WASHINGTON -– Buoyed by the recent United States-China climate deal, the top climate negotiator for the U.S. said Monday that he's optimistic heading into this year's meeting in Lima, Peru.
"I think it will give momentum to the negotiations," said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern in remarks at the Center for American Progress Monday. "I think it will spur countries to come forward with their own targets."
The Lima talks begin on Dec. 1 and continue through Dec. 12. Representatives from more than 190 countries are expected to attend as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under an agreement at a previous meeting in South Africa, nations are to finalize an agreement by the December 2015 meeting in Paris.
The U.S.-China deal, announced on Nov. 12, commits the U.S. to cutting emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, and China to reaching peak emissions by 2030. It was celebrated as a major breakthrough, as the two countries are the largest emitters in the world and, as Stern put it, are "two historic antagonists" who have now "come together on a presidential level on climate change."
While the agreement was heralded as a major breakthrough, congressional Republicans have dismissed it, despite years of calling for action from China before the U.S. agrees to cuts.
Stern said it's unclear what the new leaders of India, the world's third-largest emitter, will commit to. "It's a little too early to say where they're going to position themselves with respect to the negotiations," he said.
Stern acknowledged India's continued need for development, noting that "they have to see there's a path to eliminating those development needs that is as low-carbon as possible." He also noted that the U.S. "inclination is to certainly want to work with them as closely as possible." President Barack Obama plans to visit India in January.
The post-2020 commitment the U.S. announced as part of the China deal is "both quite ambitious and also something we can execute based on the authorities we have," Stern said. "This is a stretch target for us, but our sense is we can get there," Stern said, adding that he believed those commitments "would be carried forward by the next administration."
Contributions made to the Green Climate Fund in the last few weeks also have lent optimism to the Lima meeting. Pledges to the fund now total more than $9 billion, short of the target of $10 billion to $15 billion, but contributions have ramped up significantly in recent months. The funding, which would help developing nations cut emissions and adapt to climate shifts already happening, is seen as another way to open a pathway to a global climate agreement.
There are still major uncertainties that need to be worked out in the Lima talks. For one, the exact legal format of the agreement remains unclear. While the predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, was an international treaty, the U.S. has been one of the countries urging an alternative format, largely because it would be difficult to get the U.S. Senate to approve a climate treaty. At the Durban meeting in 2011, countries committed to reaching "an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties."
The alternative framework that has been developed requires all parties to offer climate pledges, but allows them to individually determine what they can attain. Countries are expected to put their goals for the post-2020 time period on the table by early 2015.
"The hope is that structure pushes countries to come forward with their best shot right away, because they don't want to be embarrassed," said Stern. "I think that's an important feature."
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru's minister of the environment and president of the Lima meeting, told The Huffington Post in an interview last month that he expects 12,000 delegates to the meeting, and is working to "to create the atmosphere of confidence that this kind of negotiation needs." Pulgar-Vidal said the framework that allows each participating nation to make its own pledges, is "a good way to recognize that countries can do a lot domestically" and "that we can find balance between top-down and bottom-up" agreements.
Stern offered temperate expectations for final agreement, saying it would be something that "is not perfect, but is a good strong start."
"That's what we're trying to do," said Stern. "Whether we can get there or not, I don't know."