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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman and Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern
Barack
Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman and Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern
July 9, 2009
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L'Aquila, Italy

7:31 P.M. CEST

MR. HAMMER: All right, we've moved up the conference call so we can try to get most of you out of here at 8:00 p.m. So this will be a quick briefing.

We have Mike Froman, who you've come to know over the last few days as our sherpa and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics. And we also have Todd Stern, our Special Envoy on Climate Change. So I will turn it over to them and then we'll quickly jump into questions.

MR. STERN: Thanks very much. I'm just going to run very briefly through a few highlights from the declaration, and then we can go right to questions.

There were a number of key points, I think, that came out in the declaration agreed to by the 17 leaders. These include the agreement that global and national emissions should peak as soon as possible, that the MEF developed countries will undertake prompt action to produce robust reductions in their emissions in the midterm, consistent with their long-term ambitious goals -- in their case, 80 percent below by 2050.

The MEF developing countries agreed to take prompt action to reduce their emissions as compared to their "business as usual" trajectory in the midterm. The parties also agreed to prepare long-term low-carbon growth plans to guide their long-term development. They agreed to work between now and Copenhagen to arrive at a 2050 goal -- we talked about that a little bit yesterday. And also there was an agreement on reductions from deforestation.

There was an addition, an agreement to establish a global partnership to drive transformational technology development and a set of countries agreeing to take the lead in a number of different technologies. Also, a broad set of agreements with respect to the structure of a financing package -- not a number, but a structure, including a number of elements such as the sources of the financing, including the carbon markets and public sources as well, that the establishment of -- the set up of the fund should take advantage of existing institutions, should have balanced governance and the like. And there are also some important sentences with respect to adaptation.

So it was an overall declaration, it includes a number of important points, a number of the mitigation points that I just mentioned have never been agreed to before and I think that's -- and we can take questions.

Mike, do you have anything you wanted to add?

MR. HAMMER: On trade, do you want to give a couple of --

MR. FROMAN: With regard to trade, and I'm not sure whether you have this document yet -- first you should have the MEF declaration, which Todd was just referring to, and our MEF fact sheet, which summarizes some of the key points. In addition, there was a joint declaration from the G8-plus-5-plus-1 that was issued earlier this afternoon. That has a statement on trade. That was also supported by Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea.

And it calls for an ambitious and balanced conclusion to the Doha development round in 2010, consistent with its mandate and building on the progress already made, including with regard to modalities. It also states that they regard enhancing the transparency and understanding of the negotiating results to date as a necessary means to facilitate the conclusion of agreements, and I'll explain what that means in a moment.

And then finally, in order to fill the remaining gaps in negotiations as soon as possible, the leaders instruct their ministers to explore immediately all possible avenues for direct engagement within the WTO and to meet prior to the Pittsburgh summit.

There are a number of different elements in there for those who follow trade closely. This is an effort to get the Doha development round on a more constructive track towards conclusion -- building on the progress that's been made, not throwing out any concessions or agreements that had been previously locked in, but at the same time getting to a stage where countries would engage directly with each other, bilaterally, plural-laterally, as well as multilaterally, to get transparency around what the market access offers are that are on the table, and then a sense of urgency that ministers should meet between now and Pittsburgh to try and progress this agenda and report back in Pittsburgh.

With that, we're open to questions.

Q: Yes, I heard today at lunch they were supposed to discuss growth and perspective of growth. But then Lula came in and started to sort of discuss the formats of the G8, G20, and the whole discussion has been derailed. And the President intervened. So can you tell us a bit more about that and what was the sense of that discussion?

MR. FROMAN: The G8-plus-5-plus-1, as you know, started this morning around 10:00 a.m. They met for about two and a half hours, and then they continued meeting over lunch.

The agenda included the global economy and restoring growth. Also the future growth model and where growth is going to come from coming out of the recovery. There was a discussion of development issues, as well as of climate change, even though obviously the full discussion was to be had in the Major Economies Forum, and other topics also came up, including, as you said, the nature of the format of global governance, with a discussion of the G8, the G8-plus-5-plus-1, the G20, and what respective roles and contributions they make to global governance.

I wouldn't say they derailed the conversation at all; it was all part of an ongoing discussion about how best to deal with these global issues, and there was a good interchange on that issue.

Q: And what came out of it?

MR. FROMAN: There was no -- there was no particular conclusion about it. I think different leaders share different perspectives about it. And I'd say if you -- if there was a sense of the room, it was that we would continue to discuss what sort of architectural evolution the global governance might go through.

Q: Do you get the feeling that -- in this White House, do you get the feeling that it's time to move beyond the G8?

