agreement," he said.
But Greenpeace's Kyle Ash pushed back at the State Department negotiator.
"Todd Stern has arrived in Copenhagen blaming everybody else for the U.S. stance on climate change, from China to Denmark and, of course, his favorite fall guy, the Congress," Ash said. "This sets an extremely poor tone for the high-level segment of the climate summit between the U.S. and the rest of the world."