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US climate adviser urges leaders not to lose -

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US climate adviser urges leaders not to lose momentum at Copenhagen

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: The United States President Barack Obama is due to arrive at the Copenhagen summit
tomorrow and there are rumours circulating that he may be bringing with him a large pot of money.

President Obama's climate legislation passed the US House of Representatives in June but it is now
stalled in the Senate and he's brought only provisional emissions reduction targets to the summit
with him.

They are to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by about 17 per cent below 2005
levels by 2020.

Earlier today I spoke to Elliot Diringer who was the deputy assistant to the former US president
Bill Clinton and was at the Kyoto talks. He is now the vice president for international strategies
at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and he spoke to me from Copenhagen.

Elliot Diringer you advised president Clinton on climate change during Kyoto. What lessons do you
think President Obama could learn from the Clinton team's experience?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: I think one lesson that clearly has been learned by the US delegation here in
Copenhagen is to be careful not to go far out ahead of where the Congress is on this issue.

And I think that we're in a much better position now because in fact the domestic debate on climate
change is well advanced. Congress is engaged in developing the legislation we need. And that
process has given strong guidance to the President in terms of what he can bring here to the
conference in Copenhagen.

ELEANOR HALL: Now president Clinton did not himself go to Kyoto. Is it significant that President
Obama will be at Copenhagen?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: I think the fact that President Obama is coming here himself and has put a
provisional US target on the table is effectively expressing his personal commitment to getting the
job done.

ELEANOR HALL: As you say it's a provisional target that President Obama has put on the table. Can
he actually drive an agreement if he isn't able to offer anything more substantial because he
doesn't have the support of Congress?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Well I don't expect that here it will get beyond the provisional target. Hopefully
on the basis of the agreement that's reached here that will provide some greater confidence back at
home so the Congress can move ahead and complete the job of legislating so that we're in the
position then to carry that back into this process and complete the job of negotiating that final
agreement.

ELEANOR HALL: Now our reporter there at Copenhagen says that there's a lot of disillusionment about
the prospect of a deal but that there are a lot of rumours flying around about President Obama
arriving with a big pot of money to try to oil the wheels towards a deal. What do you know about
that?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Well there have been clear indications from the President and from other leaders
that there will be money on the table for the near term.

I think there is still very much an open question whether they will be in a position to offer any
pledges beyond that.

ELEANOR HALL: Now of course these sorts of negotiations are about carrots and also about sticks.
And we're hearing today that the US negotiators are threatening to impose tariffs on any goods that
China and India sell into the US unless these rapidly growing nations agree to cut their emissions.

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Well that has been an ongoing debate within the Congress and there are strong
expectations that the climate legislation that Congress ultimately adopts will include the option
of invoking trade measures if countries like China aren't taking appropriate steps to control their
emissions.

But I don't believe that's part of the negotiating position here on the part of the United States.
At the Pew Center actually we don't favour the use of unilateral trade measures. Confrontational
approaches don't really create the kind of spirit of cooperation that we need.

ELEANOR HALL: There is talk of a lot of back room dealing between the two biggest emitters there -
China and the US. We had the former Australian environment minister on the program earlier this
week saying there was a lot being done behind the scenes. What sort of discussions are likely to be
taking place?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: The real negotiating taking place here of course is behind the scenes. The real
discussions are behind closed doors. Some of those are bilateral talks between parties like the
United States and China.

Clearly a better understanding between the US and China is one of the keys to unlocking an
agreement here. I'm sure that one of the topics of conversation is how China's efforts will be
verified. That's one of the central issues being negotiated here.

ELEANOR HALL: Well China has been very heavily criticised at the conference for its refusal to have
international verification that it's reducing its carbon intensity. But the US has also been silent
on verification hasn't it? To what extent does that concern you?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Well the US has put forward a proposal for verification and the US already is
subject under the framework convention to reporting requirements and what we have asked for
actually is going beyond verification.

We've suggested that what would provide real confidence in an international agreement would be a
provision that would provide for a determination of whether you are in compliance.

You know this is the first time in the history of these climate negotiations that we are now
actually negotiating the actions of developing countries.

ELEANOR HALL: And are you optimistic or pessimistic about a deal of substance being achieved this
week?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Well we're at the point here in these negotiations where the unresolved issues are
being handed off from the professional negotiators whose job it is to hold the line to the
political leaders who are much more practised at the art of compromise.

So with heads of state coming I remain reasonably confident that we'll have a deal and just how
strong a deal it is we'll hopefully know in a day or two.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the art of compromise you mentioned there, in a few moments I'm going to be
speaking to James Hansen, the climate scientist who says he now doesn't think any deal should be
done at Copenhagen unless it's far tougher than world leaders appear at this stage to be willing to
agree to.

What do you think of his position?

ELLIOT DIRINGER: I don't think we're in a position to say all or nothing. I think what's most
critical is that we get started.

We've seen a lot of progress just in the last few weeks with the US, China and India putting
numbers on the table. You have a moment here of incredibly high level political attention and
engagement and to let that pass without capturing the political momentum that's been created would
be a tremendous loss.

ELEANOR HALL: Elliot Diringer, thanks very much for joining us.

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Happy to.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Elliot Diringer who was climate adviser to the former US president Bill
Clinton. He is now the vice president at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and he was
speaking to me from Copenhagen.