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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Call Briefing on the Paris Climate Change Summit


Via Conference Call  

1:37 P.M. EST

MR. PRICE:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for joining this call.  We wanted to convene it to discuss what you can expect early next week as the President goes to Paris for the climate summit.  This call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.  We have today two senior administration officials.  We have Ben Rhodes, who is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, and we also have from the NSC, Paul Bodnar, who is the Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change.

So, again, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion.  And with that, I'll turn it over to Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  I'll just start by giving you an overview of the President’s schedule.  First, I'd just note that the pursuit of an international effort to combat climate change has been a hallmark of the President’s foreign policy and international engagement.

Of course, at the center of our effort to combat climate change is our own domestic Climate Action Plan.  But in his international engagements, the President has worked hard to secure commitments from other countries with respect to reducing their emissions, and also supporting a Green Climate Fund that can facilitate the type of development that allows us to combat climate change while also allowing countries to continue to lift people out of poverty.

He, of course, is focused on the other major economies in much of his efforts to include achieving the agreement with China last year, related to their efforts to combat the rise of emissions, and support an ambitious outcome here in Paris.  He’s also worked with countries as varied as Brazil and India and others to secure their support for an ambitious agreement heading into Paris.  And of course, this was a focus of his recent trip to Asia, where we're going to need to secure the cooperation of many countries at various stages of development in order to achieve a successful outcome in Paris.  

The President will be leaving on Sunday, arriving late Sunday night in Paris.  Then, on Monday, he will begin his day Monday morning with a bilateral meeting with President Xi of China.  Clearly, U.S. cooperation with China is absolutely essential to successful efforts to combat climate change.  I think the two leaders meeting at the beginning of this process, as the two largest emitters, sends a strong message to the world about their shared commitment to combat climate change and to achieve an ambitious agreement.

Then the President will participate in the opening ceremony of COP21.  And then the President will participate and give a statement in the session in which several heads of state and government will be speaking.  

President Hollande will then host a lunch for the leaders.  Following that lunch, the President will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India.  And we've been engaging with India throughout the year in determining how they can contribute constructively to a successful outcome in Paris, first during the President’s trip to India, then most recently, in a bilateral meeting in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, and in the discussions the President had with Prime Minister Modi on the margins of the recent summits that they both attended.

You can expect that there will be additional engagements that the President will have during the trip, so I'd just note that this is not an exhaustive list, these are just the meetings we currently have scheduled.

Later that night, the President will have a dinner with President Hollande at the Élysée Palace.  This will be an opportunity for the two of them to review the progress being made in the climate discussions; also to continue the discussions that they had today about the counter-ISIL campaign.  President Hollande will have traveled to Moscow, will have met with Chancellor Merkel as well, and so they’ll have an opportunity to review our ongoing efforts to strengthen the counter-ISIL campaign and to accelerate efforts to roll back ISIL, and to cooperate to disrupt Paris activity across Europe.

That working dinner will conclude the President’s day.  The next morning, the President will convene a meeting of island nations who are most at risk from the threat of climate change.  This will include the leaders of the Seychelles, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, St. Lucia and Barbados.  This will highlight the stakes involved at the Paris talks given the existential challenge that these countries face from rising sea levels.

And then the President will have a press conference before he departs Paris and returns to the United States.

And again, we may have additions to the schedule, but this is the current plan.

Before turning it over to my colleague here, I'd just note that we'll be joined by several other administration officials who will be participating at various parts of the COP21.  This will include Secretaries Jewell, Kerry, Moniz, and Vilsack, as well as Administrator McCarthy, and the NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.

Secretary Kerry will accompany the President during the leaders meeting to kick off COP21.  We also anticipate that he'll be traveling back to Paris for the second week of the discussions.  We anticipate that the discussions will go for two weeks.

Secretary Jewell will focus on resilience efforts and the innovative strategies that are being used to combat climate change.  Secretary Vilsack will speak about food security and how to pursue agriculture that allows us to feed populations but combat climate change.  Secretary Moniz and Administrator McCarthy will both be in Paris during the middle portion of COP21 where they will be able to deliver remarks and engage the many stakeholders who will be in Paris.  And then, of course, Secretary Moniz will also lead efforts surrounding Innovation Day in Paris, which spotlights the clean energy technology that's going to be necessary and long-term sources to combat climate change.

So with that, I will turn it over to my colleague.

MR. BODNAR:  Thanks, Ben.  I'm just going to spend a couple minutes to provide a broader framing for the negotiations and what we hope to get out of them.  

