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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 18, 2008

Press Briefing on Major Economies Meeting by Jim Connaughton, Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
Via Telephone

2:17 P.M. EDT

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Great. Thank you very much. This is Jim Connaughton, and I'm here with Paula Dobriansky, the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs. I just want to give you a recap of what's been occurring here in Paris.

We've had three days of meetings in relation to the major economies process on climate change. Those of you all should be familiar, this is the process the President initiated last year and that the G8 embraced, and involves the 16 countries, plus the EU, making up 17, who are the economies responsible for most of the world's energy use, and most of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

We had -- the first day was a workshop dedicated to sectoral approaches. This is one of the items that was in the Bali action plan from last September that required some further elucidation, further understanding of how we might move forward cooperatively in advancing greenhouse gas mitigation strategies in key sectors. It involves both governmental and private sector actors, and it was an extremely constructive conversation.

There was a lot of questions about sectoral approaches at this time last year, and in some quarters actually some skepticism about the value of sectoral approaches. We've come full circle and in fact not just the workshop, but the topic of sectoral approaches is one of the featured items of discussion over the last two days with the leaders' representatives as to an element that we'll be including in a leaders' declaration this summer.

So let me turn to the two days of leaders' representative meetings. Our aim was to further the discussion in support of the U.N. process, as to the contribution that the leaders can make this summer in helping to clarify issues and find areas of common perspective in how to accelerate and achieve an agreed outcome by the end of next year in Copenhagen. To remind you, the President and many others have made clear, it's the work we do this year that enables agreement next year. If we do not make progress this year, it is highly unlikely that an agreement could be reached by the end of next year.

We focused on the main topics that we've briefed I think all of you on before. We had a discussion of the long-term goal, how to describe that both qualitatively, in descriptive terms, and also whether we can reach agreement on describing it quantitatively. And then we had an extended discussion on sectors, as I indicated, that I think is going to prove quite fruitful in terms of early action, of being able to move forward, even as the U.N. process is going through negotiations, finding common approaches to moving forward in key sectors among interested countries.

We then talked about mid-term goals and the national plans to back them up and how we are going to be thinking about that going forward. And then we had some extensive briefings today, which were quite informative, on the variety of approaches on financing, with a number of proposed ideas. I would note one of them from Mexico in particular was very consistent with some of the thinking of the United States and of the U.K. and Japan as we work to create the new clean energy technology fund and to remind you President Bush has proposed that the U.S. will contribute $2 billion to that fund, and so we were pleased to see other countries thinking along similar lines.

We also then had a lengthy discussion on forestry. I think there's a -- just a lot of discussion about what level of detail the leaders can go into on forestry because that involves a number of other countries that are not represented in this discussion.

And so it was a very lengthy and illuminating discussion about all the aspects of how to deal with forestry in the context of climate change, and then discussing what's the appropriate piece for leaders in this process to comment on, or really what issues should be reserved for a broader discussion among other U.N. participants.

That's my summary. I guess the overall tone of the meeting -- we met last two months ago in Hawaii, and really that built on the success of Bali. And so folks were in good spirits to really engage in a frank and quite specific way about expressing both what they'd like to see achieved, and also sort of concerns about each other's positions.

And so we continued that this time. And as I indicated, we were able to move to a few topics that we didn't spend as much time on before, such as sectors and finance, and that was important to get to some of those issues so we weren't exclusively focused on long-term goals and mid-term actions.

So the meeting continued in a cooperative spirit. There's a lot of interest in President Bush's proposal, his announced -- I'm sorry, his announced mid-term goal and the strategies by which we'd carry it out. So there was a fair amount of give and take on coming to understand what the speech was about and how we're going to seek to achieve our goals. And I think over the course of two days, there was a lot more awareness of the complexity, but also the levels of ambition in each of the components that we're going to be using to carry that out.

And so after the course of two days, we felt pretty good about the level of understanding and appreciation for the strength of what we're doing.

With that, I'll turn it over to Under Secretary Dobriansky.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you. I'll just add a few additional points. The major economies meeting -- and it's being held this week -- came just a few weeks after the holding of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Bangkok. And I mention that because I think it underscores the fact that this process is very much intended to facilitate and to advance the discussions in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. And the fact that the Bangkok meeting was just held just a few weeks before, many of the issues fed right directly into the discussion over the last few days here in Paris.

