US Special Envoy for Climate Change: US Leadership is Indispensable to Effective International Action

The US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd D. Stern, described this week the US approach in the negotiations on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The US pushes for an agreement according to which each country will put forward its own, unconditional, nationally determined commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While not binding legally, nations’ commitments will be open for all to see and comment on. Compliance with those commitments will be verified through an effective accountability mechanism. This voluntary regime is aimed at attracting broad participation and generating a “race to the top” among countries seeking to demonstrate their willingness and ability to contribute to the collective effort. A similar approach addresses funding and other assistance for poor or vulnerable states.

The hope is that with the growing public awareness to the threats of climate change, voters and politicians in most if not all countries might be willing to assume burdens once assured that others are also making their best efforts. For the rest, shaming could be an effective incentive.

What animates this approach is the same optimistic assessment that succeeded in generating bottom-up mitigation efforts in the US and in some other countries. The question is whether a bottom-up process, based on the leadership of key nations, can be replicated globally.

The US Special Envoy is hopeful:

This mobilization of American effort matters. Enormously. It matters because the United States is the biggest economy and largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases. Because, here, as in so many areas, we feel a responsibility to lead. And because here, as in so many areas, we find that American commitment is indispensable to effective international action.

And make no mistake – other countries see what we are doing and are taking note. As I travel the world and meet with my counterparts, the palpable engagement of President Obama and his team has put us in a stronger, more credible position than ever before.