Jonathan Pershing Frames the US Stance in Durban

By Graciela Kincaid

On November 29th, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing swept into the US Delegation Offices and jumped into a 45-minute session regarding the US position at the negotiations. He held the invited American students enraptured, deftly framing the key issues for the American delegation and responding to questions. He provided an essential context through which to assess US action this week and next in Durban.

Pershing began by comparing the current situation to that of two years ago in Copenhagen, as OECD countries’ actions are critical, the US faces domestic obstructionism due to Congressional political tension, and the President is eager to reengage internationally. While it remains to be seen whether President Obama will actually appear in Durban, the US is operating under much of the same constraints and still prioritizes the participation of all major economies in whatever convention or agreement is advanced (particularly China, India, and Brazil).

Pershing emphasized Obama’s domestic accomplishments­—cap and trade notably absent from the list—saying, “look at what the administration has tried to do.” He rattled off the series of auto standards (54 mpg proposal), EPA air quality standards, energy efficiency policy, agriculture land-use change policy, and the pledge to 17% reduction of emissions from 2005 levels (which, he was quick to point out, is actually more significant than the EU’s pledge of 20% from 1990 levels). “We are late to the game,” he acknowledged, “but we are doing real things to catch up.” He reiterated several times that these commitments are good enough, but they will require further action after 2020 (which is four years after Obama’s maximum term, thus neatly excusing his Presidential boss from the action).

As the US Envoy, Pershing devoted the final part of his discussion to the elaboration of the US’ three priorities and goals for COP17. First, the US seeks to establish a comprehensive regime for measurement, reporting, and verification of climate pledges (MRV). Pershing emphasized that this must include wealthy, developed nations like the US in order to promote true transparency.

Secondly, a comprehensive financial plan which addresses both short-term and future costs of climate change. For example, the US pledged $30 billion in Fast Start Finance by 2012 and will contribute to the $100 billion provided by developed countries annually by 2020; these must be duly provided through national budgetary appropriations and bilateral/multilateral aid. Pershing acknowledged that the latter goal is a significant obstacle, as it amounts to more than doubling the current level of total global aid (not just for climate change).

He also discussed the controversial Green Climate Fund (GCF), stating that it must have a structure that the US “would be comfortable with” and utilizes both public and leveraged private finance. During discussions today in the Plenary, Pershing reiterated this stance, explaining that the US has been “consistently supportive of GCF since 2009” but the Draft Governance Instrument must be fine-tuned in order to be accepted by the US or successful internationally as a “major channel of climate finance now and in the years to come.”

Third, the US seeks new international institutional arrangements within the COP framework regarding adaptation, technology transfer, and capacity building.

Above all, Pershing emphasized that the US’ objective at these negotiations is to turn the text from Cancun into an operational exercise. Rather than looking ahead to “what comes next,” which he argued is the less pertinent political question, Pershing believes the US must work to implement the current deal. In other words, the US aims to clarify the implementation now and write the next deal later (at least 2-3 years down the line).

“We have to find the space between the pragmatism of what’s possible and the science of what’s necessary,” he concluded. In order to ensure long-term US participation in such policymaking, he encouraged the students to stay engaged, express their protests, and most importantly, develop ideas and solutions. This is the only way to sustain the program beyond the political cycle, for the consensus will be embedded in the US psyche. An optimistic message, certainly tuned to his student audience, and we eagerly await the results of this US delegation led by Pershing.

Cross-Posted from Global Conversation.

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