Oct. 20, 2021

Ep60: Todd Stern 'President Obama's climate negotiator'

Todd Stern is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, best known for leading the US delegation at COP21 in his capacity as Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Department of State.

Todd’s political career started in 1993, when he joined President Clinton’s administration. Between 1997 and 1999, he led the US government efforts on global climate change – he was the senior White House negotiator at the Kyoto and Buenos Aires negotiations. Between 1999 and 2001 he was a Counsellor to the Secretary of the Treasury.
After 7 years in the private sector, Todd returned to politics, joining President Obama’s administration as the Special Envoy for Climate Change, U.S. Department of State in 2009. As the chief climate negotiator he led the US delegation at COP21 and was one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement.
Todd is now a Senior Fellow at Cross-Brookings Initiative on Climate and Energy. He graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. Todd is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Further reading:

Official Bio


Can the United States and China reboot their climate cooperation? (September 2020)


Podesta email dump reveals tight US-China climate ties (October 2016)



Click here for Edited Highlights

Michael Liebreich:  Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Todd Stern, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. In 2015, he was the Special Envoy on climate change at the US Department of State, which meant that he led the delegation to COP 21, which resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement. Let's bring Todd Stern into the conversation. So, Todd, welcome to Cleaning Up.


Todd Stern: Thank you very much, Michael, glad to be here.


ML: Thanks for spending a little bit of time with us. So, tell me what are you up to these days? What's keeping you busy?


TS: I am mostly being kept busy by the effort to finish a book that I've been working on for a while, and being a fellow with the Brookings Institution, but mostly work right out of this office where I'm talking to you from.


ML: Now this book, is this going to be the past, present and future of climate negotiations? Are you going to branch out and you're writing a novel or something completely different?


TS: Not branching out like that. Maybe that'll be the next book, but right now this is sort of the seven year road to the Paris Agreement, which I very much think was it was a real seven year road. And it started for me and for the US team with President Obama's taking office and then there'll be some part of it at the at the end, where I'm looking forward and, and giving some reflections about where I think things need to go.


ML: Well, that's great, because that's pretty much the agenda I had mapped out for our conversation here.


TS: Well, I am ready for you then?


ML: Right, but do go back a little bit further, because your involvement in the climate issue actually goes back all the way to was it to Kyoto? Was it even beyond that here?



TS: Yeah, you know I so I got drafted into climate change. When I was working for President Clinton in the White House, I had a job called the staff secretary, which is an important kind of inside job that manages all of the flow of paper from the White House to the President and does lots of things with that paper to get it ready for the President to look at it and in that job I got pulled into various and sundry other special assignments from the time, I started the job and I knocked that on the door in July of 1997, the Chief of Staff saying, asking, could I jump on to the climate change team because there's a bunch of work that still has to be done in preparation for Kyoto. So, you know, from a standing start in the staff secretary job, you know a little bit about everything, because everything comes to you. So, I knew a little bit about climate change, but not very much. And I got thrown into it. And that was the start. And I ended up going to Kyoto and after Kyoto then the Chief of Staff and President asked me to be the point person for the administration overall. And I did that for about another year and a half. So, I was also in Buenos Aires, I guess that was COP 3 or COP 4.


ML: Wow, COP three and COP four. That's a real kind of badge of honour to have been Cop-ing that long ago. But just to be clear, though, your training was not then as an environmental lawyer, were you a generalist?


TS: I was the original generalist. Yeah. And, you know, I knew something about everything. But I was absolutely, had no background, other than being, you know, sympathetic to, interested in like, supporter of environmental issues, but I didn't know I didn't have any background in them.


ML: Right. Because obviously, by the time you and I met you were deeply in all of that.


TS: Oh, yeah. You know, well, I yes. I mean, sort of in the job that I had is staff secretary had to be a pretty quick study to begin with. And then you know, I was interested and once you start going deep, you know, you can even get up to speed relatively quickly.


ML: Now, one question that Chief of Staff who knocked on your door is that somebody is that somebody whose name we would recognize?


 TS: I mean, I don't know if you recognize the name Erskine Bowles. He was he was president, one of President Clinton's chiefs of staff and he was there when at the time that that that I'm talking about.


ML: Okay, the reason I check is just some of these names recur and they come up and the people that I know and so on, but… So now when you talk about that seven year path that started with President Obama coming to office. And he drew you back into the team and that must have been shortly before Copenhagen. I mean, that was right at that was one of the first things he did, right?


TS: Yeah. Well, so I went and I was the Special Envoy in the State Department. So, working directly for Hillary Clinton, but President Obama's lead international person on climate and I started right, you know, in January, shortly after Obama was inaugurated. And we were more than halfway into this negotiation before Kyoto, sorry before Copenhagen, which then, you know, was completed in December. So yeah, we had about 10 and a half months before.


ML: So this is all 2009. When you say, January, that's January 2009. So, you kind of walked through the door, there's a half-completed negotiation, or there's a partially started negotiation. And you then took it through till Copenhagen, that was the sort of that's, that's act one scene one of the seven years.


TS: Sort of, yeah, yeah, right.


ML: And now Copenhagen is… And I was there. And I got to be honest, I wasn't disappointed largely because I thought it was going to be a mess. for all sorts of reasons, I thought there was all sorts of overreach in the way it was structured the way it was being portrayed as sort of two weeks to save the world, or whatever it was, so I was not disappointed. It certainly was, however, portrayed as this huge, you know, Sucker Punch disappointment. Is that fair? Is that how is that as an insider, as somebody who would sort of, you know, you prepared for it, and then you were there? Is that a fair characterization? Or is it unfair?


