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US outlines plans for ‘durable and ambitious’ UN climate deal

Early submission to UN reveals White House support for flexible deal involving developed and developing nations

Todd Stern (L) and John Podesta (R) are the architects behind the USA's 2014 climate strategy (Pic: CAP/Flickr)

Todd Stern (L) and John Podesta (R) are the architects behind the USA’s 2014 climate strategy (Pic: CAP/Flickr)

By Ed King

The USA has outlined the conditions it believes are necessary for a global climate change deal to be signed off at a planned Paris summit next year.

A submission to the UNFCCC (UN climate body) dated February 12 indicates the Obama administration expects all countries to contribute greenhouse gas emission cuts after 2020, under an agreement that would have legal force.

The 11-page document says any deal should reflect the “seriousness and magnitude of what science demands”, underlining the need for “ambitious efforts by a broad range of Parties”.

It argues that the agreement must reflect the growth in emerging economies, which have been exempt from any emission cuts under previous UN treaties.

“We would not support a bifurcated approach to the new agreement, particularly one based on groupings that may have made sense in 1992 but that are clearly not rational or workable in the post-2020 era,” it says.

Legal quandry

Certain aspects of the final outcome will be “internationally legally binding” it adds, while questioning the legal status of emission pledges.

This is important, says Annie Petsonk, a climate negotiations expert with the Environmental Defense Fund. She says the submission suggests the White House and State Department want to construct an agreement they know they can impose without a battle with Congress.

“It looks like the administration, knowing there are climate deniers in Congress, is wisely staking out a position where it can use its executive branch authority for the implementation of a commitment that would be domestically binding,” she told RTCC.

“What I’d like to see strengthened are the parts of how a country’s contribution would be measured, reported. You’ve got to have commonality on that stuff, otherwise you get a dog’s breakfast of different commitments that aren’t comparable, and you can’t tell if you’re achieving an overall climate goal.”

Ambitious climate policies could face stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress led by John Boehner (R)

Ambitious climate policies could face stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress led by John Boehner (R)

The submission is significant both because it is the first one to be submitted to the UN ahead of planned talks next month, and because of the influence of the US within global negotiations.

Many analysts believe the US and China hold the key to any deal, since they are jointly responsible for nearly 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The section of the document relating to emission reduction pledges by countries says they must be specific and quantifiable, offering a means for other countries to analyse and “pose clarifying questions” before final offers are reached.

This approach, often called ‘bottom up’, is now widely accepted as the formula for the 2015 deal says Petsonk, stressing that it will need to be clear how countries frame their targets and how they are calculated.

Many climate campaigners and vulnerable countries want the UN to impose emission limits on countries based on their size, historical responsibility and economic power, a method the USA deeply opposes.

The US is currently committed to cutting emissions 17% on 2005 levels by 2020, and says it will submit new targets for 2025 or 2030 in 2015. Reports from Washington DC suggest discussions at the White House are well underway, with goals of 30% in 2025 and 42% in 2030 on the cards.

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