Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to BiH Maureen Cormack Conference “Bosnia and Herzegovina – Road to COP21

Ministers, Ambassador Bodonyi, Ambassador Sinanoglu, and distinguished guests –

As 190 countries prepare for the COP 21 event in Paris next week, we are gathered here today to consider the context of what is at stake when we discuss climate change, and focus on how we can ensure success in Paris and here in BiH.

As we begin, I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the origins of the COP events. “The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty with almost universal membership, that was negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

Climate Change Impact

Often people hear the term ‘climate change’ and think we’re just talking about ice caps or the harm caused to the habitat of bees or polar bears. As serious as those effects are, we are also talking about the impact climate change has on people everywhere and their livelihoods.

Scientists are monitoring more severe droughts, a rapid sea level rise, and more floods than ever before. Nineteen of the 20 warmest years in recorded history have occurred in the past two decades. On their website, NASA has a graph showing that over the last 650,000 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never risen to the levels it has hit since 1950.

This year is already on track to be the warmest of all. People all around the globe are struggling with these issues. The citizens of BiH witnessed climate change first-hand with the terrible floods last year and this summer’s devastating droughts. Make no mistake – the changes happening now are impacting entire countries though extreme weather that is threatening the global agricultural system.

Climate change will alter the geography of countries around the world forever if we don’t get this right. At the core of climate change is our very survival on this planet.

We’re not just facing serious ecological challenges either. We have to prepare ourselves for the potential social, economic, and political consequences that arise from crop damage, water shortages, famine, and outbreaks of epidemic disease. These will be felt most severely by the poorest who are least able to adapt.

As our Secretary of State recently said on climate change: “Decades of science tell us beyond any reasonable doubt that human beings are directly causing and accelerating climate change, and that unless we take bold steps now to transition away from a carbon-based economy, we are facing irreversible damage to our habitat, infrastructure, food production, water supplies, sea levels, and potentially to life itself.”

Natural disasters caused by climate change also come at a huge economic cost. Rebuilding after such catastrophes can range in the millions- and even billions- and we have to do more to prepare for such disasters.

Energy Policy and BiH Assistance

The good news is that it’s not too late to curb emissions, limit the damage, and seize the environmental, economic, and security benefits of a cleaner, greener energy future. Energy policy is key to this, of course, and the sooner we can move to a low-carbon economy and lead the world in the new technologies to do so, the sooner we will solve this problem in its entirety.

There are solutions for the future. The cover story in the November 2nd edition of Time Magazine is about fusion energy, and the growing effort in the American private sector to compete with large government-funded and university-led projects. While still decades away, fusion has the potential to end forever our need to use fossil fuels, and would create an energy source that creates no pollution and little waste.

The challenges are immense – temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius, incredible speed, and timing down to billionths of a second – but an increasing number of scientists believe this is possible in the next several decades. Bill Gates, on the other hand, is committing $2 billion to nuclear fission. In two recent articles in the Atlantic, he notes that he is convinced that climate change is the first “world” problem we face together, and that our best chance to tackle it is “by driving innovation at an unnaturally high pace.”

At the same time, under President Obama, the United States is taking significant steps at home to stop carbon pollution from major sources. Since he took office, energy from wind has tripled and solar has increased twenty fold, and we are emitting less than we have in two decades.

And in the lead up to Paris, the United States took on an ambitious new mitigation target to reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The United States has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

This is a global challenge that every country must address. One of our goals at the U.S. Embassy is to help BiH in achieving its energy related goals. Our USAID Energy Investment Activity is providing technical assistance to BiH government institutions and operators of thermal power plants to develop Emission Reduction Plans.

This is a noteworthy effort that will result in significant pollution reductions, especially of sulfur dioxide, which will be reduced by about 95 percent from current levels over the next decade. The Entity individual emission reduction plans will be combined into a National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP) by December of this year, which is required by the Energy Community.

USAID Energy plan activities to reduce greenhouse gases in BiH also include other activities. First, they are working to develop Energy Efficiency Obligations Schemes for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which create a large financing mechanism, potentially as much as $50 million annually, for the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

By investing in energy efficiency on such a large scale, BiH will significantly decrease the emissions of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide. Second, USAID is also working on developing the necessary regulation for the integration of renewable energy sources into the electricity network.

Finally, the Project is providing support to small and medium enterprises for the development of biomass-based renewable energy power plants from waste products in agriculture, livestock breeding and wood processing, which also decreases greenhouse gasses such as methane.

As we continue supporting BiH in achieving its energy and environment related goals, I praise both entities and both environmental funds for their excellent cooperation. I would like to see even greater cooperation on addressing environmental issues that affect all BiH citizens that are not limited to energy consumption. There are serious issues in illegal logging, waste management, and air pollution. These issues directly affect the lives and health of all BiH citizens and the government must ensure that issues are addressed.

The environmental challenges in both entities require a strategic joint approach because environmental issues know no boundaries.

Entity agreement on a strategy for energy and environment would allow both entities access to investments and EU IPA* funds, which are out of reach until these agreements are in place. The entity Environmental Funds have a significant role to play too and passing the Law on the Fund for the Protection of the Environment and Energy Efficiency in the Federation, for example, would help improve the transparency and efficiency of the fund in the cantons so that it can continue to do the excellent work it does.

*IPA (ee-pah) Funds are the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance which the audience will recognize.

COP 21

Having looked at the task ahead of us and what is at stake, it is clear that we have to roll up our sleeves and work hard to achieve an agreement in Paris. Reaching a new climate change agreement would be a historic step and is a top U.S. priority.

It would establish, for the first time, an ambitious, fair, durable climate change regime that applies to all countries and focuses both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience. It includes strong accountability measures and ensures ongoing financial and technical assistance to those in need. Such an agreement would also send a powerful signal to financial markets and to our citizens that the leaders of the world are committed to tackling climate change.

An agreement would put us on the path to the de-carbonization of the global economy over the course of this century, serving our children and grandchildren as well. The deal is there to be done in Paris if we are smart, make compromises, and work together. It is increasingly clear that our livelihoods hinge on getting this right, and indeed our very survival as we know it on this planet.