TS: It's unfair, it’s not accurate in my judgement, although it's accurate in the judgement of an awful lot of people from an awful lot of countries who had that view. From our point of view, Copenhagen as an event, as a COP, was a mess. That's true. But we also thought that it did enormously important things in the end. And one thing when I came in to the job in January, I knew that the kind of paradigm that people were working off of, and that the world thought they were doing on the way to disagreement was not going to fly. I mean, we couldn't do it. And nobody wanted an agreement that the United States couldn't join. I mean, that already happened, that happened with Kyoto. So, we knew that the thing had to get moved onto a different track. There were other people who, who knew that over time, and Denmark knew that over time and started to move the path of that negotiation later in the year more and more in, you know, maybe the summer or September, something like that. So, when we didn't know what was going to blow up like that, we knew it was going to be hard. But we knew it had to be a different outcome than people had expected on the world was like way, way out in front of reality in terms of its expectations. But in the end, Copenhagen was really very, very important. I mean, it was the first time that developing countries had taken on real commitments, there was more. There was less of a firewall between developed and developing countries in the Kyoto outcome. It didn't go away, but it was certainly chipped away at, there was… So, you had all the big developing countries taking on their own commitments agreeing to a certain form of transparency, that was the first time that a ‘below two degree goal’ was articulated. There was an agreement to set up this something called a Green Fund, which turned into the Green Climate Fund. And so, you know, I think that they were that there were a bunch of important things that happened. Like I said, it's a really critical step away from the Kyoto model, which was the pure firewall developed countries do basically everything, legally binding very rigorous and developing countries – nothing: that couldn't fly. It couldn't fly politically, but it couldn't fly substantively in a world where by 2009, already developing countries were already the majority of annual emissions. So, you know, in my view, Copenhagen, sort of planted a bunch of seeds that ultimately sprouted in Paris, so it was important, it was a mess. Both of those things.


ML: Okay, we'll come back to a couple of those seeds in a second. But you know, you said that society had got out over its skis, and you know, I remember these activists that were there, and they had these posters. And they were chanting, and they were saying they needed a deal. That was, I think it was ambitious, fair and binding. And they said they're not leaving until they get it. And that was the atmosphere, wasn't it?


TS: Yeah, absolutely.


ML: And some of the politicians, I remember….


TS: They left without getting it though.


ML: Well, they did leave. They did leave despite, you know, the not getting an ambitious, fair or binding deal.


TS: Well, I would think, I would say that you got an agreement that was fair and you got an agreement that started on the road to ambition, wasn't there yet. But you got an agreement that was not binding.


ML: And talking of those seeds, which was there was this $100 billion annual Copenhagen commitment. Yeah, it sounds like there was some fabulous stories about that. I mean, you hear about Hillary Clinton's sort of delivering that to sort of gasps because it had not been widely syndicated beforehand. Is that how it happened?


TS: Yes, I mean, it sort of, yes and no, I mean, the push for the $100 billion had been going on for some time. Gordon Brown, I think was the first one who put it on the table. Maybe July, June or July, something like that. The prime minister of Ethiopia made that a big cause célèbre, I met with him a couple of times during the year he was in Copenhagen. And he was the big leader for Africa on that on that front. And we, the United States had been holding back there was there was this certain there was angst within the government about that big sort of sticker shock number just in terms of our own politics. And don't forget, we were trying very hard. It was like a big, big focus for the Obama administration to get a big cap and trade piece of legislation through the Congress and actually got through the House in maybe May June of 2009, Waxman-Markey. So it ended up not happening but we were sensitive to issues that we're going to that we're going to be you know, international issues that were going to be a problem for our efforts to get that legislation done. So there was concerned about the sticker shock of 100 billion, but at a certain point, during the, you know, two weeks of the of the COP, those of us who were there, which included, obviously me and my team, but also Mike Froman who was the lead guy at the White House who followed climate change me he was the Deputy National Security Adviser for international economics, but he had the climate portfolio. And we collectively decided, we got to move. And so, you know, calls went back from <inaudible> home and got the green light for that. And so, Hillary Clinton essentially brought in her pocket, she arrived on Thursday morning, I think was the 17th, the second last day, we met with her, we briefed her up, she went in to do a press conference. And she laid that down on the table. And that, and this completely frozen, stalled up negotiation, stalled for another reason I can tell you, but then look bit by bit during the course. And then she, you know, she was meeting with the islands and meeting with <inaudible> and meeting of all these people during the day. I was kind of in and out of those meetings, then you essentially gave developing countries a much more important reason for really wanting this thing not to fail.


ML: Right. And the $100 billion is still controversial today, because we haven't quite got there. I think are at 80 billion was the most recent calculations 80 billion, but it became controversial…


TS: Probably higher after some of the new commitments, but anyway, you're right. It's short.


ML: Those commitments, and because there's a new commitment to double the US contribution, but will it hit by 2020? I guess that's the because the…


TS: I mean, none of it hit by 2020 because it's already 2021.


ML: Exactly. So yeah. So, you know, the figure has just recently been published is for 2019, I believe, and it's, it's 79.9 by the OECD. So, it's 80% of the way there, which I regard is pretty darn close. Some others regard as a complete failure. But it became controversial fairly quickly, because of what it measured. And a lot of the developing countries certainly acted like they thought it was supposed to be essentially a grant or a check, even if it's an investment, not a grant, but written by developed world governments rather than a range of financing, including private sector finance.


TS: Yes, they might, they might think they are, but they're just completely totally wrong. And, and it was a it was a core negotiated element of that pledge. And you can look at the language right in the Copenhagen Accord is from all sources, meaning there's a whole string of words that are meant to make it utterly clear which it completely was that this comes from all sources, it's nobody thought that that was going to be all government money. And by the way that started with Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown introduced the idea and right from the get go, it was going to include not purely private in the sense of there's no government involvement, but there's all sorts of ways obviously, as you know, that the government can provide guarantees, it can provide political risk insurance, and can provide all sorts of things that help stimulate the flow of capital. So, it was supposed to be all of it.


