Obama, U.N. chief push for aggressive global emissions cuts

Source: Lisa Friedman, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 7, 2015

The United States can “change the world” by tackling climate change, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday emerging from a White House meeting with President Obama.

Calling the Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, “visionary and important leadership,” Ban predicted that the U.S. effort will encourage other countries to take bold steps as leaders prepare to sign a global climate change agreement in Paris in December.

“The U.S. can and will be able to change the world in addressing a climate phenomenon,” Ban said.

“I think this Clean Power Plan powers economies and generates jobs. And also, it can have — generate huge dividends here at home, in U.S. economy. And I’m sure that this will impact other countries,” he added, telling Obama, “I hope you will really lead this campaign.”

The meeting, where Obama said climate change was “at the top of our list” of discussion items, came one day after the White House released a final version of the regulations. The effort to cut emissions is being done by executive authority under the Clean Air Act in the absence of congressional action to curb carbon.

If it survives challenges in the courts and in Congress, the rule will be critical to the United States’ meeting its international pledge of cutting economywide emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

“Through the work we’re doing on renewable energies and so forth … we’re in a position now to meet the very aggressive targets that we’re putting forward in preparation for the Paris conference,” Obama said.

Obama — ‘We need Paris to be a success’

Describing the Clean Power Plan as part of a package to make the United States “a leader” in addressing climate change, Obama also called on the United Nations to pressure countries “who have not yet put forward bold, aggressive plans, to do so.”

Topping the list of major emitting countries that have not yet formally submitted their plans — known in U.N. lingo as intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs — are Australia, India and Brazil. China has pledged to stop the growth of emissions by 2030, curb energy intensity 60 to 65 percent below 2005 levels and also boost the share of renewable energy to 20 percent.

“We need Paris to be a success, and the world has to step up in a concerted way on behalf of our children and future generations,” Obama said.

The leaders also hailed the finalization over the weekend of 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. The targets on everything from education to sanitation will replace the current Millennium Development Goals as the benchmarks for how global institutions will tackle poverty.

The package, which is expected to be adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September, includes a goal to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” It points to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as the main body for negotiating agreements but also points to the threat rising global temperatures pose to poverty gains.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development,” the declaration notes.

Finding a political path to $100B

Obama said the agreement of 194 countries on the sustainable development goals bodes well for Paris, where the deal that is being designed directly challenges a longtime architecture that pits rich against poor countries. Under the climate accord, all nations will be expected to take action to tackle emissions “according to their national circumstances” and do so without the expectation of getting money for their efforts.

“What we saw was, I think, far less emphasis on some of the traditional north-south divisions on the international stage, and much more of a focus on how do we get the job done and deliver on behalf of the people,” Obama said of the sustainable development goal negotiations.

While money isn’t likely to be a quid pro quo for mitigating emissions, vulnerable countries are still expecting significant assistance to both protect their nations from climate change and develop clean energy systems.

Ban said the two discussed a long-ago promise that wealthy countries made to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 in private and public dollars for climate aid. Showing countries that the money will actually materialize is going to be key to nailing down a global deal.

“We are really trying to present a politically credible trajectory of $100 billion to the world so that this can be supported … in Paris,” Ban said.