So the Paris climate conference is the culmination of a long negotiating process toward a new global climate agreement.  We see it as a chance for the world to take a big step forward and drive towards a long-term solution to a problem that, as the President has emphasized, poses a clear and present threat to our economic and national security.  

The President has had a clear and consistent set of objectives on global climate talks since he came into office.  He, of course, has led by example, as Ben mentioned, by driving down carbon pollution at home even as we've had 68 consecutive months of job growth.  

On the international stage, we knew a new approach would be needed to rally all nations to take action.  We absorbed the hard lessons of Kyoto and heeded bipartisan concerns.  We concluded that climate targets should be set by countries themselves, not imposed on them; that all countries should be expected to act even though developing countries faced unique challenges; and that we should expect strong transparency and accountability from all countries.  That's the deal this administration has been fighting for.

As we head into Paris we've already seen tremendous progress, thanks to U.S. leadership.  The landmark U.S.-China joint announcement of climate targets by our leaders last November marked a new era in climate diplomacy.  And we now live in a new reality where China has pledged to peak its emissions, to bring online a gigawatt of clean energy every week through 2030, to implement a national cap and trade plan, and to provide billions of dollars in climate finance to poorer nations.

And following our lead, 170 countries, representing 90 percent of global emissions, have now put forward post-2020 targets.  And independent analysis shows that these targets will significantly bend down the global emissions curve, limiting global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, compared to 4.1 to 4.8 degrees that would happen without action.

Now, that's important and unprecedented progress, but still above the 2 degree threshold that the scientific community acknowledges is necessary to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.  And that's really why Paris is important.  Building on this momentum, our task in Paris is to secure a long-term framework in which countries set successive rounds of targets into the future, beyond 2030, and ratchet down their carbon emissions over the course of the coming decades in the context of strong transparency and accountability provisions. 

That kind of agreement would drive ambitious reductions in the decades to come and put us on track to keeping global warming below the 2 degree threshold.  Importantly, it would also show investors that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future, which is exactly the signal the private sector needs to go all in on renewable energy technologies, create new markets and new jobs.

Now, for the many low-income countries whose emissions are negligible but are most vulnerable to climate impacts, Paris also needs to deliver support to build their resilience and help grow their economies without high levels of carbon pollution that concerns us all.

So, as you would expect ahead of a two-week negotiation among 195 countries, there is a lot of hard work ahead.  But the United States will be in a leadership role throughout the conference to make sure we carry through the momentum we already have and work towards an ambitious and durable agreement.

MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Paul.  Let me make just one more comment before we move to questions, which is obviously President Obama is attending the beginning of this process.  It was the French determination of the host that heads of state and government should come at the outset.  We believe that provides an opportunity to generate momentum for a successful outcome.  By attending the summit, delivering his remarks, but also meeting with two of the most parties -- India and China -- and by convening the island nations to elevate the stakes, the President I think intends to generate momentum toward the successful outcome while leaving behind a significant number of his senior officials to participate in the ongoing negotiations.

So we see his role as focused on bringing together the world’s leading economies to signal that they’re going to do their part while also elevating a sense of urgency in Paris, including through his meeting with the island states, and then having key Cabinet officials and, of course, our negotiator, Todd Stern, work through the whole two weeks, hopefully to achieve a successful framework.  

With that, we'll move to questions.

Q    Thanks for holding the call.  One very quick question, and one little follow-up.  The quick, simple one is, is there a chance if things go surprisingly well that Obama would come back at the end?  Obviously Copenhagen had a different architecture.  

But the more important question relates to that last assertion about these 2020 to 2030 targets and achieving -- avoiding something more than 2.7 degrees warming.  But the actual path to getting there involves such deep carbonization that some are saying there’s a huge gap in the process, that there isn’t nearly enough focus on innovation and science boosting the capacity in 2020 to 2030 to do the bigger piece later on these things without a bigger push on R&D and all that kind of stuff and it's silly to think that these short-term tweaks are sufficient.

MR. RHODES:  Sure, I’ll answer the first question.  We would not anticipate President Obama returning to Paris.  You cite the Copenhagen example, and I do think that that is what guided the French determination.  I was there with the President in Copenhagen -- by the time he arrived and many heads of state arrived, things had already essentially unraveled and had to be put back together at the last minute.  I think the goal here is to give a push at the head-of-state level at the beginning of the process, and then rely on Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz and others to finalize the various details.

On your second question, that is the focus of our efforts.  And I’ll turn it over to my colleague.

MR. BODNAR:  Thanks.  We certainly do believe that innovation on clean energy is a key aspect of our strategy going forward and is something the President will emphasize and other leaders will emphasize in Paris on the first day.