ML: Let's see, that's very interesting, because so it's not, but if it's purely private, purely private, then it wouldn't be but as long as it has a guarantee, or one of these kind of multiplier,


TS: Yes, yes. It's got to have government involvement mean, that's not spelled out. But nobody, I haven't seen anybody on the developed, on the donor side, ever say, everything that's done private, and it's everything if you counted that were way over 100 billion that's not the issue. We've never we've never, nobody, I don't think anybody's ever argued that.


ML: And in fact, a few years later, I think it was in Cancun, that Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon explicitly clarified, and he had to actually go in and say, you know, very clearly because there was this kind of, there was this sort of, I wouldn't even call it a rumble. There was this kind of, you know, constant complaint, that it wasn't coming directly from governments.


TS: Yeah, I mean, there's probably still that complaint, it's just that it's not what was ever agreed to.


ML: There was also sort of claims that it all ought to go into the Green Climate Fund or the Green Fund as it was originally called, which was also never discussed. And of course, the…


TS: That was actually it was discussed, actually.


ML: It was discussed, but rejected it presumably?


TS: It was discussed in that famous kind of amazing dinner, I guess, 24 hour meeting that started at 11pm. On the second to last day, I know after dinner with the queen, and they the Danes finally managed to get together, a friends of the chair, a smaller group of like 25 countries, and these were leaders. And Hillary Clinton was there the first day Obama came in the morning on Friday. And when Obama was there, there was a discussion about that point. And it was agreed that's also not what it meant. There were efforts to press to say, well, half the money's got to be from the Green. We didn't know. I mean, we're gonna like something something substantial. We hope, but that's not, that's was not part of the deal, either.



Because that Green Climate Fund, I don't know exactly how big it is. But it's now I don't know, it's somewhere on the order of 10 billion. I mean, you know, that's very small, compared to 100 billion per year, which was the Copenhagen commitment.


TS:  Right, that's true.


ML:  And I lived through the next few years, you know, you did this all over a few dinners in a few days. And then there was a few years of trying to design that fund, and then these, you know, and then clarifying exactly what it would and wouldn't do and, and so on. And I got quite involved in some of those sessions. But leaving Copenhagen, there was then a whole set of other COPs. And actually, I got to be honest, at that time, I was so disillusioned with the whole thing that I wrote a piece called ‘Ya basta’ stop doing COPs. It's actually embarrassing. You know, they're not delivering anything. My clients, the finance community, the debt providers, the equity providers, the developers, the tech companies, they can't use this stuff. And so, it becomes embarrassing. And of course, then I was sort of won around in the process through to Paris, to understanding that the COP process, that kind of UNFCCC process, can actually support the fundamental economics because you and I started to talk probably a few years after Copenhagen, but we were talking about availability of capital, we were talking about learning curves, costs coming down, and it sort of started to come together as then self-reinforcing. It's almost like the cyclone started to spin positively rather than destructively.


TS: Yeah, yeah, I mean there were obviously COPs every year. Some of them were particularly important. I mean Cancun was important because it basically took, the end in Copenhagen without going into a big, big digression, the Copenhagen Accord was not adopted. There was a basically a revolt of by a small number of countries in the final plenary session and you've got to have consensus that's one of the things that makes this so hard because five countries don't agree you're done. But it was taken note of and 130 or 140 countries ultimately indicated by a process or a set up their support for it, but in Cancun it was actually that substance expanded to from two and a half to 30 pages was actually adopted by the COP, so that became official. The next year was really important in in South Africa, in Durban because it agreed to the mandate for what turned out to be the Paris negotiation. So, a mandate for negotiation that was gonna last four years get done in 2015 somewhere. And then, you know, then there were COPs every year, I guess I actually think that the thing that was most important between Durban and Paris was not a COP, but it was the US China negotiations in 2014.


ML: And I wanted to ask you about that, because that was that was really, I agree with, you know, your assessment, you said, well, that was really, it kind of unblocked the drains. And that's certainly the impression that I got so you sort of reinforced that was going to be my next question. What really changed between Copenhagen and Paris? And how important was that US-China deal? Whose idea was that deal? Where did that come from?


TS: So we worked on China from the beginning, I mean, Hillary Clinton's very first trip as Secretary was to Asia and asked me to come with her and made climate change, told all of leadership that she was talking to the climate change one that was one of our top three priorities. So that was good and important. I started relationship with my counterpart, now, John Kerry’s counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in 2009, in March was our first bilateral meeting. And I said to him, right in that meeting, you know, you and I can make this a positive element of our a difficult relationship. And we should try to do that. And because we've always just been antagonists on climate change, we should try to see if we can work together, which didn't happen right away, but it started happening over time. And I, you know, we formed quite a close relationship and met with each other all the time, and I took him to my hometown, and he took me to his hometown, and you know, and we had him over for dinner and all the rest of it. So all of that was going on. Kerry then gets there in 2013. And climate changes has been his issue of the heart, you know, forever, you know, while he was a senator. And he, he went to China in April of 2013. wanted to have an announcement with them, there was one created a Climate Change Working Group between the two countries at a very high level. Obama met with President Xi for the first time, that summer so a bunch of good things more intensive, more higher-level things happening in 2013. January 2014, Kerry calls me into his office and says, basically, what do we do for an encore? We got it, what's the next big thing? And that's one of Kerry's great strengths is that he's just like, he's an action <inaudible>, he wants to do what's, what do we do next? So, I said, you know, let me talk with my team and figure it out. So I did, we came up a day or two later, and I said, what about if, if the two presidents we knew Obama was going to be in China in November, what if they announced there their target for Paris, their targets for Paris together and have a joint announcement and, and Kerry liked that idea, somebody on my team came up with it, I actually doubted it at first, but as we talk, I started to think that my initial reaction was they wouldn't want, Chinese wouldn't want to get out of sync with other developing country friends, but upon further reflection, I thought I think they might look at it as just a very big opportunity for the overall relationship.