Secondly, I would add on to Jim's comment one more area that also was discussed today, significantly, and that was the area of adaptation. During the Bangkok meeting and before, as part of the Bali road map, adaptation has been an area that has been essentially singled out by many developing countries. I think there was a very robust discussion today about the need for mainstreaming this area, building upon what came out of Bali, and how crucial it is to have an integrated and broad comprehensive approach which addresses development and capacity building in those countries that are in need.

Finally, I would just also say that I think the areas, all of the areas I identified, that Jim -- and I won't restate -- had mentioned to you, all of these are areas out of the Bali road map, and ones which in fact were discussed in Bangkok, and in fact will be discussed in the Bonn meeting in June. June is the time when the next round for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting will take place. I'll stop there.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Okay. Great. We're happy to take questions.

Q Hi. This is a question for Jim. The goals the President laid out on Wednesday weren't in line with what the IPCC has said in terms of averting catastrophic climate change, and also it doesn't match up with the targets the administration agreed to in Bali to have developed countries drop emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020. How do you justify that?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Your question is misinformed on both counts. The IPCC did not set out what you described. The IPCC contained a number of scenarios, over 100 different scenarios for the trajectory that would enable us to stabilize greenhouse gases consistent with the framework convention commitment. The items discussed in Bali and elsewhere focused on the single most extreme pathway for getting to that objective, but in the IPCC itself -- and I'm happy to give you the reference -- they laid out dozens of different scenarios for how we can get there. And the trajectory the President laid out is actually quite consistent with a number of them.

Second, the 25 to 40 percent number is the most extreme curve for combating emissions, and that was not agreed in Bali. It was not -- has not been agreed by anybody. It has been proposed by the European Union as an objective for developed countries, but many other developed countries do not support that particular trajectory. The simplest reason why is because you can't get there from here right now. We can hit a trajectory that will keep us on the path that the scientists have described. We just can't do that with that particular trajectory.

So we are focused in the President's plan on goals that are realistic and achievable, and that will deliver the technologies that not only help us reduce emissions in the near term, but will provide a lasting solution as we get toward a lower carbon future. And that's what we're focused on. That's what the President's plan will do.

Q But environmentally, would the President's goals have -- you know, have the impact of helping to avert catastrophic climate change if they continue to rise out until 2025 and then dropping over there?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Actually, one of the focuses of the major economies meeting is to recognize that even if the U.S. cut its emissions to zero tomorrow, it would have no meaningful effect on the current temperature trajectory in the absence of meaningful action by all the major economies who are responsible for most of the world's emissions.

And so what we all need to do is take realistic steps, consistent with our national circumstances, to address our emissions in the near-term, in the mid-term and then over the long-term.

I would observe under the IPCC there are some very solid scenarios that recognize that we will need to peak our emissions within 10 to 30 years -- it depends which scenario you're looking at. The President's commitment that the U.S. emissions will peak at a level substantially below where they would otherwise be is very consistent with that trajectory, but it also requires all the other countries to aim toward that end, as well.

I would also want to make clear when you ask environmentally. The President's new economy-wide mid-term goal will prevent billions of tons of greenhouse gases from going to the atmosphere between now and 2025, and it will put us solidly on the path to significant emission reductions after that. So make no bones about it, this will have significant benefits in reducing greenhouse gases, significant benefits as we transition our economy to the use of cleaner energy systems.

Next question, please.

Q Thanks for holding the briefing. I guess my question relates to what input you heard today from the developing countries -- basically, China and India -- are they still discussing a per capita kind of approach? Also, all that mid-term and financing talk, there's some cart and horse problems here, it seems. If you're not close to settling on the long-term goal, how can you even have meaningful discussions about mid-term course points that get you toward that goal?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Okay, let me deal with the second part first, if that's all right.

You know, we really do see these pieces fitting question as your question implies. In Bali, all the countries agreed that deep cuts are going to be necessary. So that was a step forward among all the participants, in recognition of the information from the IPCC.

And so as we look quantitatively, there's still a lot of questions about the current proposal, which is cutting emissions in half by 2050. And those discussions really center on two things. One is just feasibility. If you look at the current sort of stock of energy systems around the world today, a number of countries -- and in particular some key developing countries -- have just been raising the practical question of, is that particular level of ambition feasible by 2050?

There is then a second set of issues that I think you're discussing, which is, which countries proceed on what trajectory. There continues to be a sense that the developed countries should lead, and they should. But there still remains a sensible how -- what's the level of effort that the major developing countries should be undertaking along with the rest of us. And sometimes this gets couched, you know, as a "we will proceed and they will do nothing" -- which is not correct.

