15th May 2021

US promises no 'secret' deals at Cancun climate talks

  • Negotiators from roughly 200 nations will descend on the Mexican beach down of Cancun for talks later this month (Photo: Mike McHolm)

The US will reconfirm climate pledges and refrain from "secret" backroom deal-making at important multi-lateral negotiations taking place later this month, the country's top environment official has said.

Speaking to journalists in Washington on Monday (15 November), US special envoy for climate change Todd Stern said the White House did not intend to backtrack on pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord struck last December, as some in Europe have feared.

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Environmentalists, in particular, have expressed concerns that a commitment at the acrimonious Danish talks to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade could be watered down, especially in light of the Republication mid-term victory in Congress.

"We are standing by the submission we made last year," said Mr Stern. "We are 100 percent supportive of the Copenhagen Accord … including the two degree number."

EU negotiators heading to the latest round of UN talks (29 Nov-10 Dec) in Cancun, Mexico, are unlikely to have forgotten their marginalised role last December when a US-led group of states including China sealed a deal in closed-group negotiations behind Europe's back.

Mr Stern disputes this interpretation.

"I think there is some misunderstanding of what actually happened there," he said. "There wasn't any secret thing that happened last year and I wouldn't expect any sort of secret thing to happen this year either."

The senior official does share concerns expressed by Europe's climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard, however, that a failure in Cancun could raise a serious question mark over the whole multilateral UN negotiating process.

"If we were to find ourselves year after year in a state of deadlock and stalemate then it would be a damaging thing," he said. "I think you would see people looking for other avenues to make progress."

The EU has adopted a "step-wise" approach to the talks since last year's huge disappointment, now preferring to talk of gains in certain areas ahead of a more comprehensive agreement in South Africa next year.

Deals on deforestation, setting up climate warning systems, progress on financing, and encouraging the transfer of cleaner technology to poorer countries are among Europe's half-way goals for the Mexico meeting.

The Obama administration also appears to be looking for a new approach after a "cap-and-trade" bill failed to get Senate approval this year.

"We've taken one approach through congress over the past two years," said a senior administration official on Monday. "We are [now] going to find another other ways of working with congress, maybe that means we will focus sector by sector at a time."

"There are certainly those who still discuss ways by which you can tackle emissions of greenhouse gases in the utilities sector, so we may look at that, whether its through a renewables mandate … or other ways," they added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of billions of dollars continues to be stored in bank accounts as investors wait for a clear signal.

With unemployment hovering around 10 percent on both sides of the Atlantic, politicians have increasingly made the argument for investment in green technology as a way of boosting jobs.

"I think most people on Capitol Hill would believe in some version of that," said Mr Stern.

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