Todd Stern on China, India and the UN climate deal

US special envoy for climate change spells out what his country hopes to achieve in the UN’s climate change deal

By Sophie Yeo

He thinks China could peak emissions before 2030, has been to Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua’s home town and remains in the dark about India’s position at the UN climate talks.

These were some of the nuggets revealed by US lead climate negotiator Todd Stern during a talk yesterday at the Center for American Progress.

Stern will head to Peru in December to stake out the US position in the UN’s forthcoming climate deal, which will be signed in Paris next year.

As the world’s second largest polluter after China, what the US says in this forum matters. Here’s what Stern had to say on some of the key issues at play.

US 2025 climate targets

On our side, 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025 is very ambitious. It was designed to be as ambitious as we possibly could on the basis of authorities that we knew that we had.

We didn’t want to come up with a pie-in-the-sky kind of target that was based on legislation that we might or might not be able to get.

China’s 2030 peak

For the Chinese, it’s the first time ever obviously that they’ve committed to a peak of their CO2 emissions. This is a big, big step…

The announcement includes their commitment to try to go earlier than 2030. I think our sense is that they will have a good chance to do that.

Assuming that the broad economic restructuring programme that President Xi is pursuing hard and I think the Chinese are very committed to… goes well, I think there’s actually a real, a very real chance, they will be able to peak earlier than 2030.

His relationship with the Chinese

I have developed I think a very good relationship with vice chairman Xie [Zhenhua] from the NDRC.

He’s a good friend at this point, we’ve taken each other to our home towns, we’ve spent a lot of time together and we’ve long since lost track of how many times we’ve met together and how many hours we’ve spent, but I think we work quite well together…

I think it [the US-China relationship] has been gradually improving and gradually building towards what we’ve got now.

Obviously this isn’t the end of the story. We have to keep moving forward.


I think that the most important thing as some level is for India to see that there is a path to both growth, to eradicating poverty, and to energy access – there’s still somewhere between 3 and 400 million Indians who don’t have any electricity.

They’ve got to see there’s a path to get to those fundamental development needs that they have that is as low carbon as possible, that is relatively low carbon, that is not based on a big, big bet on long term dirty coal.

And that’s going to be very challenging. I think that our inclination is certainly to work with them as closely as possible.

Exactly how they’re going to play in the negotiations, exactly how they’re going to play in Lima and Paris and so forth I don’t know. I hope as constructively as possible.

The Montreal Protocol

I think there was quite good progress made on HFCs [potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration] in the Montreal Protocol during the last week.

The meeting was just in Paris, finished on Friday. I think there was a lot of progress made there…

It’s got to be four, five years ago when there were over 100 countries expressing support for an amendment, essentially an amendment to phase down, not completely out, but to phase down, the use of HFCs, and to do that under the Montreal Protocol.

This is what we were trying to do in this past week in Paris, to get that contact group set up. It got pretty close, but there were still a few countries who were too reluctant to let it go forward.

UN “ratchet” mechanism

We’ve tried to come forward with some ideas designed to prod and push countries to the maximum level of their ambition instilled in this structure. The main one that we propose is the notion of a consultative period…

[The intention is for countries] to come forward early and to subject what every country’s proposing to do to full sunlight…

And what you hope is that structure pushes countries to come forward with their best shot right away because they don’t want to be embarrassed – so I think that is an important feature of the structure.


One of the things that will be most challenging, and we’re going to see it in spades in Lima and we will see it in Paris, is the age old problem of the firewall between developed and developing countries…

As I’ve said more times than I can count to my counterparts, we don’t have any problem with the basic notion of differentiation. We entirely support it.

It can’t take the form of saying that you have a bifurcated agreement with two different categories created in 1992 and never changing and determining the nature of an agreement that’s supposed to go for decades forward.

That’ll be a big challenge, but I think there’ll be a payoff if we can get it right.

US $3bn climate finance pledge

I always saw the real importance of having a strong pledge here with respect both to the substantive facts of what that kind of financing could help to do and develop in countries, but also as a matter for the negotiations.

Countries would be looking at the donor group to come forward big, and obviously we’re the biggest player in the donor group.

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