Small nations worry that U.S. domestic politics may snarl U.S. climate pledge

LIMA, Peru -- Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at U.N. climate change negotiations today amid heightened expectations that he will be able to spur slow-going action here toward a new international accord.

He is slated to deliver remarks at 3 p.m. and meet bilaterally with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as well as Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Tasso.

But officials said Kerry -- the highest-ranking U.S. leader to attend the talks since President Obama went to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009 -- will stay just a few hours and focus on conveying the Obama administration's commitment to a 2015 global warming deal.

"I don't actually expect Secretary Kerry to get involved in the negotiations," U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said yesterday.

That hasn't stopped diplomats and environmental activists who are concerned about some positions the United States is taking here from hoping. Several said they want to see Kerry indicate that recent U.S. action, like a landmark announcement with China to curb climate-changing emissions and a $3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund, is the floor and not the ceiling of the administration's commitment.


"We would like the U.S. to have a bit more ambition. We would like stronger targets. We do understand the politics; every country has that problem," said Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean-Paul Adam.

He and others from vulnerable countries said they are watching the U.S. political landscape closely and are concerned that the new Republican majority in Congress will make it difficult for the administration to deliver on the Green Climate Fund pledge.

Just yesterday, a massive spending bill designed to avoid a U.S. government shutdown included a rider trying to bar contributions to the fund.

"I think people are worried in terms of the politics. That's got to be a concern for all of us. We are concerned that their politics can derail things," Adam said.

Agreed Melchior Mataki, head of the delegation for the Solomon Islands, "Pledges are one thing. Turning them into a reality is another."

Others want to see Kerry dive even deeper into the sticky negotiations that went well past midnight last night.

Critics say that since pledging to the fund, the United States has shown a reluctance to help map out future finance mechanisms or to push for national emissions commitments that together will be enough to avoid dangerous global warming.

"Look at the results of Kerry's diplomatic efforts in China, getting China on board," said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid in the United Kingdom. "That is a sea change in terms of climate action.

"I'm confident that when Kerry comes in, he will hear the concerns of the small islands and the least-developed states," he added.

Meanwhile, poor and climate vulnerable countries want assurance that there will be a reliable stream of funding flowing in from the West that will help them recover from loss and damage.

Uncertainty about finance could "truly break down the talks," said Heather Coleman, who manages climate policy at Oxfam.

Hopes that Kerry will keep U.S. in the lead

Developed countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year beginning in 2020 to help poorer nations respond to climate change. But questions persist about the sources of the funding and how it will be spent. What's more, the United States has pushed to move adaptation and loss-and-damage funding to a less prominent section of the negotiating text, angering developing countries, which see those issues as cornerstones of the eventual deal.

"We're hopeful that Secretary Kerry coming later this week is going to help shift some of the energy that we've been feeling from the U.S. on that topic," Coleman said.

Others say it isn't Kerry's job today to haggle over text.

"Not at a COP [Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate change convention] like this," said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

"Effectively, we're looking at procedural outcomes here. This is not where the deal is being struck. This is not the kind of COP where you need to roll the big guns out," he said. "At this stage, I think it's more important to demonstrate high-level commitment than to engage in the nuts and bolts of the negotiation."

Dirk Forrister, president and CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association, agreed. "My expectation is that he's coming to inspire and to show that the United States is serious," he said.

Forrister, a former Clinton administration climate official, said the administration needs to think about how Kerry's time in Lima will play at home. Emphasizing emissions cuts and how all countries will take responsibility under the 2015 deal, he said, is important in order to explain to a skeptical Republican Congress why the eventual deal is fair to America.

It would be difficult for the administration to defend a deal that seems to saddle the United States with a disproportionate share of the responsibility, he said.

"You do need to remove that excuse for inaction," he said. "The United States should be leading on this, and I think they're trying to lead. But they're leading with one foot nailed down."



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