C2ES' Diringer discusses negotiator dialogues ahead of Paris meeting

Last year, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) organized the "Toward 2015" dialogue, drawing together climate negotiators from more than 20 countries for in-depth discussions on a Paris climate treaty. During today's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at C2ES, discusses the outcome of the nearly 100 hours of discussions. He also previews the outlook and expectations for December's U.N. meeting in Paris.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Elliot, great to have you back on the show.

Elliot Diringer: Great to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Elliot, C2ES organized the "Toward 2015" dialogue last year, drawing together negotiators from more than 20 countries for in-depth discussions on the Paris climate treaty. A report that highlights the outcome of these more than 100 hours of discussions has just been released. Why was a dialogue that is separate from the U.N. discussions necessary?

Elliot Diringer: Well, the formal negotiations really are not always conducive to making progress, as we've seen over time. The 192 countries, they all have their formal positions, and there really isn't a lot of opportunity for negotiators to sit down and actually engage in some honest give-and-take. And that's what the dialogue provided, an opportunity for them to meet over a period of time. We met eight times over about 15 months off the record, a small group, and it really gave them a chance to sit at a table with one another, get a better understanding of the issues they're all facing together, some of the options available to them, where they stand on those issues and why those are their positions and really start to sketch out some common ground.

There're a lot of forums like this at different levels. For instance, the French as the host of the Paris conference are convening in formal discussions among negotiators and among ministers. We have the Major Economies Forum, which met just this past weekend, again, a ministerial-level discussion. It's really important to provide those informal opportunities to hopefully create some better alignment both at the political and the negotiator level, which then can be carried back into the formal negotiating process to make some progress.

Monica Trauzzi: So you think by having all these different discussions, including the Toward 2015, that come December when everyone's in Paris that it'll help facilitate the dialogue in Paris?

Elliot Diringer: Absolutely. I think these informal conversations are vital, but I'm also encouraged because of what we saw in our dialogue, and some of the political signals that we're seeing more publicly. So, I think there're a lot of encouraging signs.

Monica Trauzzi: So talk about this idea of a hybrid agreement and why that would be a successful approach top-down, bottom-up.

Elliot Diringer: Right, and this is the emerging paradigm that we've seen for some time now, in which the report coming out of our dialogue really puts front and center. And the idea here is that you want to balance on the one hand some flexibility for countries to design their own contributions. That's really key to getting broad participation, bringing countries into the agreement, but you want to balance that on the other hand with some rigor at the international level to ensure the countries are held accountable for their promises and to ensure that we build ambition over time.

Monica Trauzzi: And that is the sort of key sticking point. How do you keep everyone accountable? I mean, you can make pledges forever, but if you're not sticking to them, they're meaningless. So, is there some kind of path forward to that accountability element?

Elliot Diringer: Well, the point of convergence we're seeing around accountability is really strong transparency, countries being really clear up front about what they're intending to do, and then reporting regularly and thoroughly on their implementation efforts so everyone can see what kind of progress they're making and whether they're really sticking to their promises. Now, transparency has been a feature of the international regime for some time, but we've had a very bifurcated process with different standards for developed and developing countries, and I think one of the key points that comes across in the dialogue report was that the Paris agreement needs to work toward a common transparency framework for all countries, needs to allow some flexibility, because different countries have different capacities, but the idea is that over time everyone's aiming for the same standards of transparency and accountability.

Monica Trauzzi: China, they've recently made their pledges. How did they play into the Toward 2015 discussions, and would you say that they are on board?

Elliot Diringer: Well, first I just have to note that the discussions were held under the Chatham House Rule, meaning that while we can describe the issues discussed and the insights and points of convergence that emerge, I can't really attribute any of the statements made by any of the one participants, but China participated from beginning to end. We had a senior official from the foreign ministry, somebody we've known for probably a dozen years or so. He participated in a dialogue we convened about 10 years ago, and they were there. They were engaged, and I think judging both from what we heard within the dialogue but, again, what we're seeing publicly, the joint announcement with the United States, the contribution they've formally submitted now, all the signs, I think, indicate that China is committed to getting to a deal in Paris.

Monica Trauzzi: Should stakeholders be concerned about the U.S. and D.C., considering the level of pushback that the Clean Power Plan is already getting and the level of litigation that we're expecting come fall and winter?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think over time representatives of other countries have developed a very sophisticated understanding of our political process, the kinds of challenges we face in advancing stronger climate efforts, so they understand that there aren't uncertainties in the U.S.'s ability to follow through, but the U.S. isn't alone in that regard. All countries face political obstacles and political uncertainties, but that's part of the reason that transparency is so important, so that other countries can see how well each country is doing in holding to its promises.

Monica Trauzzi: So, among the negotiators at these discussions, where were the biggest points of contention, the biggest disagreements?

Elliot Diringer: Well, we spent a lot of time discussing the legal nature, the legal character, of the agreement, which parts of it would be binding at the international level, and one point of disagreement is whether the targets themselves should be considered internationally or legally binding. And we heard very strong arguments in both directions. On the one hand, some participants felt strongly that making the targets legally binding provides greater certainty that they will be met. Others argued just as forcefully that if you insist on them being binding, that may keep some countries away, so it will weaken participation, and some countries might come in with weaker targets if they think they're going to be held legally accountable for those targets. So how do you strike the right balance there? The report expresses both views, but it notes that in the end, ultimately the strength of the agreement really rests on the transparency and accountability it provides and on the political will of countries to implement it. So we need to create a set of conditions that helps to enhance that political will.

Monica Trauzzi: This report has been getting a lot of traction. You actually just returned from Luxembourg, where you presented the report to the Major Economies Foreign Meeting. What're the biggest questions that you've been receiving from stakeholders about what's in the report?

Elliot Diringer: The biggest question I've received is, OK, how do we now turn that into an agreement that people can sign on to in Paris? We got a lot of positive feedback on the report, both in Luxembourg and elsewhere. I think a lot of people feel that it does a really good job of capturing the points of convergence, telegraphing where the landing zones are in Paris. It's not a complete blueprint. There're still some areas that need to be further fleshed out, finance, for instance, but I think on the whole people are pretty comfortable with the direction that it lays out.

Monica Trauzzi: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was recently speaking in Vatican City, and he said that Paris is the last best hope. Do you agree with that?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think we've seen in the past how setting expectations too high isn't necessarily helpful. This is a challenge that has accumulated over decades, and frankly we're going to be working on it for decades. I don't think you could point to any one moment or any one process as delivering the grand solution. I think Paris presents a real opportunity. I think things are aligning to actually make some real progress there and move us to the next level, creating a durable, more balanced international framework that can give countries confidence that everyone's contributing their fair share and that we have a way of holding countries accountable. I think that will move us in the right direction.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Elliot. Thank you for your time.

Elliot Diringer: Always a pleasure.

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

[End of Audio]



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