Todd Stern: After The Paris Climate Agreement, Countries Of The World ‘Are Not Going Back’

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/THIBAULT CAMUS
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/THIBAULT CAMUS

Speaking just days after the announcement of a historic climate deal in Paris, Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, seemed pretty pleased with the international agreement that came out of the talks.

“We got an awful lot of what we wanted,” Stern told ThinkProgress. “When we sat down and read through the agreement, we were sort of shaking our head a little bit.”

Shaking them in disbelief, perhaps, that the deal had shaken out in a way that gave the United States practically everything it wanted, from ambitious five-year review cycles and global goals to a restructuring of the requirements demanded of developed and developing nations.

“Obviously there’s always more that one could get, but it’s the art of the possible,” Stern said. “We did really well. We got the five-year cycles, we got really strong global goals, we got the INDCs from 186 countries — which is completely mind-boggling — and we got a quite strong architecture for transparency.”

It’s a signal to the markets that the countries of the world … have signed on to this, and are not going back.

Stern credits a lot of the success of the Paris agreement to work that had been done in the months and years leading up to the negotiations. Unlike in Copenhagen, where negotiations seeking to create a climate deal largely fell apart at the last minute, Stern says that all parties came to Paris with a clear understanding of what they were there to accomplish. Paris was the first international climate negotiation to embrace a bottom-up approach, requiring participants to submit their own national pledges, known as INDCs, well in advance of the final meeting.

That bottom-up approach, Stern said, helped get participants on the same page well ahead of the actual negotiations.

“There was a lot more socialized realism about what this was going to be and what this wasn’t going to be,” Stern said. “In Copenhagen, there was no consensus like that. A big number of countries were still in the world of, ‘developed do this and developing do that.’ The most fundamental issues, like what are we doing, what is this about, were completely unsorted out going into Copenhagen.”


Stern also pointed to the United States’ bilateral agreement with China in November of last year as a “catalytic” event that helped set the stage for Paris.

“That really changed everything,” he said.

Speaking before an audience at the Center for American Progress Tuesday, Stern said that it will be important to make sure that the spotlight that has been placed on countries and their commitments to climate action does not disappear in the months and years following Paris. The agreement has been criticized for its lack of an enforcement mechanism, with critics saying that it allows countries that fail to comply with their commitments to escape without penalties. To avoid that, Stern said, it will be necessary to keep an eye on each country’s progress.

“It will be important to make sure the world is still watching,” he said.

It will be important to make sure the world is still watching.

It will also be important for developing countries to create environments that attract investments, he said, which will help jump start low-carbon economies. Part of that will happen at the national level, with countries enacting policies and regulations that help incentivize the creation of a low-carbon economy.


But part of that can also come from the deal itself — in speaking with ThinkProgress, Stern called the deal a “signal” to the markets that countries will be shifting more and more to green infrastructure and energy.

“It’s a signal to the markets that the countries of the world are moving towards the transformation of the energy system, and are moving, and have signed on to this, and are not going back,” he said. “There’s this long term, durable, continually ratcheting up sense of it.”

But the deal isn’t going to transform the global energy landscape overnight, Stern cautioned. A prime example of this is India, which played a bit of a wildcard role in the Paris negotiations. On Monday, India’s Minister for power, coal and renewable energy said that the Paris deal would not impact the country’s plans to double their coal output moving forward. But India has also submitted some of the world’s most ambitious targets for renewable energy — 175 gigawatts of renewable power by 2022 — and recently entered into a solar alliance with France.

“They’re not going to give up coal overnight,” Stern said. “Neither is China. What you have to do is get it moving in the right direction.”