The targets that we have on the table so far extend to 2025 or 2030.  And I think everyone understands that while those targets are an important next step -- and it’s unprecedented that we have 170 countries having come forward with these targets -- that it’s not, by itself, enough to limit warming to 2 degrees, as you noted, and that it will need to be complemented by targets into the future, which is exactly what we are driving towards.  And the Paris agreement is a framework that will encourage the most ambitious possible action by the broadest possible set of actors and the transparency provisions needed to make sure we all understand -- each of us understands what the other is doing.

So a combination of that policy framework provided by Paris, plus a greater focus on innovation and clean energy are important components of the solution.

MR. RHODES:  And clearly, this is a framework that has to be achieved among governments and targets set by governments, but at the same time, clearly there’s a significant role for the private sector to play in developing the type of clean energy innovation that’s going to help us achieve ambitious targets.

And so throughout the COP21 process, there will be a seat at the table for private sector actors as well, just as the private sector can play a role in helping to finance the clean energy development among some of the developing countries that are going to need assistance to transform their economies in order to avoid the type of carbon-heavy emissions that characterized development in the 20th century.

Q    Hi, thank you very much.  Ben, I know the focus is climate, but given that it is going to be in Paris, there is this overlay of everything else that’s happening here today.  Can you address what tangible results came from today’s meeting, or whether today’s incident with the airliner -- with the Russian airliner basically derailed any hope of -- any French hope of getting a better coalition between France, Putin and the United States against ISIS?

MR. RHODES:  Well, first of all, Andrea, look, there was no change in the outcome of the discussion based on the incident involving the Russian aircraft.  I think what you saw today was unity between President Obama and President Hollande in their determination to counter ISIL.  The French continue to indicate their interest in accelerating their air campaign and efforts to target ISIL.  

I think both leaders were calling upon other coalition members to provide additional contributions going forward.  There are roles that nations can play in contributing to the air campaign and supporting the opposition that is on the ground, and also, importantly, as the President said in his remarks, improving intelligence cooperation and information sharing.  So, for instance, the European Union can play a constructive role by implementing the agreement that would require airlines to share passenger information so that we’re better able to track the movement of people who might raise a concern given potential ties to terrorism.  

And so, in terms of the counter-ISIL campaign and efforts to go after ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and in terms of our intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation, we want to see enhanced contributions and cooperation among the coalition countries coming out of these discussions with President Hollande and the discussions that the President had on his trip.  And I think that will be an ongoing process as different European countries review what contributions that they might be able to make.

With respect to Russia, again, I think you saw a unified position among the United States and France that was not new today.  France has taken the same position that we have in the Vienna process, which is that Assad needs to go as a part of a political transition.  And so both leaders were able to reiterate that today.  

And with respect to Russia, the clear message is that Russia can play a constructive role in the counter-ISIL coalition provided they focus their military operations against ISIL and not against the type of moderate elements of the opposition who will need to be a part of the Vienna process.  And also, Russia can play a constructive role by supporting a transition in which Assad relinquishes power as a part of the timeline that was set in Vienna.

Those are really I think the two important things that Russia can do to truly join the global effort against ISIL -- again, focus their military operations against ISIL and support a political transition that involves Assad relinquishing power.

The incident involving the Russian aircraft, President Obama spoke to that.  We obviously have a longstanding and enduring support for the security of our ally, Turkey.  At the same time, both President Hollande and President Obama also indicated their belief that now is the time for Russia and Turkey to deescalate the situation, to engage in a dialogue, and to de-conflict these types of operations.

So that work will be ongoing, but I’m sure President Hollande will deliver the type of message that he carried today here in Washington when he sees President Putin in Moscow.  

Q    Hi.  Thanks.  Just a couple other questions on the President’s schedule in Paris.  One, is there any chance he would do any non-climate-related events, just to take note of the recent happenings in Paris?  And also, are you expecting additional multilateral or bilaterals during his stay there?

MR. RHODES:  So I’m sure that he’ll want to mark the recent terrorist attack and pay tribute to the people of Paris.  We see, as the President said today, the fact that Paris, so soon after these attacks, is hosting this important summit of world leaders as a clear sign of strength and resilience in the face of terrorists, that we will not be deterred from doing the important work that the world demands because of the actions of a number of terrorists.  I think President Obama will speak to this.

I don’t want to indicate specific events beyond that.  And obviously, I think the French will determine how at the summit the victims of the recent attacks are appropriately honored.

In terms of other meetings, I would anticipate the President will have other engagements, either with some of the other world leaders who are in attendance, some of the other stakeholders who are in attendance.  His objective is going to be to do whatever is useful in building support for an effective and ambitious agreement. 

