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Copenhagen Accord Was an "Important Step Forward," Says U.S. Climate Negotiator

Todd Stern now thinks the most effective way forward to reining in climate change is via a smaller group of major carbon-emitting countries
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Lead U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern said Thursday the Copenhagen Accord represents the best way forward for a binding global climate deal but that success likely rests with a smaller group of major emitters working outside the unwieldy, multi-national United Nations process.

In his first public remarks since the conclusion of the United Nations climate talks in December, Stern said the Copenhagen Accord - despite its shortcomings - included "significant breakthroughs in a number of respects."

"It is a very important step forward," he said at an investor forum on climate risk hosted jointly by the UN Foundation and CERES.

Most importantly, Stern said, the accord pierced the "firewall" between developed and developing countries, getting the latter to agree for the first time to commit to emissions cuts. It contained landmark agreements on financial assistance and technology help for developing countries, pegged a 2ºC warming as the maximum the globe should risk, and made important strides on the controversial notion that countries' emissions cuts must verifiable by the world community.

But the road forward remains full of peril, Stern warned.

"We have an accord right now that's kind of lumbering down the runway," he said. "And we need to get speed to have it take off."

Job No. 1, he added, is to define and establish the various mechanisms identified in the accord - the global adaptation fund, technology transfer, forest preservation and so on.

The second, he said, is to continue work on a legally binding climate commitment.
And there, he cautioned, the UN's multi-lateral, consensus driven process might not be ideally suited for forging a strong global agreement among the major emitting nations.

"Our goal is very simply to design a regime that is going to have the capability to actually help us solve the problem," Stern said.

"One of the frustrations sometimes in dealing on the international level is that a lot of focus can be paid ... to debating whether a particular idea is consistent to this or that particular convention. A lot of attention to detail can be focused on ideas that are not really tethered to reality."

The administration believes the most effective way forward is via a smaller group of countries, akin to the Major Economies Forum established by former President George W. Bush.

"That was an enormously important group. You had conversations you just can't have in a larger multi-lateral setting," Stern said. "Going forward there will need to be some kind of analogous small-group focus."

The ability of a handful of small countries - Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador - to block the world community from formally agreeing to the Copenhagen Accord proved one of the more frustrating elements of the talks, to many delegates. In the end the United Nations could only take note of the accord before sending everyone home.

And that was perhaps another key revelation coming out of the conference, noted former Sen. Timothy Wirth, president of the UN Foundation. Global power has shifted in ways that global institutions have not yet recognized.

"We're talking about a realignment around the world of global power," Wirth said. "It looks very different from what the UN Security Council looks like today, very different from the G-8. Copenhagen was a place where a lot of that played out."

This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

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