MR. FROMAN: Yes, I think -- I think our feeling is, is that whenever leaders get together, they can accomplish important things, and that our most precious resource and our most scarce resource is our leaders' time. And so whenever they get together, in whatever format -- whether it's bilaterally, plural-laterally, as eight, as 13, as 20 -- that we should use those opportunities to advance the global agenda.

There's no one perfect format for all issues. There was a -- we talked about yesterday, or on the call late last night, there was a very good, robust discussion among the eight on various national security and foreign policy issues. There were good discussions on the economy, among the eight, among the eight-plus-five; as well as trade with the other three members of the Major Economies Forum also joining. So at some point you had 20 -- or excuse me, 17 in the room discussing trade and discussing climate.

So there's no one perfect format. I think at this point we take advantage of whatever formats are available to try and advance the global agenda.

Q: Thanks. Mike or Todd, could you give us some color about the President's role at the MEF meeting today -- whether he -- where he (inaudible), what actual effect he had on the final result? And I'll repeat a question that I asked at the earlier briefing, which was, the President had said he wants the United States to show leadership on climate change. Did he achieve that (inaudible)?

MR. FROMAN: I think he certainly achieved that. I think that there's wide recognition and wide appreciation, actually, of the role of the United States and the change that the President has brought in U.S. policy on this issue, which has been more dramatic perhaps than in any other area.

I think it was a very -- I think it was a good exchange, a good actual meeting and discussion among leaders. The President certainly ran it. He started with a strong opening statement that ran through a whole kind of set of issues that included what the United States is doing, that included some vision of where this thing ought to go, and the varying pressures and stresses that come on countries that are both on the developed and developing countries side and what we need to do together to get a result.

So I think that there were I think very strong interventions by both President Calderón from Mexico, Prime Minister Brown. Both had quite interesting statements and suggestions, proposals, with respect to financing. Prime Minister Rudd had very strong intervention, again calling on countries to get beyond what has held us up up until now, recognizing the differences, recognizing different circumstances.

These are very tough issues and countries do come at them from very different perspectives, but we can't get a solution unless there is some coming together. I think that Prime Minister Rudd had a very strong statement to make in that regard. And there were statements from all around the room. It was not a tour democratically elected table -- everybody-read-their-talking-points kind of deal. It was a discussion and I think it was quite useful.

Q: On trade, Mike, would you say this promise to restart Doha in 2010, is that a reflection of the economic and political realities of the global crisis? Is that something that the President -- President Obama supports, or was there any effort by anyone to try to see if it could get on track earlier than that?

MR. FROMAN: Well, I think -- first of all, the President supports it, it's part of the joint statement that the U.S. signed on to. And so we certainly support it. I think it's a reflection, frankly, of the pragmatic fact that it takes a while to complete these rounds. For those who follow it, know that there's been some progress -- there's been significant progress on agricultural subsidies, that there's been discussion of agricultural and manufactured market access -- but that's, in fact, exactly the area of focus of this statement, of how to get those discussions to the next level, where there will be more transparency over what countries are going to do on market access.

The negotiations over services has not really begun yet. There's a negotiation of rules to be had and environmental product. So there's still a lot of work to do between now and the conclusion of a balanced, ambitious Doha agreement. And the significance of this statement was to try and break the deadlock that has plagued the Doha Round for the last couple of years and try and get beyond the deadlock and focus on what -- making sure there's meaningful market access to create an ambitious agreement.

Q: (Inaudible) when it comes to the way the process (inaudible) the President's remarks that anxiety about the global economic situation should not inhibit or deter either the United States or other member nations from pursuing global climate change legislation to deal with carbon pollution. Why shouldn't it? The ordinary American taxpayer may say, wait a minute, is this really the right time to impose a cap and trade system, to place a new tax on carbon when the U.S. economy is struggling to get out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression? I mean, can you address that, why there shouldn't even be some anxiety about that and that shouldn't at least in some way influence the debate about this issue?

MR. STERN: Sure. Sure. It's understandable that there's some anxiety about it, but there's a couple of points to be made and the President has made these points I think on many occasions.

First of all, the nature of the problem is such that you can't wait. I mean, the status quo is not a sustainable thing.

But secondly, there is -- you could put it aside, pretend that you can wait for some number of years, continue to lock in investment in high-carbon technology -- or you can take steps to build the kind of economy that is going to be sustainable, that is going to build a plant and equipment that's going to be able to last. It's the right economic move to make. If you don't make this you're going to end up spending more money a few years down the road.

So there's no point in having a huge, big stimulus effort which simply locks in old technology, locks in a high-carbon path -- which is completely unsustainable; science, unfortunately, is undoubtedly just going to get worse on this issue, not better -- and the plain reality, this is absolutely compellingly true for countries like China and India and everywhere else, as well as that the high carbon cap is simply untenable. And you're going to suffer economically -- not just in the environment -- you're going to suffer economically if you choose that path, because in not very many years, if it looks bad now it's going to look worse and it's going to be completely untenable.