ML: Right, because it very much positions them as a sort of group of two leading the world, right?


TS: So the issue wasn't a to position it as, as a group of two, I mean, yes, some people might have looked at it that way, I don't think it ever was that way. Although it was a very important in other words, it wasn't a G2, like nothing else mattered, but it was a very, it was a very important group of two. I also thought that if we could get it done, it would give China a stake in the outcome that would sort of change the mentality from COP succeeds, great COP doesn't succeed, not so bad, as long as nobody blames us. Change it from that to the COP has to succeed. And, you know, there was a, I worked very closely with John Podesta at that point, John was in the White House. So, I was a State guy, he was the White House guy. And, and we worked on that with Kerry, also, obviously, and with Obama, both quite engaged over a nine-month period or so that we managed to keep secret, so that when it was when it happened on November 12, or so, 13th in, in Beijing. It just shocked the entire world. I mean, the press corp had no idea this was coming. And it was, I think it was a sign to every country in the in the Conference of Parties that this thing could actually get done.


ML: And this was one year before Paris. So, when you talk about November, this is November 2014. And, and this is a bombshell. And actually, I've got there's somebody that I'm going to, there's going to be joining me on Cleaning Up in another episode, I think a few weeks or a month or so which David Sandalow. And he was also shuttling to and from I don't know if he was part of the same initiative, but he was certainly very engaged on the China brief, was he not?


TS: Yeah, so I think I think David was at the Department of Energy then if I'm not mistaken. So, he wasn't part of this deal, per se, but he was very, he's always been very active on China.


ML: Yeah, so he was. He was the I think it was sort of global guy on renewables. Okay, and now you say dropped as a bombshell, you kept it secret, but it did actually, kind of, there was a point when it blew up into the public domain because there was some emails from John Podesta, that that revealed the closeness of your relationship with Xie Zhenhua, and the warmth of that relationship, which sounds really quite exceptional.


TS: Yeah, I yeah. It mean it was that those emails weren't written with, with the notion that they were going to become public. But I mean, it was nothing bad about it. I mean, it was, it was, you know, I think, and to this day, we have quite a close relationship.


ML: I read them. And I thought, well, you know, that they read, read for history. I mean, they're actually very, very interesting because they are warm and personal. And they do indicate that there was this journey from maybe a little bit of distrust conspiring at the beginning, but then actually working shoulder to shoulder to get this deal done, which you did.


TS: Yeah, look, I think Copenhagen was a very conflictual time and a very difficult time between the US and China. But then not just the US and China, I think China ended up positioned in that COP in a way that I think they were not comfortable with they were they were at crossroads crosswise with poor, developing countries, island countries, things like that, and that it was not something that they wanted, in my judgement, not something that they wanted to repeat.


ML: And to the extent that it was seen as a sucker punch to the climate process, they took some flack for that, did they not, going back to the Copenhagen?


TS: Well, they did, and it was partly, I think part of that had to do with what did or did not happen in that extraordinary meeting I was telling you about which I mean, I mean, there's the kind of extraordinary events toward the end of that day when President Obama wanted to find premier Wen to try to nail down the last issue or two and was very frustrated because the Chinese said, you know, you just had a room full of leaders and a Chinese sent not even a minister just you know, people from their foreign ministry. So, it was kind of an affront to a lot of leaders there. But in addition, apart from being annoyed, you couldn't get these issues resolved. And President Obama and his team, were trying to find premier Wen wanted to talk to when finally located them. And then Obama crashed the meeting that Wen was having with the leaders of Brazil, South Africa and India. And, you know, with Hillary Clinton and me and a few others. That's when the last two issues got resolved.


ML: Right. So, but if you look at them the difference from that sort of extraordinary and fractious situation, you go forwards to Paris, you've got the US-China agreement, and you've got maybe a new sense of the kind of need to engage. Maybe that's representative of the need to engage on the Chinese side. But what else? What else unblocked? What else helped to unblock those drains? Or to get that that deal through? Because obviously, the technology had changed in… what were the differences?


TS: I think there were a few things, I think that there was a significant change in in technology and the kind of increasingly rapid development of renewables. My colleague from the White House in 2015, in the Paris year, Brian Deese, who's back in the White House now wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs not too long after maybe 2016, 2017. In in Foreign Affairs in which he talked about the change in the economics of clean energy was an underlying not something that people focused on, but it created a greater willingness, a greater openness, I think, to have the agreement done. So, in that respect, I think that was important. You know, I think that that leadership, from Christiana Figueres and from the French team, you know Fabius and, and his team, Laurence Tubiana was all helpful. The steps that had been made along the way in, in some of those Cops that, you know, that I that I mentioned, and the, obviously the US China joint announcement, but also, you know, back after Copenhagen, one of the things that the EU did was to start to form an alliance with progressive and vulnerable countries that was called the Cartagena dialogue in the first instance. And in one way, and that was very important, by the way, in negotiating the mandate for Paris. And in a somewhat different form, the notion of a, of a progressive, Ambition Alliance started to take shape in the months leading up to Paris, this time with US as part of it, and came to be known at Paris as the High Ambition Coalition. That was over 100 countries. And that was also significant. So you had a lot of and you had leaders like Tony, the late Tony de Brum, from the Marshall Islands, who played a big role. So, you had a lot of different factors coming together to make Paris possible.


