U.S. against penalising countries on greenhouse gas emissions

Steam and smoke rise from a coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. File photo: AP  

The United States does not want the new global climate agreement to have any ‘rigid rules’ or penalties for countries that do not meet their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The US special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern said this at a conference in London on October 22, elaborating on the US vision of the new agreement countries have to sign by 2015.

He also said that the chances of substantial increase in public financing by the rich countries to fight climate change were unrealistic.

"There is certainly a role for rules, standards and obligations in this agreement. But an agreement that is animated by the progressive development of norms and expectations rather than by the hard edge of law, compliance and penalty has a better chance of working,” Stern said at the Chatham House conference.

He said, “While the system of strict rules and compliance might sound good on paper, it would almost certainly depress the ambition of commitments and limit participation by countries. The opposite is true for norms and expectations, which countries will want to meet to enhance their global standing and reputation.”

The US has already put in a formal submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) suggesting the salient features of the new deal it wants. It has emphasises upon keeping emission reduction targets for countries and accountability in the main agreement while pushing off all other linked elements, such as adaptation, finance and technology transfer, to less onerous decision making processes of the UNFCCC.

Speaking on developed countries providing funds to fight climate change, Stern said, “Now the hard reality: no step change in overall levels of public funding from developed countries is likely to come anytime soon.”

He added, “The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it. This is not just a matter of the recent financial crisis; it is structural, based on the huge obligations we face from aging populations and other pressing needs for infrastructure, education, health care and the like.”

He reiterated US’ push for private investments in climate financing. “A genuine step change in funding can occur in the flow of private capital leveraged by public money or public policy,” Stern said.

He also expressed the American antipathy to issues of loss and damage. The poorest countries have demanded that they must be paid or compensated for the damage that would be caused by the global warming bound to happen by existing accumulated emissions that any level of mitigation or adaptation would be unable to prevent. But Stern said, “Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics.”

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