We have learned, and I think this major economies process has been a catalyst for the major developing countries to get quite aggressive about creating plans. And I think this is an area worth it for all of you to look into. There is now Cabinet-level action underway in South Africa, in Mexico, in South Korea, in China, and in India. All of this activity -- unprecedented, actually, given past history on this issue. And that's something we welcome.

And so we're still struggling between what's actually going on, and then countries positioning for their U.N. negotiations. And I think that is one of the challenges of the major economies process -- can the leaders feel comfortable enough saying what they're actually going to be doing, and reflect on those commitments, or, you know, how much of this will be affected by maintaining negotiating positions from the U.N. process. And that's something we'll sort through.

On the per capita approach, that's still an item in discussion. From the U.S. perspective, all of these metrics matter. Absolute emission reductions matter. Your improvements of intensity --


CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: -- budget commitment to the program design, but if I had to single some countries out, Canada is ahead, the U.K., Germany. And I think from that we're going to be able to build a more coherent sector-based strategy on carbon capture and storage, and that would be one of the -- we would hope that that would come together over the course of this year, especially -- we've gotten advice from MIT and other research bodies, and a lot of other countries are looking at that and designing their own programs.

We need all countries to invest in this if we want to move fast.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Andy, I was going to just add something very briefly, just on that last point, when we held the high-level dialogue on clean energy, climate and sustainable development with the commission. Actually this was an area that we did talk about rather extensively, because your question, you had asked, you know, are there any joint projects in the offing. I would say that at least in terms of dialogue, it's been one area that has loomed as very, very large in the recent formal conversations.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: By recent accounts, it seems that the European Commission is struggling to find the resources for this, and I heard it from a very senior official that they weren't looking at resourcing it until 2012 or 2013. Obviously we hope they can correct that so that we can align our strategies and get real projects on the ground.

Okay, next question, please.

Q Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I had a quick question about the link between what you're doing in Paris today and the domestic policy debate here in Washington. Chairman John Dingell* has called on the administration to put out a concrete legislative proposal to address climate change, following up from the speech. But I wondered, does that kind of detail depend upon the outcome of your leaders' summit in July?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The President indicated that there's some very significant -- there's a significant discussion remaining on climate change that really requires legislators to debate and make decisions about. And so, specifically on that, I think there's going to be some further discussions with the Hill, and, as in the past, will continue to be quite constructive. We've been providing a lot of technical assistance to all the different members on the Hill who have their various climate change proposals.

But, to come back to the start of your question, however, I guess the overall answer is, no, we are pursuing a very solid and comprehensive domestic strategy, and we are making that strategy our contribution, an advanced contribution, in support of the architecture of the current discussion for a leaders' declaration, and in support of the ideas that we said we would consider as part of the Bali action plan.

So, just to remind some of you who may not be aware, I'd direct you to the President's speech. The Congress is still catching up with the fact that they passed five major new mandates on climate last year, in a bipartisan way, with some of the most aggressive not just goals, but aggressive market-based programs to achieving those goals. And, in fact, many of these new programs are as aggressive, and a couple of them are much more aggressive than what's happening here in Europe.

So as we continue to understand each other's policies and consider their comparability, that's going to be part of the discussion. So we look forward to a constructive engagement on the Hill. It's a necessary engagement, given the reasons the President described, and we'll just have to work through the details of that.

Q Can I just ask on the -- just one more question on any potential parallels between the domestic debate here and international debate. On the Hill there seems to be broad agreement about a range of 2050 reductions, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. And the real sort of point of contention is, what your mid-term goal is; when do you actually start ratcheting down; when do you start actually reducing emissions in the near to mid-term. I wondered whether or not that's the -- a similar dynamic is playing out within the MEM that even though people haven't agreed to a specific number yet, the long-term goal is something that is more or -- is less controversial than perhaps what is supposed to be expected of the developed countries in, say, the 2020 to 2030 time frame.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually I think the long-term goal, stated in quantitative terms, is still a challenging discussion. The G8 has committed to seriously consider 50 percent, but there are many countries around the table who still are raising significant questions about that. So I don't know how that's going to come out.

The domestic piece though, I would -- I don't think you've characterized the legislative positions accurately when you say there's a consensus. If you've done the 500-plus vote count on that, I'd be curious to know. I've done a lot of my own reflection on that, and I have a good sense for the Hill -- there is a wide division of perspective on the level of ambition.