ML: So on Cleaning Up, I've had a number of the key figures in that process. Yeah, they've already been guests. And some of them have been these incredible women playing leadership roles. So you mentioned that you've got Christiana Figueres, you’ve got Laurence Tubiana, who was actually a couple episodes back, Amber Rudd has been on this show. Catherine McKenna, you talk about the High Ambition Alliance, and I think she you know, she talks about that in her episode of Cleaning Up. And one of the questions that I have posed, because do you think that the fact that there were so many powerful women leaders, Anne Hidalgo, Paris, did that make a difference? Was there a difference in style of leadership? Or is that just kind of over constructing the sort of, or over interpreting?


TS: I don't know to what extent the sort of gender-ness of it mattered it might have I mean, Christiana I think was a tremendously good leader. She was you know, you had a person that she replaced, Yvo de Boer, did a good job also but Christiana just has this, she's like a life force. And you know, she's, she's this tremendously, you know, positive indefatigable leader who's not so much, she's not deep into the substance but she knows the substance fine she’s mostly about rallying people to the cause and not letting them give up.


ML: Right so she's not she's not what I would call a technocratic leader. But she's very difficult to say no to.


TS: Yeh, and I don't think anybody around the world and like the difficulty always in these negotiations was that you know the fact that you had so many, there's a lot of countries there's two big blocks but there's that many, many other smaller groupings that are that are criss-crossing and they're in what they think they need and what they want. And but at the end of the day, you've got to get everybody on board. So, it's really helpful to have somebody in Christiana’s position, who was basically trusted and admired, I think by everybody, I don't think she ever alienated anybody, but she pushed but always in this very positive way. So, I think that was all really useful and, and Laurence was great working with, Laurent Fabius was, was an important leader and, you know, Laurence was kind of his right hand.


ML: So for our listeners and viewers, on the website, you can see links to the episodes with some of these leaders. Laurence Tubiana, episode 54 talks about how she thought through the structuring with the Laurent Fabius early in the process, and Christiana Figueres, episode 6. Now Christiana talks about one thing, which turned out and I think it's continuing to turn out to be incredibly important, was this figure of one and a half degrees, which she sort of told me after the, after the whole process concluded in Paris, that she was a bit surprised that she had managed or that everybody had managed to get in there. What's your recollection of how one and a half degrees arrived? Because it is absolutely changing. And it has changed the debate from, you know, let's push down emissions to net zero, that arises because of one and a half the attempt, to get to one and a half degrees.


TS: Yeah, well, so I guess, let me I would say a couple of things. First of all, sort of still going back to your to your previous question. I mean, I think the other thing that you can't forget, that was important about getting Paris done, you referred to structuring but it but the nature of the agreement. So, the agreement was we you know, with pushing from, from a lot of players was set up on the structure of being nationally determined, which you had to do if you were going to be able to get 195 countries to agree. It was set up on the basis of a kind of legal hybrid, it was a legal agreement, but not everything was legal, because if the targets themselves had been legal, you would have had, you would not have had an agreement, you wouldn't have wouldn't have had all the developing countries agree and frankly, you wouldn't have gotten it through the US Senate. And if you had made it, if you had made it binding in always like that, then there's different kinds of different kinds of agreements, some have to go to the Senate, some don't in the United States. So all of there were a whole litany of issues that were, that had to do with the structuring of the overall agreement that made it possible. On the 1.5, look, what Paris says is the goal is well below two degrees with essentially best efforts to hold to 1.5 with language, making it clear that 1.5 would be preferable. And then you want you want to know you want to know a provision in Paris, that's the mouse that roared that people were not paying a lot of attention to, was a little provision in there, that that calls for the IPCC, the science, the scientific body of the UN, to do a little study about the about 1.5 compared to other, you know, other possibilities. And that became the famous 2018 1.5 report, which is really the thing that started to move the world broadly toward 1.5. The big proponents of 1.5, literally 1.5 in Paris, were the islands and various vulnerable countries who really, really wanted that. We were very keen on and having a solidified alliance with those countries, the High Ambition Alliance that I was talking about. So we were we were fine having it included, the way the way that it was, but I think it's fair to say most people were not so much focused on 1.5 in Paris, fine to put it in the way it was. But then you had the people who really pushed it hard. And then you had the moving of the goalposts after Paris that started with the 1.5 report in 2018. And followed up by other reports, including the most recent one from the IPCC, out in August and then amplified by what we all see around the world every other day. So all of those things. You see all that around the world every other day and we're at 1.1 right now. The notion that 1.5 is crazy, overly, you know, you're there. Go the enviros, you don't need that much. That's just not true.


ML: When you call the 1.5, the mouse that roared, did you have? Did you have any inkling because I suspect that the ratchet mechanism, come back every five years, and the binding parts around disclosure measurement and so on, that probably got a lot of negotiating attention. Was the report on 1.5 just kind of waved through? Or did you realize actually, that that could really be the mouse…


TS: 1.5 itself was not so much the mouse that roared because that was there were people pushing that hard. We were, you know, we were supportive. We weren't pushing it ourselves. We were supportive of it. The thing that I don't think that many people paid attention to, was this little, I forget if it's paragraph 21, or whether it is in the decision accompanying the Paris agreement that says IPCC, let's do this little report by 2018. I didn't focus on that. I mean, I'm sure there were people, somebody put it in there. But I don't think I don't remember that being a been a subject of discussion.


ML: And Christiana in her in her episode, you know, she talks through exactly what happened next. And the fact that actually that the IPCC, which is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science review, their attitude was, you know, holy moly, what are we going to do, we now have to do 1.5 degrees, and they actually will quite almost wrong footed by this demand for some science around 1.5. It's a great episode.


