U.S. Envoy: ‘We Do Not Want Any Backsliding’ on Paris Agreement


The United States hopes to move forward on the Paris climate agreement and ensure that countries don’t renege on their promises when leaders meet in November in Marrakesh, Morocco, a State Department official said Tuesday.

“We do not want any backsliding,” said Jonathan Pershing, the department’s special envoy for climate change at an event organized by the Atlantic Council.

Rather than instituting an across-the-board regime, the Paris agreement calls on countries to develop their own means of cutting emissions and ensuring compliance. This self-policing mechanism is one significant difference between the Paris accord and the less-successful Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement, set to take effect on Nov. 4, sets goals for countries to cut enough greenhouse gas emissions to keep future global average temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. Nearly 200 countries will meet Nov. 7-18 in the annual conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Countries will use the Marrakesh meeting as an opportunity to discuss how they can move ahead on a “series of technical tasks” to set agreement in stone, Pershing said. The meeting is also an opportunity to engage leaders who weren’t directly involved in the Paris negotiations, such as CEOs, mayors, and the public at large, Pershing said.

The last few weeks have been a momentous time for international action on climate change. The European Union adopted the Paris agreement earlier this month, pushing it over the threshold for international acceptance. Separately, international leaders also reached a deal on emissions from the aviation industry. They also agreed on reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons, an intense greenhouse gas, in refrigerants and air conditioners.

Still, Pershing acknowledged that there are kinks to work out. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule in the coming months on a challenge to the Clean Power Plan, which lays out the U.S.’s actions to comply with the Paris agreement.

Pershing said the Obama administration is confident it will prevail in an eventual U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the plan.

Pershing also explained the lack of international oversight of each country’s goals under the Paris agreement. There won’t be an international agency checking to make sure countries are holding up their end of the bargain, he said, because it’s up to individual countries to enforce binding laws requiring compliance.

In the U.S., for example, the Environmental Protection Agency will make sure states are complying with the Clean Power Plan, which in turn will allow the country to meet its commitments. Other countries will similarly be in charge of their own compliance with the agreement, he said.

“The black helicopters don’t exist,” Pershing said, a metaphor for describing the lack of international enforcement of the Paris deal.

Pershing noted that the Kyoto Protocol, a 1992 treaty to cut greenhouse gases, created a compliance committee that ensured each country was meeting its goals. The compliance mechanism was unpopular. Canada was the only country to initially sign on to it, Pershing said, and the country ultimately withdrew from the agreement, which broadly failed to attract support.

The Paris agreement seeks to account for the Kyoto Protocol’s shortcomings. Instead of using a top-down approach in which international regulators ensure compliance, it is now up to individual countries to pass laws or take executive actions to meet their goals.

Pershing stressed the importance of acting on climate change, noting the wide-ranging repercussions it is already having around the planet. He pointed to two examples — global warming for exacerbating the intensity of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the recent rise of the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Hurricane Sandy was a “one-in-700-year event” thanks to climate change, Pershing said.

In the case of Boko Haram, Nigeria’s farmland and grazing land is drying up due to drought, creating conflicts that ultimately drive recruits to the militant Islamist group, Pershing said.

Morning Consult