UNFCCC's de Boer discusses U.S. action on climate change, Copenhagen meeting

With President Obama slated to address a special U.N. summit on climate change this week, will he successfully add momentum to the international climate negotiations? During today's OnPoint, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, discusses his expectations for Obama's speech. He addresses concerns over the momentum of the international negotiations and explains how the Senate's actions on climate this year will affect the Copenhagen negotiations.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Mr. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Mr. de Boer, wonderful to have you here as always.

Yvo de Boer: Nice to be here again.

Monica Trauzzi: We're in the home stretch to this year's highly anticipated climate meeting in Copenhagen and leading up to that meeting over the next couple of months there are a series of high-level talks happening. The U.N. General Assembly convenes on the 22nd and President Obama will be giving a speech on climate ahead of that meeting. What are you looking for him to say at that meeting? What message needs to come out of the Obama administration?

Yvo de Boer: A couple of messages. I think first of all a clear indication of what the U.S. feels it can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions going into the future and I think that those numbers need to be more ambitious than they are at the moment and I think that they can be more ambitious given some of the legislation that's out there. And secondly I think President Obama needs to say how he's going to reach out to developing countries to help them engage.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned to me before the show that you see this as a make or break week for the climate talks. What indicators are you looking for at the meetings that are happening over the next couple of days?

Yvo de Boer: I think this week will give us a sense on whether Copenhagen is going to be a success or not. Now here in Washington the major economies of the world have been convened by President Obama's team to talk about what can rich companies do to reduce emissions? What can major developing countries do to limit the growth of emissions? How can we adapt to climate change and how can we capture this in a Copenhagen package? Then the train moves on to New York where the U.N. Secretary General Bunn is convening a meeting of heads of state and government and I think that that will give us a sense of whether world leaders want to get it done in Copenhagen or not.

Monica Trauzzi: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that the Senate may not see floor action on climate until next year. What message does the lack of action from the U.S. Senate send to the international community about the U.S.'s role in the climate discussions?

Yvo de Boer: Well, I hope we don't get to the stage where it sends the message yes you can, but no we can't. Having told the whole world that climate change is important, that the U.S. is willing to lead and with many countries like China and India responding to that I hope that the U.S. is not going to come into Copenhagen and say, oops, sorry, but this is a bit early for us.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you putting pressure on the administration and Congress to try to move that legislation before Copenhagen?

Yvo de Boer: From an international point of view, from the point of view of the U.N. negotiations it's not essential that the legislation is finalized, but that statement of political intent from the president that's the thing that really counts in the international arena.

Monica Trauzzi: It seems that the administration has shifted to using the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions. It's a more likely vehicle for action this year. Will that be enough for the international community if the U.S. delegation comes to the table with the EPA regulations in hand?

Yvo de Boer: Well, many countries including the United States say we don't need anybody to tell us how we're going to reach a target that we commit to. So, in that sense, whether the U.S. achieves whatever target it agrees to in Copenhagen through the Clean Air Act or through a cap-and-trade regime does not matter to the international community. What counts is the voice of the person who is making a statement, making a commitment on behalf of the U.S.

Monica Trauzzi: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently said he was deeply concerned that the negotiation was not making much headway. Would you characterize the negotiations in the same way?

Yvo de Boer: Yes, I would. I mean we've seen little progress over the past couple of months. But it's a bit like a roller coaster ride, this process. I mean suddenly out of the blue last week we saw a power shift in Japan and then an announcement that Japan would not do -8, but would do -25, which is an incredible feat. So I hope for more of those positive signs.

Monica Trauzzi: China, another big factor in these negotiations, Chinese President Hu Jintao is slated to speak also at the U.N. General Assembly meeting. How much of a wild card is China in these negotiations and is there a sense that they may actually surprise us all at the Copenhagen meeting and come to the table with some targets, some real movement on reducing emissions?

Yvo de Boer: I wouldn't be surprised if China surprises us. I think that China will come with something in New York next week, President Hu Jintao. I think that he will come with something ambitious and I wouldn't be surprised if it's something that is more ambitious than what many industrialized countries are putting on the table. And the reason for that is that China really is taking this economic crisis as an opportunity to change the direction of economic growth.

Monica Trauzzi: Does the U.S. need to be concerned at this point, especially considering that China may come to the table with some progress? Should the U.S. delegation be concerned about what might happen at that meeting and how the U.S. might look?

Yvo de Boer: Well, Europe has offered -30, Japan is now offering -25, India and China have announced that they are ready to engage and I hope that President Obama can come with something that's not seen as paltry in that context.

Monica Trauzzi: Where do the bilateral talks between China and the U.S. stand at this point?

Yvo de Boer: A number of meetings have happened and more are slated. President Obama is going to engage himself. I think that that's incredibly important because if those two superpowers can reach a common understanding on what a sensible way forward is that really helps the broader international process.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here, the real big question, will there be a detailed agreement reached in Copenhagen? Are we going to see a treaty?

Yvo de Boer: I don't think we're going to see all the final details being settled in Copenhagen. We don't have enough time left for that. But what is really important is that all the key political issues are addressed and resolved in Copenhagen so that this discussion just doesn't drag on endlessly. Copenhagen must give clarity.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you, as always, for coming on the show.

Yvo de Boer: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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