TS: A great story. That's which one, that's Christiana?


ML: Christiana episode six. So now, what happened, you talked about it not being binding. And there was a lot of pushback afterwards, how it's not binding, generally from people who would have refused to accept it had it been binding. And but then, of course, you also got, if we fast forward, you also got President Trump claiming that Paris was going to sort of destroy the US economy, even though it didn't enshrine any requirements that the US didn't volunteer itself.


TS: Well, so remember that the agreement is partly binding, it’s not something that is not binding at all, it's partly binding, right. And then basically all the sort of elements of accountability you have to put into the target, you have to re up it every so often, you can have this whole system of reporting and review and, and the way emissions are accounted for. And all sorts of things in the agreement, are legally binding the targets themselves or not. And as I said, that was the only way to get the agreement done. Because it was going to be nationally determined. And that means obviously countries can put in the targets that they want, we collectively were very concerned about, including as many elements as possible to make sure that the thing would ratchet up. And, and so you have these you just alluded to them. But there's there are actually two different five year cycles or five year cycle. The first one was supposed to be 2020. Now it's 2021, because of COVID, which is when countries are supposed to review their own targets, and hopefully re-up them. There's language that that that that makes it clear that there's an expectation that countries, there's a progression that goes that goes stronger and stronger each five years. Then there's a second sort of staggered five year, every five year event, first one will be 2023, which is so called Global Stocktake, super important, actually, because the idea of the Global Stocktake is that you look at the aggregate, how countries are all doing together compared to what we need to be doing, which meets the need to be means against the Paris goals, but also, really critically, it says right in Paris agreement or the accompanying decision, I forget which, that that part of that Global Stocktake effort has to be a view against the current science against the new IPCC science, not just against the Paris, what the Paris goals were stated to be in 2015, but against what the new science is telling us. And it's going to be enormously important that that’d be a genuine review of how we are doing in reality, not just a box checking exercise, where people look and say, oh, are countries did they do what they said they were going to do on there? No, it's not that it's how is the world doing against what we have to do? And that's every five years, those two things by themselves super important and then you know, you've got the strong goals that were that underlay the whole thing.


ML: So that’s 2023, we’re gonna have Global Stocktake.


TS: 2023, 2028 etc.


ML: And one of the people also have on the show is Jim Skea, Professor Jim Skea, who leads the Working Group Three. And you know, we talked about how that where we are currently headed. We've sort of, we're not on track for the one and a half, but nor are we on track for the five or seven degrees or some of the worst scenarios, we're kind of, we boxed it in, we're somewhere in the middle, which is not good enough. And so that stocktake is almost certain to tell us that we need to double down and do and bend the curve an awful lot more.


TS: Yeah, no, that's true. And that need is a big going to be a big focus of, of this year's COP in Glasgow.


ML: Now, just coming back to the Trump administration, President Trump decides to pull US out. Did that weaken the Paris agreement? Or in some perverse way did it actually strengthen everybody else's resolve? And in fact, even part of the political establishment in the US?


TS: Well, so the answer is yes, in some ways, I think it had that kind of impact. You had just a huge reaction by civil society, by states, cities, you know, We Are Still In movement, like sprung up, like out of the ground, and you know, in three days, and they were, you know, 1000 or 3000, or whatever entities in there, and you had the US Climate Alliance, which I think has 25 or so states. And they're certainly, yes, that was helpful. But if but if you ask, but if I could trade it, I mean, it wasn't so helpful that you look and say, well, actually, it was good that that happened. No, it was bad that that happened, it was bad in every possible way for the United States, including climate change that Trump happened.


ML: Right. And just We’re Still In, you say it sprang out of the ground with a little help from my former boss, and acquirer of New Energy Finance, Mike Bloomberg should be…


TS: Not a little help, a lot of help.


ML: A big figure in putting that together and clearly represented a grassroots feeling. Okay, so, because one of the questions about whether it was good or bad, has to be seen through the current lens, you know, the US is now back in under President Biden. Is the US seen and should it be seen already as a good partner? Or has that episode caused permanent damage to the value of the US’ word in the climate negotiations elsewhere?


TS: Yeah, look, I think it's a little bit complicated. I think the US is seen as a good partner. I think that what Biden the Biden team led by Secretary Kerry is doing is I think is appreciated. I think that countries were super eager to have the US come back, they were hoping against hope that the Trump, a long nightmare of the Trump regime was going to be just four years,

Yeah, basically, you're asking is the US back to being a good partner? Yeah. And I think the US is back to being a good partner. If you look at what the Biden administration is doing and has done, they're completely all out on this, I mean, that the target itself that they put forward for 2030 50 to 52% cut compared to 2005 is, is a very strong kind of on the programme of keeping 1.5 alive, if you will. And that was good and but it's not just a matter of putting forward that target. They're there. They're just flat out to get these two big pieces of legislation. I won't go into the details of those but it's completely obsessing Washington right now through Congress, I think that we're going to I mean, it's gonna be close that we have a razor thin majority of Democrats. But I think that now, they're not going to go through exactly as they're on the table right now. But I think that they will go through significant and they have climate change is not siloed off in its own, you know, in its own sort of world. It's part of this overall package, which covers broad elements of the economy, infrastructure and so forth. And would make the, would position us to be able to carry out the 50% pledge, effectively. So, I think that's really important. Kerry has been going all over the world talking to talking to people, I think that there's a good team there. So, I think yes, I think the US is seen as, as an important partner now. Now, people, do people continue to have anxiety about what happens next? What if, God forbid, Trump comes back? Or what if the republicans win or whatever? And there's no simple way to answer that question. I mean, the US has a system where we have elections every four years. And you don't know for sure what's going to happen. But I think that that it is the mission of the Biden administration to get as much going in ways that will be hard to reverse as humanly possible.


