US sets out big statement of global climate policy. Don’t hold your breath

US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern’s speech at Chatham House a couple of days ago is worth a look if you follow climate change. But don’t expect it to cheer you up.

It’s a thoughtful piece that clearly sets out where the US is coming from with regard to a new international agreement. But here’s the key part – which comes right after he acknowledges developing countries’ concerns about retaining space to develop as “entirely legitimate”:

The nationally determined structure of commitments we have already discussed should satisfy this pragmatic purpose, since countries would make their own decisions about what kind of mitigation commitments were appropriate given their own circumstances and capabilities.

Sigh – here we are once again with the same old pledge-and-review crap of countries doing whatever they figure they can manage, and then hoping it will somehow magically add up to the right global outcome. As though the atmosphere will award ‘marks for effort’.

And if you’re wondering where this kind of approach leads us, well, this year’s IEA World Energy Outlook  – published next month but extract available here – estimates that the net effect of commitments under the Copenhagen Accord will be 3.6-5.3 degrees Celsius of long term warming, most of it before the end of this century.

Oh, and despite the comprehensive nature of Stern’s speech, there’s one thing he conspicuously didn’t mention – the global target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Go figure.

Someone explain to me again how the Obama Administration’s global climate policy is different from that of the Bush Administration?

Todd Stern: what the US wants from China on climate

US climate envoy, Todd Stern has tried to clarify exactly what the Obama administration wants from China on climate at Copenhagen (see post from Leo and me on the confusing signals the US has been sending out).

So here it is:

  • “Very considerable” reductions on China’s business as usual emissions.
  • These reductions to be binding, transparently measured and verifiable.
  • No absolute emissions reductions but (preferably at least) a designated year when China’s emissions should peak.
  • China’s commitment to be consistent with the world stabilising its emissions at around 450 ppm (“we don’t know whether it’s 445 or 460 or… but in that general range”).
  • The package to be backed up by carbon offsets from the US to China – but these offsets should have “real environmental integrity” – and technology cooperation.

Obvious questions to ask Stern –

  1. Do you believe that President Obama’s domestic commitments on climate are consistent with a 450ppm stabilization target?
  2. Will the United States be pushing for a 450ppm target to be enshrined in the Copenhagen agreement?
  3. When does the United States think Chinese emissions should peak to meet 450ppm?
  4. When does the United States expect global emissions to peak?