What the President did was try to squarely describe where we understand the peak point to be, and it's going to be in that 2025 period -- and for two very straightforward reasons: One is to get emissions to peak in the power generation sector, you need nuclear plants, you need carbon captured storage, and you need renewable power on the gigawatt scale. It will take us 10 to 15 years to get to the point where that's going to be possible, and it's -- that's just straight up math and permitting and getting plants built and financed.

On the transportation side, to get us into a absolute decline mode, which will occur sometime around 2025, to get us there we have to shift to second-generation cellulosic fuels, because those have the lower carbon profile that displaces the CO emissions associated from gasoline use; and we have to use more electricity in our vehicle mix, and that's going to require the very same low-carbon power plants that I just described.

We cannot as a country magically put all that out there in the next five to 10 years, but what the President's strategy has done is ensure that that's going to occur at the time that we've determined. If somebody has other views on making that come faster, we welcome that debate. It's going to require -- I mean, we still have non-market obstacles that the President highlighted in terms of resistance to building new nuclear power plants, political resistance to new transmission lines that makes gigawatt renewables possible. And now you're hearing a fascinating resistance to biofuels, when everybody knows biofuels are an important part of this solution. And yet people are trying to erect more barriers to biofuels rather than remove them.

So that's the reality, and the President's goal in his speech was to move us beyond rhetoric into reality. And I hope (inaudible) provided service in that regard.

Q Thanks for doing this today.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Hey, Dean, how are you doing?

Q I'm hanging in there. I guess my question goes to -- I'd like to focus quickly on the process, so it's both MEM process, but also what the President announced the other day, so I'll try to make this short. Could you talk about how the major economies meeting gets us to some type of leaders' declaration, in other words? Talk a little bit about, if things go as well as you'd like, what does that sort of look like? Everyone is talking about that occurring just before or during the upcoming G8 summit.

And my other question is, just in terms of the goal that was set out by the President the other day, how much of that goal do you expect the United States to be able to reach using already approved -- I would say the laws that have been approved through the energy bill, the mandates of that, versus new proposals that the President plans to offer or is envisioning?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Okay. On the first part, the major economies process is kind of like the G8 sherpa process. Those of us around the table are direct advisors to their presidents, their leaders. And so we are working on fashioning a leader-type text. So it'll be brief, by definition -- "brief" would be a couple pages, two to three pages -- that allows them to provide observations on where they'd like the conversation to go, and some of the key areas under deliberation.

So as indicated: it's long-term goals; it's mid-term goals and national plans; it's sectoral approaches; financing; adaptation; and technology cooperation. So the real question is how far we can go in those observations, which will then be taken up by all of our negotiators as they work on the new deal.

There's a related question that some of these actions can occur even while the U.N. negotiation is going on. So, for example, we can get the sector work started now. We are working on the fund, the clean energy technology fund, now, and we can eliminate the tariffs on clean energy technologies now. These are things you don't have to wait until the end of next year for. And I think there's strong support for these early action items among many of the countries, but among a subset of them there's still -- they have a lot of questions before they want to commit to taking this step forward.

Now, in terms of the national programs, I'd just actually refer you back to the President's speech. We now have eight newly enacted or soon to be adopted mandatory programs. Six of them are at the federal level; two of them are at the state level. The six at the federal level is a vehicle mandate -- the vehicle efficiency mandate, the renewable fuel mandate, the lighting efficiency mandate, the appliance efficiency mandate, and the federal government operations mandate. We are about to create new regulations to phase out -- accelerate the phase-out of HCFCs. So those are the six major federal programs.

And then the two state ones are the state renewable portfolio standards, like the one in Texas that President Bush put in place when he was governor. And then the Department of Energy is designing a series of model building codes that would seek a 30 percent improvement in building efficiency. And DOE is working aggressively with the states to see if they can adopt those. Those are state authority; that's not where the federal government has authority.

But what the President made clear in his speech is in order to have our emissions peak economy-wide by 2025, we will have to take a harder look at a more aggressive strategy on power sector emissions. And so we'll take a look at the renewable power mandate, the incentives that are available for low-carbon sources, and the technology programs to see what mix or what additional mix of activities can be used to make sure that we -- that power plant emissions will level off in the next 10 to 15 years. And so I think that's where the area of focus is really going to be in the next little bit.

So thank you all very much. And we'll be back on Monday, and I'm happy to follow up with any of you then.

END 2:53 P.M. EDT