ML: Right, and so that legislation you talked about those are the infrastructure bills, and then there was this presidential, I think, was a presidential decree fairly early to say that climate is going to be central, and it's going to be overarching across every area of government, it was an extraordinary declaration, was it not?


TS: Yes. And I think that's happening. I mean, I think that that's really happening in this administration. And you have Kerry on the international side, you have Gina McCarthy, leading the domestic effort in the White House, she was head of EPA, she's, uh, she's her own kind of force of nature, she's great. And you have a lot of commitment in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency and many other parts of the government, you have a lot of commitment at the Treasury Department where Janet Yellen is, is leading the way. So, it is a whole of government effort. And it's and it's not, I mean, the politics of climate change have changed really, pretty dramatically at this point in 2016. Even on the Democratic side, we looked at the Democratic primaries, nobody was talking very loud about climate change. By 2020, it was one of the two biggest political issues on the Democratic side. So that gives, you know, public attitudes, what the public thinks, and what business thinks and what civil society thinks and what they show in their behavior is always enormously important in dealing with this issue, you know, I frequently say from the point of view of innovation, policy and finance, check, check, check, we can do all the things we need to make this transition, this sort of huge transition at scale and speed that we need. The issue is always political will, political will, which is also influenced by public attitudes. So that's changing. And I think that Biden is all in, so we have to see what happens, but


ML: Throughout this process, there's always been within the Republicans, there's always been some bubbling away of, of at least sort of interest and willingness to, to at least, you know, tolerate the idea that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. I would say that I'm getting signals that it's bubbling slightly closer to the surface. Now, I won't say it's broken through and the Republican Party has its own huge issues. But it does seem that there is an acceptance that even in amongst some Republicans that they're going to have to have a story here.


TS: Well, I so look, I think that on the one hand, I think that that's true. I mean, if you go back to the original cap and trade bill, not the one that that Obama put forward, but a few years before that was by McCain, was proposed by McCain-Lieberman, so McCain, John McCain was a Republican, and it was not a dirty word back then. It became much, much more polarized over the time that Obama was in office before Trump got there. So frequently ridiculed and laughed at by Republicans. It was a good laugh line at big republican rallies. You know, I thought before Trump was elected, and before Trump was even nominated, I had said that I thought that the next Republican nominee would not be able to cast aside climate change if there already had been that much movement. Okay, so I was super wrong. Trump came, Trump came in, and Trump has the effect of Trump and the degree to which Trump owns the Republican Party now makes it hard for people of the sort that you're talking about who certainly exist. I mean, I don't know if the number is 15 or 20 or what in the in the Senate, among Republicans who know climate change is real and that something's got to happen. And I don't know what the numbers are in the House, but there are plenty, but they're not putting the foot forward right now when, you know, Trump is ready to blow it off with a shotgun. And so, yes, then if you look, look at College Republicans, right? You find many, many more people who recognize that something has to be done, although even in that case what be tend to see with Republicans who recognize that something needs to get done is a level of gradualism. And go slow that is completely antithetical to what we need to be doing right now. Gradualism as much as anything else is the enemy.


ML: Right, right now, we are about 30 days as we film this, we're 30 days shy of COP 26 in Glasgow. It won't be perhaps as big as and as important as Paris, but it's going to be the biggest COP since Paris because it's that five year not the Global Stocktake but it's when the new nationally determined contributions, the plans have to be lodged. It's been delayed for a year, there's a huge amount of work that has gone into preparation. What are your expectations? Are you are you optimistic, pessimistic? Are you're going to miss it? What are your thoughts?


TS: Again, to miss it, like I wish I was there? Is that what you mean?


ML: Well, are you gonna… Are you going to be… you're not going to be the chief negotiator.


TS: So I'm not going to be there. But look, the biggest focus for this COP. There’s a few things going on in this COP but the being central focus is ambition, it's the first time that there has been a moment, actual moment called for in Paris, and one of these five year cycles that we've talked about where countries are supposed to be putting forward new targets, that also incorporates the movement of the goalposts from below two to 1.5, which we've talked about, we talked about earlier. So you have this tremendous sense of urgency about the need to like, do way better than we're doing right now. Right? I mean, emissions have gone up, not down since Paris. So, you have all of that going on, you have some very positive signs. UK as a huge target, I think it's 68%, or something reduction, the EU has a very good target 55% reduction, and, and a whole regulatory programme that they're working on to put that in place. As I already said, the US announced at the Biden climate summit in April 50 to 52% cut, obviously there's many other countries, Japan has made good noises Canada, there various others who have who have, who have spoken, and many smaller ones who have smaller countries. The big missing factor so far with respect to Glasgow, and greatly ramped up the ambition now in this decade, which is what we need is China. And there's are there's sort of two big numbers, there's a longer-term number those countries talk about usually is net zero 2050. China last year, Xi Jinping announced carbon neutrality before 2060. Not quite good enough, but very good movement in the right direction. But in order for, for there to be a real chance to get to net zero, and to enter hold to 1.5, or even close to 1.5, you need to move now. So that's the ‘now’ focus is what is it was what is central to Glasgow, what are you going to do in the 2020s this decade between now and 2030. And China has not, has not said anything other than a very kind of mealy mouth, you know, we, one of our targets for that we announced in Paris was to peak our emissions by around 2030. So they actually argue with the straight face that when they say well, no, we've changed that we've done this big thing. Now we say by 2030, excuse me, I'm sorry, but by 2030 means Christmas 2029 it'll be okay. That's not very different from what they've already said. And it is certainly true that it's a big challenge for China to. It's a big challenge for lots of people to move. And in China keeping its emissions they’re 27% of global emissions now, China is bigger than the entire OECD. All developed countries put together are not as big as China in emissions right now. You just can't get there without China taking a bigger step they did something very good. Just about a week ago, Xi Jinping indicated they are going to stop funding, stop building new coal basically on the Belt and Road, their initiative, their infrastructure initiative around the world, stop, building new coal abroad, I think it's what he said. That's good. We don't exactly know what he means by new and we don't know whether it build also includes finance, but it was a good step. But doesn't talk about what they're doing at home, they're still building coal at home. And, and their emissions, you know, are still going up. So we can't get anywhere without China, China is going to be really central. Other elements of the COP? You know, there's a few pieces of what came to be called the Paris ruleboo,k got done in 2018, didn't all the way get done. So, there's a couple of things that they're trying to get done there, there's, you know, there's part of COPs these days are the event and the event in the sense of bringing business together, bringing civil society, bringing, bringing young people on the streets, all of that stuff to apply pressure and momentum, that's all good.


