Will international climate negotiators make any substantive achievements at this year's U.N. meeting in Cancun, Mexico? During today's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, discusses achievable goals for the meeting. He also gives his take on the lack of interest in the meeting from lawmakers in the United States.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Elliott, it's great to have you back on the show.
Elliot Diringer: Good to be back with you.
Monica Trauzzi: So, heading into Cancun, you're going to be leaving shortly for the big international climate meeting and many members of Congress have been outright dismissive about the negotiations in Cancun. Some have indicated that they haven't really even given it much thought about whether they were going to travel to Cancun. What are your thoughts on the lack of interest that we're seeing from members of the U.S. government about this meeting?
Elliot Diringer: Well, obviously, there was a lot more attention last year on Copenhagen. Expectations were much higher, too high frankly, unrealistically high which is why there was so much disappointment. This time around, I think we actually have a decent shot at some tangible progress, because expectations are much more realistic. Parties are focusing primarily on making some incremental, concrete steps on things like stronger support for developing countries, stronger transparency so countries can actually better see whether others are fulfilling their promises and I think we have a good shot at making some progress there.
Monica Trauzzi: But why do you have folks like John Kerry, like Secretary Clinton who are not planning to travel there? Why is there that lack of interest?
Elliot Diringer: Well, frankly, secretaries of state don't ordinarily go to these meetings. Todd Stern, the special envoy, is our ministerial level of representative and ordinarily these meetings are attended at that level. So it's really no surprise that the Secretary of State isn't going. A little bit of a surprise that Senator Kerry isn't going because he's been there I think almost every year. But I also understand that there's some business back here in Washington.
Monica Trauzzi: So, does that send a certain message to the international community when some key folks don't show up to meeting like that?
Elliot Diringer: No, because most other countries are represented at the same level as Todd Stern.
Monica Trauzzi: So, the U.S. is going into this meeting without a domestic policy on the books, without, as we said, much interest from certain government officials. So what do you believe the goals for the United States should be at this meeting?
Elliot Diringer: I think the goals for the U.S. should be to work with other countries to make progress towards building a functioning regime, one that can provide stronger finance to developing countries and begin to provide stronger reporting from countries on what they're doing and some mechanism to review those actions so we can have greater confidence that countries are actually doing what they're saying they're doing. And those are all things that we can negotiate and agree on without actually having legislation in place back here at home.
Monica Trauzzi: So, more broadly, the meeting in general, what do you think the achievable goals are?
Elliot Diringer: Well, I would put the issues in two broad categories. Those concrete operational issues I've been talking about, finance, adaptation, support, technology, forestry, all additional means of helping developing countries adapt to the climate change and reduce their emissions. So you have that one basket. On the other side are these looming legal issues. If and when this process is ever going to get to a new legally binding agreement and, if so, what form? Countries are much closer together on that first set of issues and I think we can actually reach agreement on those provided they can find some way to finesse that other set of legal issues where they are much further apart. So what I would look for is a set of decisions that take some incremental steps on the operational issues and lay down some markers, some very general markers about the future direction of the international process.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think there's a willingness to do that?
Elliot Diringer: Oh, I think there's very definitely a willingness to make progress on the operational side and there's a very strong desire on the part of a lot of countries to move as quickly as possible toward binding agreements. That's really where the rub is. You know, for 15 years the primary thrust of this process has been establishing and then extending a legally binding regime through the Kyoto Protocol. But for the last five years, since these current round of negotiations began, we've really been at a deadlock on those legal issues and there's really little prospect of breaking that stalemate anytime soon. So we think it's important that countries send a clear message that, yes, that's the direction we need to go. That's the direction we're going. But they're not going to be able to agree on the specifics, when, binding on whom, in what form. So they need to defer those issues, but at least lay down that general marker.
Monica Trauzzi: Lots of questions surrounding the clean development mechanism. Will there be any progress on determining what the future of the CDM will be at this meeting?
Elliot Diringer: I really don't expect any major decisions about the market mechanisms. We're probably not going to come to any definitive conclusions on the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM is part of the Kyoto Protocol. So there may be some very incremental steps there, but nothing major.
Monica Trauzzi: So, if we don't see some type of progress at this meeting, what does it mean for the U.N. process overall?
Elliot Diringer: Well, I want to take issue with the supposition there that we won't see any kind of progress. I think what we need at this point is a shift in paradigm if you will, a shift of mindset. We need to recognize that, yes, the ultimate goal needs to be a legally binding agreement, but that's just one tool in the multilateral toolbox and there are lots of other things we can do within the multilateral process that actually can promote stronger action in the near term, while also laying a stronger foundation for getting to that legally binding agreement later on.
Monica Trauzzi: But how much discussion is actually happening in the background about stepping away from the U.N. process?
Elliot Diringer: Well, I think one of the things that actually I think will help deliver a positive outcome is the understanding among most parties that the process itself is at stake. If we have a failure in Cancun, I think you will see parties begin to reevaluate this process and start looking elsewhere for their negotiations on this issue. Most parties I think really want to keep this process intact because they hope to see something even more concrete come out of it in the future. And I think that will probably lead them to some compromises in Cancun that will produce a positive outcome.
Monica Trauzzi: So, definitely no legally binding treaty this year. When could we see something?
Elliot Diringer: Well, I think we need to be thinking in terms of years. Some parties would probably like to see a deadline set for next year in South Africa. I think that would be a mistake. That would be Copenhagen all over again. It's a little early to say just how many years it will be, but certainly we need to make much more progress here in the United States on a domestic climate program before the U.S. is going to be ready and I think others will wait to see where we are before they're ready.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show, have a good trip.
Elliot Diringer: Thanks very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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