George W. Bush photo

Briefing by Teleconference with Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Jim Connaughton

June 22, 2008

6:03 P.M. EDT

MR. CONNAUGHTON: Hello, this is Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. And I just want to give you an update, after two intensive and constructive days of discussions among leaders' reps to the 16 major economies.

Just to refresh you all, this is the fourth meeting of leaders' representatives. These are people like me who directly report to their Presidents or Prime Ministers. And our goal is to pull together the agenda for a meeting of the leaders of the world's major economies on -- to discuss energy security and climate change. That leaders meeting will take place in conjunction with the G8 in Toyako, Japan. And the meeting will immediately follow the G8 meeting.

This will be the first time the leaders have come together in that number and in that configuration, to have a candid exchange about some of the most difficult issues related to advancing the agenda on climate change.

Our mission was, over the last four meetings, was first to begin to flesh out some of the more challenging areas that required high-level leadership, build confidence in support of the U.N. negotiations that are now underway under the Bali Action Plan, and hopefully to provide some political impetus to reach an agreement on a new outcome by the end of next year in Copenhagen -- the idea being that the work we do this year is going to be essential to rapid progress next year. There's a very aggressive agenda to try to conclude negotiations on a new agreement and it's going to be quite complex and require a lot of pressure from the top.

Just to highlight the issues we've been discussing -- we've been talking about the general direction of the major economies in providing leadership in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with promotion and sustaining economic growth, and poverty eradication especially in the developing countries.

The interlinked challenges of energy security and food security, as well as sustainable development have always been at the forefront of the leaders' thinking. And this discussion has been no less. We've always worked to be sure that we're taking into account those features as we discuss the elements of an agreed outcome for next year.

The pieces of the discussion relate to the Bali Action Plan indication that we are striving to achieve agreement on a long-term global goal; that would be a shared goal among all countries -- not just the major economies -- for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. We also discussed the nature of midterm goals, actions of the parties, and how those will take shape over time and how they might be addressed in a new agreed outcome.

We talked about the idea of pursuing a series of early actions which are focused on things that we can do now together as major economies without -- before even a new agreement is reached. And these would be in furtherance of our longstanding commitments under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the U.S. is a party to, along with the other major economies.

There was also lengthy discussions on adaptation, which has emerged as an issue of significant and increasing importance. I just remind you -- adaptation is how you work toward your economies being more resilient to the effects of climate change. And this is especially an area of focus for lesser developed countries who have lesser capabilities of adapting to climate change.

And we had -- will have an extensive discussion on financing, in particular with the focus on financing for the lower costs and broader dissemination of advanced technologies; long discussion on technologies and all the aspects of their development; exchanges among the parties with respect to shared research efforts; and then all the various tools by which we can get existing technologies and new technologies out into the marketplace. And that agenda is now quite substantial.

And then finally there was the discussion of whether this process of meetings among major economies is worth continuing, and there appears to be strong interest in that taking place, which I think is an indication of the value of the meetings.

For those of you who haven't been out with me before on these -- these meetings are private, high-level, and we really are able to sort of press on some of the tougher issues that have been eluding the climate negotiators. So the meetings themselves are valuable as senior officials take a closer look at the details of the climate negotiating process to try to see where there are opportunities for moving forward.

Let's see, what else? So when the leaders meet, they will -- we're preparing an agenda for them, we're preparing a document for them, and this work of this meeting puts all that into their hands. So I'll be returning to talk to President Bush about how our progress has been, and then the leaders will meet and then make their collective views known at the time of the major economies meeting.

So that's all my background. Look forward to your questions. Thank you.

Q: I was wondering if you reached a basic agreement on a long-term reduction goal of 50 percent by 2050. And if you can tell us what the unresolved sticking points are for the declaration at Toyako.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: The details of our work are actually being submitted to leaders for their consideration individually. And then they will come together to discuss those details, and then jointly communicate on that. So at this time, we -- I'm not in a position to discuss that, as I need to discuss it with the President first.

Q: Thanks for holding the call. I guess a slightly different phrasing on the question that was just asked, which is, are there any points of disagreement over a long-term goal at this point? Is there any reason to think there won't be a common settlement on a long-term goal? Obviously the President has made this a personal priority by stating this is going to happen before the end of his administration.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: The long-term goal is a new issue. It was not a subject of discussions among any of the countries until it was put on the table by several countries in conjunction with the G8 meetings last year in Heiligendamm. And then that found its way into the Bali Action Plan, and it was a pretty big deal for all the countries to agree that they be considering a global vision that they would share and they would try to translate that into a specific shared goal.

And so, in that respect, first of all, there's -- I want to be sure you're clear -- there's no agreement on a long-term goal until the end of next year when all the parties come together in agreement. So this is a significant step --

Q: Wait, wait, wait -- wait, the President said at the 8-plus-5, his goal was by the end of this year that those countries would have agreement on a long-term goal then, and hopefully midterm goals, as well, separate from the larger treaty process involving all the world's nations.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: Yes, I was just -- Andy, I was just trying to clarify that when you said "agreement," I didn't want those who are not steeped in the details to get the impression that when the leaders speak in a couple weeks, that that's the end of the discussion. Actually, it's the beginning of the discussion. It then has to go out to more than 170 other countries.

So in that respect, we have -- all I can say at this time is that we have advanced the discussion. This is a -- the long-term goal is a very complex subject, as you look at the various scenarios for how you get from here to there. And so we had many, many hours of discussion around that.

So I can leave it at that. It is receiving very significant deliberation, and we'll see what the leaders have to say.

Q: Thanks -- sort of. (Laughter.)


OPERATOR: There are no further questions at this time.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: Okay, I guess if that's the case, thank you, everybody. I'm sorry I don't have more details yet, but really it's in the hands of the leaders, so you'll be hearing from them in the very near future. We'll look forward to talking to you after that occurs.

Thanks. Bye-bye.

END 6:18 P.M. EDT

George W. Bush, Briefing by Teleconference with Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Jim Connaughton Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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