Monday, December 17, 2007

White House Statement on Negotiating the Problem of Climate Change

Pressing ethical and social issues are often extremely complex and difficult to even fully comprehend, let alone resolve. And appreciating these complexities helps us gain a better understanding of the competing interests and positions at stake in a particular issue or dispute. The issue of climate change is no different.

Reasonable disagreement concerning how the world ought to respond to climate change is not a disagreement about whether the end in question (i.e. reduce global warming)is desirable, rather it is a dispute over what constitutes the most effective and fair *means* for achieving that desirable outcome.

No doubt people will react to the Bali Roadmap in different ways (e.g. some may see it as a success, others might think it is not good enough, etc.). But I doubt that anyone could deny the fact that the solution to this dilemma is neither simple nor self-evident. And so the various procedures we witnessed over the past week or so,....discussion, debate and compromise...are the procedures that must precede any sage policy-decision on such an important and yet complex issue. And the Bali Roadmap is really just that, a *roadmap* to yet further discussion, debate and negotiation on these issues.

One gets a sense of the enormity of the complex stakes at play here from the latest Press Release from the White House (here). Here is an excerpt:

There are many features of the Decision that are quite positive, including those provisions recognizing the importance of developing clean technologies, financing the deployment of those technologies in the developing world, assisting countries in adapting to climate change, exploring industry sector agreements on emissions, and addressing deforestation.

The United States does have serious concerns about other aspects of the Decision as we begin the negotiations. Notably, the United States believes that, in three important ways, we have not yet fully given effect to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that is a pillar of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

First, the negotiations must proceed on the view that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone. Major developing economies must likewise act. Just as the work of the IPCC has deepened our scientific understanding of the scope of the problem and action required, so too empirical studies on emission trends in the major developing economies now conclusively establish that emissions reductions principally by the developed world will be insufficient to confront the global problem effectively.

Second, negotiations must clearly differentiate among developing countries in terms of the size of their economies, their level of emissions and level of energy utilization, and sufficiently link the character or extent of responsibility to such factors. We must give sufficient emphasis to the important and appropriate role that the larger emitting developing countries should play in a global effort to address climate change.

Third, the negotiations must adequately distinguish among developing countries by recognizing that the responsibilities of the smaller or least developed countries are different from the larger, more advanced developing countries. In our view, such smaller and less developed countries are entitled to receive more differentiated treatment so as to more truly reflect their special needs and circumstances.

Accordingly, for these negotiations to succeed, it is essential that the major developed and developing countries be prepared to negotiate commitments, consistent with their national circumstances, that will make a due contribution to the reduction of global emissions. A post-2012 arrangement will be effective only if it reflects such contributions. At the same time, the United States believes that any arrangement must also take into account the legitimate right of the major developing economies and indeed all countries to grow their economies, develop on a sustainable basis, and have access to secure energy sources.