WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2009 – The Obama Administration’s first diplomatic mission abroad, in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to four Asian countries to discuss international cooperation on climate change, is a clear signal that Washington has entered a new era of leadership on the climate crisis, said World Wildlife Fund officials.
Clinton, who is being joined by U.S. Climate Change Special Envoy Todd Stern, is traveling to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. The four countries are considered key players in the effort to secure a new global climate treaty this December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“That Secretary Clinton is focusing on climate change on her first official mission abroad shows that she and President Obama recognize the scale and threat of the climate crisis,” said Dr. Richard Moss, WWF vice president for climate change. “In this pivotal year in which a new global climate agreement is being negotiated, we are entering a new era of U.S. leadership and engagement with the international community. This trip will lay the groundwork for the ambitious efforts that must be taken to ensure success in Copenhagen.”
Moss praised the President for making climate change a top priority and moving swiftly to engage the U.S. in the U.N. climate treaty negotiation process. He noted that Special Envoy Stern, who will lead U.S. negotiations, was appointed within just days of Clinton’s confirmation.
In each of the countries Clinton and Stern are visiting, key opportunities exist for ensuring climate change commitments – including on reducing emissions from deforestation, improving energy efficiency, promoting cooperation on clean energy technology, and developing a financial framework to fund climate change preparedness measures and low-carbon growth in developing countries.
In Japan, the first stop of the trip, the government has outlined several potential paths for reducing emissions. Of the options, only one would put the country on track for reducing emissions at a level consistent with keeping global averages temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.5 degree Fahrenheit), the point at which scientists say the impacts of climate change could become far more dangerous. Two of the options would commit to reductions that are less ambitious than both Japan’s existing commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and President Obama’s call for returning U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. WWF is urging the U.S. delegation to endorse the Japanese option for a 2 degree path, and explicitly reject the two options that it says would undo the leadership that Japan demonstrated as the host of the U.N. negotiations in Kyoto.
Indonesia, where the current treaty negotiation process was launched in December 2007, is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, directly attributable to the destruction of its topical forests. Tropical deforestation is the source of nearly 20 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. WWF has praised the Indonesian government for playing a constructive leadership role in developing policies to reduce deforestation during the negotiation process. The organization is looking to the U.S. and Indonesia to reach agreement on key fundamentals of an incentive program for reducing emissions from deforestation.
South Korea, like many developing countries, has been playing a constructive role in the U.N. negotiation process, Moss said. Its climate negotiators have announced that they will agree to a mid-term target this year. Through the U.N. framework, South Korea has also been instrumental in outlining options for recognizing developing country actions on climate change and linking those actions to financial support mechanisms in the carbon market via an international registry. The country is also pursuing a “green stimulus” package in its efforts to reduce emissions. WWF encourages the U.S. delegation to further discuss the proposals for targets, registries and a green stimulus during the visit.
China, which has seen rapid growth in recent years as its billion-plus population tries to pull itself out of poverty, is one of the most important players in the treaty process. Although the country’s per capita emissions remain well below those of the U.S. and the European Union, its rate of emissions is growing rapidly. Ensuring the country grows along a low-carbon path is essential to keeping global temperature increase from exceeding 2 degrees C.
Together, China and the U.S. are now responsible for more than 40 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Both President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have acknowledged that climate change will undermine the security and prosperity of each country if not addressed with urgency. In recent years, China has made substantial progress in improving energy efficiency. Its automobile fuel economy standards, for example, far surpass those of the U.S. However, the country’s ravenous demand for energy – many areas of the country are being electrified for the first time – will require new, clean energy technology. Technology cooperation is an area where WWF sees enormous opportunity for collaboration between China and the U.S.
“The countries visited on this trip recognize the urgency of addressing climate change, understand that solutions to the crisis can be key to stimulating their economies and are committed to reaching an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009 under the U.N. framework,” said Moss. “Going forward, it is crucial that the Obama administration remain engaged with these countries and build upon the groundwork being laid this week. To further demonstrate its leadership position, the U.S. must also soon issue it own strong commitments to action.”