And so we’ll keep you posted on any additional engagements he has.  We did want to send a clear signal in meeting with China and meeting with India, as well as meeting with France as the host country, that he is going to be working with the key players here to try to get this done.  But if there are additional engagements with governments or other stakeholders, it’s certainly something that he’ll be willing to do.  And we’ll keep you updated.

Q    Hi.  Thanks for holding the call.  Congressional Republicans have vowed to block money pledged to the Green Climate Fund, even threatening to attach the measures to the omnibus.  Will this jeopardize negotiations or hurt the U.S.’s image with developing countries like India?  And also, if this were attached to the omnibus and it reached the President’s desk, would he veto it?

MR. BODNAR:  Thanks.  I’ll take that one.  So, as we’ve made clear, the Green Climate Fund is a priority for the President.  And we have seen encouraging signs, with Republicans joining a bipartisan vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee markup this summer.  The omnibus encompasses the entire federal government budget.  So there are many administration priorities that we’re monitoring as Congress continues its work on this bill.  And we don’t want to get too far ahead of the negotiations as they move forward, but it is a clear priority for the President.

Q    Hey, guys.  Thanks for having the call.  I’m wondering specifically if there have been any discussions about a sideline conversation with President Putin.  And, Ben, I know you talked a little bit at the end about how the President is hoping to generate momentum here, and I’m wondering if you could talk about -- I know in Asia your guys’ TPP message and pivot message was kind of understandably drowned out by what happened in Paris -- and if there’s any concern that the terrorism discussions that are obviously going to take place here might do that again to the kind of climate messaging that you guys want to get out.

MR. RHODES:  I don’t know exactly what President Putin’s specific plans are.  Generally, when the President is at summits and President Putin is there, they have opportunities to speak to one another.  We don’t have anything formally planned with him at this time.

Look, on your second question, we’re not engaged in this work just for the purpose of drawing attention to issues.  The President is focused on getting things done.  In Asia, even as, appropriately and understandably, much of the attention was on the recent terrorist attacks, we have a TPP agreement with 40 percent of the global economy that sets high standards for trade, and if we are able to ratify that through Congress, that will have a lasting and positive benefit, we believe, on both the economic and national security position of the United States.

If we are able to achieve an ambitious framework agreement in Paris to combat climate change, that will have a lasting and positive effect on future generations of people in the United States and around the world. 

So President Obama is focused on achieving outcomes here that will endure long after whatever the focus of the day is, just as on the counter-ISIL campaign we’re focused on achieving the objective of degrading and destroying ISIL, which will of course take time, as well.

So again, I know that in the press of the day a lot of the focus is on where is the attention, but the United States of America is capable of doing many things at once.  We’re capable of waging a relentless campaign against ISIL even as we are completing a TPP agreement, and even as we are pursuing an international climate agreement.  And all of those things are necessary for the security and prosperity of the American people going forward.

We’re not going to stop pursuing efforts to combat international climate change in the face of one threat where we’re able to do both.  We’re able to wage war against ISIL and pursue an international climate agreement.  And I think that was the clear message from the two Presidents today.

Q    Hi, thanks for holding the call.  Just to go back to the meetings with India and China at the start of the meeting.  Is there any chance of any new announcements -- I know there were already some joint statements, but can we expect to hear anything more just to kind of add that momentum at the beginning?  

MR. BODNAR:  The purpose of these meetings is to make sure that leaders are on the same page about our objectives and strategy going into these final two weeks of negotiation, not to make announcements, per se.  

These two countries are two of our most important partners in dealing with global climate change.  The President has had a number of engagements with each leaders over the course of this year.  We’ve built an important partnership with China over the last couple of years on climate, and have worked closely with -- the President has worked closely with Prime Minister Modi, as well.

So the purpose of these meetings is not to make announcements, but to have a chance to consult, consider the issues that will be negotiated in those two weeks, and coordinate to ensure that we reach our goal of a successful agreement.

MR. RHODES:  And I also think that many of the other countries look to what the big players are doing and what messages they are sending as they finalize their own positions.  And if you look at President Obama’s recent engagements, he’s talked to all of our key European allies about Paris.  He’s talked to the leaders of not just China and India, but also South Africa and others about these efforts.

So part of this is also what are we doing on a bilateral basis with these countries, but also how can we make sure that everybody is conveying the same sense of urgency and sending the same messages to other parties of the negotiation that now is the time to make tough decisions and get things done.  And again, that was the message the President had in his engagements over the course of his last trip, as well.

