CCAP's Helme discusses U.N.'s progress on international agreement

On the heels of last month's 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the U.N. climate convention, has the proper framework been set for negotiating a universal agreement in 2015? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, discusses the final deal coming out of COP19 and the critical role United States negotiators played in the conference. He also talks about funding questions surrounding the Green Climate Fund.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. Ned, it's always great to have you on the show.

Ned Helme: Thanks, Monica. Pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Ned, coming off of last month's U.N. climate meeting in Poland reaction has been mixed, but let's start with the final deal. Were substantive commitments made in your view, and where was the most work done?

Ned Helme: Yeah, I think it was tougher and closer than we expected. It didn't need to be so difficult. But I think the push by the environmental community and advocacy groups and by the island countries for a decision on loss and damage, on assistance after a hurricane and typhoon kind of thing really changed the dynamic a bit. But in the end I think we got a good outcome, and I think it laid, it was supposed to be a meeting to set the stage for next year. 2014 is the key, and I think it did that, although we almost fell off the tracks there for a while.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah, we talked before the show about a couple things that really stood out to you as major accomplishments. Talk a bit about that.

Ned Helme: Well, I was intrigued by the shift in the political dynamic. You know, whereas in the past we've had trouble with China and the U.S. and, you know, and we still heard some of that. You know, the U.S. took a little shot at China; China took a little shot at the U.S. But what I hear inside the backrooms, U.S. and China were really positive players in trying to form this deal and come together. And others who had been more friendly slipped away, so a very interesting dynamic, but I think very positive in the sense you've got the E.U., U.S. and China all kind of on the same page. That's 75 percent of the emissions. So we're in good shape I think for the future.

Monica Trauzzi: And the role of the U.S. is so interesting because for a long time the U.S. was chastised for not having its own domestic climate policy. Now we have the president having released his Climate Action Plan. We have U.S. EPA moving forward with regulations of power plants. How did that play into the discussion? Were countries aware of it?

Ned Helme: They were, and I think there's a real difference in the thinking about the U.S., and I think it all goes back to the president's announcement last summer, when he sort of said, "All right, we're on board," and then he backed it up with this thing about no coal plants, and the World Bank, no money for coal plants. That's really made an impression. So what you hear in the halls is a much more positive read of the U.S. as a positive player, whereas that wasn't the case a year ago. So significant, I think it comes back to the president being on board and saying, "We want this done."

Monica Trauzzi: U.N. Secretary-General Ban at the end of the meeting said that "the agreement is an important steppingstone towards a universal legal agreement in 2015." Do you agree with that? And was sort of enough accomplished to tee things off?

Ned Helme: Well, you know, I think the key here is follow the money, OK? And we didn't get a big number coming out of there in terms of the money, but in the backrooms we were talking about $20 billion in the next year or two, which is a significant step up. It was a combination of all the programs and that sort of thing, but it sort of said that, and it's one of, the developed countries are saying to the developing countries, "All right, we do have money for this, and we are serious, but we want to see what you're going to do." OK? And so it's that kind of negotiation. I think we're going to see money, and the Green Climate Fund is a critical first step. Next year we got two meetings of the Green Climate Fund. They have to show they're going to make something real here. And good progress in Paris a month ago in October before this meeting on the Green Climate fund, they agreed that the money will flow to countries based on how transformational, how serious they are about climate change actions. So rather than being a bunch of block grants where everybody gets a little bit of money and everybody's happy, the traditional World Bank sort of thing, this is really a focused effort, and agreed to by developing countries as well. So you've got a different game here, a big shift a month ago, and now we've got two meetings early in the spring. That goes well, and I think it will, then you're going to see commitments for money, real money. And the minute we get the commitments for the money, then the pledges for action follow. And so I think it's a steppingstone process, and we've got a nice path, and Ban Ki-moon is hosting this big meeting September 23rd in the U.N., all the presidents of all the countries, clever, not like Copenhagen where we had the presidents there at the last deal and it all went crazy. We're going to have the presidents early. Even the U.S. is clear they're going to say something by early 2015 what their target is. China will, too, as well. So you're going to see some of this big stuff done first; then the negotiation of all the details and how do you build that into a treaty, and that's a much better strategy than what we had going into Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: What role emerged for the private sector in these talks and the importance of financing for some projects coming from the private sector?