So the President is making the right choice, and it is the right choice to move forward on this now, even though the anxiety people feel is quite understandable.

Q: Mike, did the anxiety come up in the conversations? Did any of the member nations wonder aloud if this is really the right time, if another time, a better economic scenario might be wiser?

MR. FROMAN: I think the only instance in which it came up was a recognition that the challenge that the global community faces would be difficult under any circumstance. In the current economic circumstance, it is challenging, but that it's equally urgent. And as Todd said, it's not something that can be wait -- that can wait and just be put off for several years.

And I would just -- I just want to underscore one thing that Todd said earlier -- and, again, I hope you all have the fact sheet. The half-dozen specifics in the mitigation paragraph that were agreed to by developed and developing countries are really quite significant steps forward and quite significant contributions to the U.N. negotiations. It's not the end of the line. As Todd said, there's still negotiations to be had, there's still numbers to fill in. But those are things that have been agreed to for the first time by developing and developed countries alike, and really make a meaningful contribution towards the resolution of this issue.

MR. HAMMER: Margaret.

Q: There seemed to me, reading this, a slight difference between the way the President characterized what the developing countries were committing to do by Copenhagen -- I may have this wrong -- in terms of actually establishing concrete goals for themselves, towards this recognition that the 2 percent Celsius is the max that we should have global growth -- warming. So that's my question. What are the developing countries saying here they will do between now and Copenhagen that would be binding on them in the way of goals, targets, and (inaudible)?

MR. STERN: What the developing countries have -- the critical thing the developing countries have said, which they haven't said before, is that in the midterm -- that's roughly 2020, that kind of time frame -- that they are going to undertake actions promptly that would result in meaningful reductions as compared to their business as usual.

Look, these are all principles that are getting articulated, so none of this is exactly binding on either side right now. But it sets up measures that would go into an ultimate agreement. They have never done that. That's a quite significant undertaking.

By the way, they've never acknowledged the two degrees, either, which is also quite significant. I mean, it is true that we do not yet have an agreement on the 50 percent by 2050, but two degrees is the underpinning for that. It's very significant that they've accepted that and that they've accepted essentially a process to try to actually work out a 2050 number in the Copenhagen time frame. But the two degrees and the meaningful reduction and deviations from business as usual -- very, very significant, and yes, as Mike was just was saying -- and the concept of a peak here. I mean, they have never agreed to any of those things. Those are all quite significant and meaningful.

MR. HAMMER: Jake.

Q: Just a couple of questions. One, did the President feel it is important to talk about how the United States in the past has not fulfilled its obligations, and if so, why? And he also praised some countries for coming up with innovative ways to combat climate change during the meeting, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on those ways at all.

MR. STERN: I didn't hear the second part of the question.

MR. FROMAN: -- praised some countries for --

Q: Praised some countries for coming up with -- Mexico and --

Q: For financing --

MR. FROMAN: Oh, yes, yes, okay, Mexico.

MR. STERN: I'm tired, obviously. What was the first part of the question?

Q: The first part is why was it important to the President to talk about -- that the United States has not always fulfilled its obligations?

MR. STERN: Well, look, I think that it is important for the United States to recognize where it has fallen short. Clearly we have an historic responsibility with respect to the emissions that are already up there in the atmosphere. It's a point that Prime Minster Rudd made, as well.

Actually, Prime Minister Rudd also echoed the point that over the space of the first part of this decade up until, you know, just in the last year or so, Australia was basically not in the game and the United States was not in the game.

And I think it's valuable to recognize when you have come up short, but also to underscore, which the President did very strongly, that it's a completely new day now. I mean, as he said, those days are over, and that's exactly right. So, no, I think it's useful to recognize both sides of the situation.

As I said, he commended both Mexico and the UK, who have come forward in different ways. Mexico has got something called a Green Fund proposal, which is interesting and innovative, and Prime Minister Brown made a speech just about a week ago where he puts some new financing ideas on the table. And I think the President was both commending those and encouraging more of that kind of thinking.

MR. HAMMER: All right, thank you very much. I know we're trying to get this wrapped up so people can leave at the 8:00 p.m. buses.

Q: Hey, Mike, just real quick, is there going to be a statement about the bilat with Brown, or --

MR. HAMMER: There will be actually in a few minutes a short release.

Q: A short release?

MR. HAMMER: Yes.

Q: Okay, thanks.

MR. HAMMER: And that should be it for the evening, so hopefully everybody will get a chance to get down to Rome and maybe relax a little bit. Thanks.

END 7:52 P.M. CEST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman and Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern," July 9, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86403.
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