ML: But my sense is that that event around, there'll be so many people pledging net zero that that event, you know, the celebratory part of it will probably, you know, exceed expectations. But I worry you, you've talked about China and that China has to step up. To what extent do we have a slightly different problem, which would be around, broadly speaking, India and Africa, also some other developing countries, because you go back to Kyoto, where we started where you started. And its big weakness was it didn't bind China in any way, you talked about the difference between developed and developing. And we subsequently saw this huge ramping of emissions from China. And so the developed world quite rightly sort of said, okay, we got to start again, that's not the way if you look at who has not pledged zero, not even by 2060 those countries cover about 60% of global population. And I guess the question to you is, you know, should we be worrying? You know, yes, we worry about China. But isn't there a second risk that those countries India and others actually see that surging emissions you know, we sort of work really hard buying China into it, but then actually the problem comes from those countries and that huge population?


TS: Well, look, I think that there's that that you're completely right to also focus on those countries it is I mean, India's about 7% of global emissions You know, I think it goes I think the next country after that is about 3%. And then you know, one and a half percent in Indonesia and Brazil, countries like that. All of Africa is small compared to others but as a as a from a point of view of how development works if it if they develop brown rather than green yeah, absolutely that can be a problem. But and I agree with India for sure, I would say about India that Modi has, has a very impressive renewable energy targets but they've got to also you know, wind down their coal and start bending their curve but it is also important to recognise that India is a quarter of the size of China I mean, China is just that large and I also think that if you if you got the big three all moving in the right direction, big three being US, EU China I think that that would end with and China saying okay, we're going to do XYZ things and really start to bend the curve down rather than just kind of up and then plateau in this decade. I think that would put a lot more pressure than anybody else can put just de facto the likes of India and other and other major developing countries and would provide kind of leadership example to the whole world that I think is not everything there is to say about dealing with the problem that you just raised but would be important. One other thing I want to say though, because I don't want to lose it is that I do think that there is a real important element of this whole equation which involves finance and which involves getting finance you know, the thing that you and I've talked about this for a long time, it's been a difficult it's a it's a you know, it's a problem that nobody has solved yet but getting private capital moving into the into the developing world is something that just has to get done in a bigger way. Everybody talks right now the focus is all on how we get to the 100 billion is it 85? Is it 91? Is at 92? Well, yes, we have to get to the 100 billion, because donor countries promised that, they got to keep their promise. But the need for capital to be flowing, by the way, whether it's just private capital, whether you get things you get a good enough enabling environment, good enough instruments, financial instruments, and such that, develop that, you know, private capital is starting to flow into countries without any further activity on the part of developed countries. Eventually, that's fine, too. I don't care, what you need is the money flowing. But it mostly won't flow without a lot of developed country input, both in terms of providing more actual capital, but also, but also putting together the instruments that need to be put together and working with developing countries to create the enabling environments that will attract capital in and the thing is, you look at a country here, a country there that you might think like, well, how does that ever happen? You know, Nicaragua attracts all sorts of capital for renewable energy and, and in Morocco, and this one, and that one, because they do the things that are needed to make that capital welcome but developed countries together, working with the international financial institutions and working with the private sector, and working with developing countries who really do have to do this enabling environment stuff. This is really critical. And we're not I don't think we're going to get there. We're not we're not going to get the ambition even unless we show that we're serious about this stuff.


ML: Todd, that was fantastic. Because my final question was going to be one of the, you know, any advice or what should we be focusing on? And you sort of said it there, which is the China finance, and really about reforms within the developing countries to make them attractive for that finance? If we move those three things forwards, then we're going to see a lot of progress.


TS: I think that's right. But so I think that there is a huge amount that has to be done by developed countries. And also some that has to be done by developing if we can evolve and we're not there yet. If the if the kind of culture of the UNFCCC can evolve toward less us against them, and more, we've got to work together to get this done. It's easy to say hard to do, but that would be very meaningful.


ML: Fantastic. And I think on that note, I'm going to thank you for spending the better part of an hour with us here today. I shall miss you in, I will be going to COP 26 I'll be organizing a whole series of conversations at a side event at a venue. And I look forward to touching base with you afterwards and comparing notes. It's been a great pleasure talking to you as always Todd.


TS: Yeah, yeah, same here. Thank you for having me on the programme. Michael. Thanks a lot.


ML: So that was Todd Stern, who led the US delegation in 2015 to COP 21, where the Paris Climate Agreement was negotiated. My guest next week is Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Professor Dame Julia King. She's an engineering professor who sits as a crossbench member of the House of Lords here in the UK. She's also Chair of the Subcommittee on Adaptation of the Climate Change Committee and chairs the Carbon Trust. Please join me this time next week for conversation with Julia King.