Ned Helme: Critical piece, critical piece. And I mentioned to you before we came on a lot of what was happening on the sidelines was as important as what happened in the main sessions. U.K. and Germany created a new facility to finance nationally appropriate mitigation actions, policy actions by countries combined with financial mechanisms that make it possible for the private sector to make money doing these good deeds in terms of climate. And everybody I think now recognizes you only get to the kinds of hundred-billion-dollars-a-year stuff we're talking about if the private sector has an incentive to play in this game and really, and play in a big way, and not like the carbon market with little bits at the edges. We're talking about significant investment by private sector in Chile, in Santiago, in China, et cetera, as well as international private sector. So I think it's a critical piece, and that's why this GCF, the Green Climate Fund, pardon the acronym, is so critical to what happens next.

Monica Trauzzi: We've talked many times on this show about the viability of the U.N. process for negotiating the next climate agreement, and like we said at the top of the show, again in Poland we saw the talks threatened at several different points. What's your assessment right now after the Poland meeting about the viability of the U.N. process?

Ned Helme: Well, what's interesting is this game has shifted to more, you know, it's like a one-ring circus versus a three-ring circus. Now we've got several rings. In the old day the UNFCC was the whole game. Now it's not. Now the GCF has its own process, 24 board members, 12 developing countries, 12 developed countries. They're going to write the rules on the financing, and that's going to then come to the UNFCC, a much better method of doing this. So I think, and similarly I've mentioned to you the U.K.-Germany facility. There's also this effort by U.S. and Sweden and Canada and a number of other countries to finance things with methane, HFCs, short-lived pollutants that can have a big impact in the short term, and they're putting real dollars into that. And so we're creating action on the ground that's real and people can build on that, and then when you get to writing the treaty you've got something to build on. You're not, in the old days, Kyoto, we wrote top-down. The targets came from above, and it didn't work. And this time I think we're going to build bottom-up from a variety of circles that makes it much more laissez and easier for the UNFCC to get the deal done. What's tough for the UNFCC is consensus. I mean, a few guys can block everything. And these other processes are not consensus so I've got ways to make this happen. So I'm optimistic but there's a long way to go, as we know.

Monica Trauzzi: You've been involved in climate and air policy discussions for more than 30 years I think, yeah?

Ned Helme: Yeah, that's true. [Laughter]

Monica Trauzzi: Long time.

Ned Helme: That's what this gray hair's about.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah. Do you walk away from a meeting like this feeling energized about the global view on climate and where we need to go in terms of international policy?

Ned Helme: I do, but, I'd say I do because, you know, we've shifted our gears at CCAP to working with these countries on the ground, and we're seeing real enthusiasm in Chile and Vietnam and the Philippines and Colombia and so on. And they're doing things, and they're beginning to see how climate can be a part of development policy, poverty reduction, health protection, things they care about. And to me that's the secret. You've got to do this so that, just like here. You know, it's got to sell to your local politicians. If they can't run on this, if it's something that's going to help them 30 years from now, it doesn't work. And so the kinds of things you're seeing in this stuff that U.K. and Germany are funding, real stuff on the ground that gives you a basis for saying, "All right, well, I could take a ... because I do want to do this thing with waste. I want to solve the waste problem, get these pickers off the dumps, and make it better. I want to do something in transport and use my train stations as great engines of development." That's what's happening, and I think that story is much more salable than just, "Oh, I've got to reduce greenhouse gases," because if you're in one of these low-income countries, they're worried about people dying from water and so on, you know? So you've got to deal with those things.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show as always.

Ned Helme: OK, my pleasure. Great to talk to you.

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

[End of Audio]



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