Q    Hi there, gents.  Just a two-part question on the meeting with the island leaders that the President will be holding.  I just wondered, firstly, will you be able to reassure them over the amount of climate finance that will be coming to them, because I know that’s a key concern for them.  And secondly, what is the administration’s view on how that should be spent?  I mean, for example, there’s the possibility of movement of people from low-lying islands such as Kiribiti, and yet the U.N. convention does not cover people who flee countries due to natural disasters such as cyclones.  Is there a view on whether a new framework can be set up to deal with those kinds of issues?

MR. BODNAR:  Thanks.  We have worked very closely indeed with the island countries, and the President’s meeting in Paris builds on that cooperation.  We certainly are very concerned about the threats that climate change poses to these nations, and we and other countries have ramped up climate assistance for climate adaptation for the most vulnerable countries to ensure that they are getting support as they seek to adapt to the effects of climate change, as well as move their economies forward on a clean and green basis.

Climate finance has increased globally in the last few years, and we’re on track to meet the goals that we set in Copenhagen for 2020.  And we consider it important to balance the investments we’re making across the adaptation and the clean energy and also forest areas, so that we’re not only dealing with climate impacts today and helping the poorest countries do that, but we’re also making the investments necessary to prevent even greater harms in the future.

So islands have a special role in the process and they have a special importance to play.  And we will continue to focus on building our partnership with them.

Q    Yes, hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  Can you address the architecture of the deal?   And we still hear the word “binding” being thrown around, and since the President has made it clear it won’t be a treaty that requires ratification, how do you see the deal as binding participants?  And secondly, can you identify what you think the largest stressor is in terms of getting a good deal, where the biggest hurdles are?

MR. BODNAR:  So, look, we support a strong and ambitious agreement that holds countries accountable for the emission target that they take on.  And the system that we’ve advocated for, where some provisions are legally binding but targets themselves are not, is the one that we believe is designed to maximize ambitious action from the broadest range of countries.  That, in fact, is the lesson from Kyoto and other previous approaches.

Strong transparency provisions are essential, and we’re for that.  And I think the success of this new approach, even in anticipation of Paris, is reflected in the fact that, as I noted earlier, 170 countries have now come forward with targets, far greater participation than we’ve ever seen before.

So that’s our approach to the architecture of the agreement. One thing we think is really important is that it be a long-term solution, not a stopgap; that we create the mechanics for regular updating of these targets over time, and that there are incentives and transparency provisions that allow emissions to be ratcheted down over the coming decades.  

MR. RHODES:  And I’d just add that this will be worked out in the negotiation and there will be elements that are binding on nations, even as the broader framework and the targets won’t have the same legally binding effect. 

But the point here is that we need to have the broadest set of countries engaged in this if it’s going to be successful.  That was the lesson from Copenhagen, which is that if you restrict this to a certain form, you will likely be limited to the Kyoto countries or even a small number of countries.  And it’s not simply a question of the United States coming to the table, it’s a question of whether China and India and Brazil and other major emitters are a part of this framework.

And so what we’ve done is we’ve broadened the scope of the countries that are participating in this global effort.  And what we can do is have very strong transparency and accountability provisions so there’s a mechanism to determine if countries are standing by and behind their commitments going forward, even as you have in place the framework that can ensure that we can hit ambitious targets in terms of emissions reduction, and provide an ambitious level of support to developing countries to support the successful effort to combat climate change.

Q    Hi.  That last question was a little bit my question, but I also just wanted to hear you reiterate why this doesn’t require approval in the Senate as a treaty would.

MR. RHODES:  So the negotiations are actually ongoing, and we have a tough two weeks ahead of us, so it is premature to judge what an agreement’s ultimately legal form will be.  So our focus is on, as we have said, landing an agreement that balances out inclusion and coverage and also maximizes ambition.  We certainly are not at the point where we know what the agreement will say and what its provisions will be in detail.  We will certainly review that.  When it’s finished, we’ll evaluate the final agreement, and whatever we do will be in accordance with the law.

MR. RHODES:  And I’d just add that we have been consulting with members of Congress throughout this process.  We’ll certainly be in consultation with members of Congress during and after these negotiations.  Our objective is to achieve an ambitious framework agreement that can address a problem that is an urgent economic and national security concern for the United States and the rest of the world.  And we believe that Congress needs to recognize the urgency of confronting international climate change, and that Congress needs to be a part of the long-term effort to address this challenge.  

Now, again, what form the agreement will take, we will see at the outcome of the Paris talks.  But as we’ve indicated here before, we believe that there may be elements that are binding on countries but elements that are not, and that would make this different from other types of treaties that are internationally negotiated.

We’ll end there.  And we’ll keep you updated as we head into the discussions.

2:17 P.M. EST