Former US Lead Climate Negotiator Sue Biniaz Reflects on COP-26 Postponement, and Hopes for Re-engagement of the US in New Episode of “Environmental Insights”

May 8, 2020
Sue Biniaz Photo

Sue Biniaz, former lead climate negotiator for the United States, shared her thoughts on the postponement of COP-26, and on the possible re-engagement of the U.S. in the international effort to address climate change in the newest episode of Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here. A full transcript of the interview can be found here. 

Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.

Biniaz is currently a lecturer at Yale Law School, where she teaches a course on negotiating international agreements. Prior to that, she served for more than 30 years in the State Department's Legal Adviser's Office, where she was a Deputy Legal Adviser, as well as the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator from 1989 until early 2017.

Biniaz departed the State Department prior to COP-25 in Madrid last December, a meeting that ended without a resolution to Article 6, the section of the Paris Agreement that allows for emissions trading.

“It was unfortunate that they didn't reach agreement on Article 6,” Biniaz said. “I think the compromises were all pretty evident and they ran out of time. I think there wasn't enough…political oomph put into it at the end. That's an example of if the U.S. had been there at a political level, they would have been able to…bang some heads together and get it done.”

With COP-26 having been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Biniaz said she believes that international climate negotiators may now wish to consider ways to improve the annual climate talks.

One of the reasons I think the COP needs to be rethought is because I think the metric that's been used by many people including the press has been what the negotiating issues are on the table,” Biniaz argued. “If you only look at those, it just puts too much pressure on what should be kind of a minor aspect of a COP compared to everything else that's going on.”

And with the U.S. elections looming in November, Biniaz said hopes are high that a new presidential administration will rejoin the Paris Agreement, and re-engage in a productive way.

“If you're going to rejoin the Paris Agreement, do it in a way that isn't going to just be reversed four or eight years later. Try to make sure you have enough domestic buy-in so it's harder for a future administration to just reverse it again,” she stated. “And…if you're going to come back into the agreement, try to use whatever leverage the United States has at that point to get other countries to do more.”

Biniaz’ interview is the 10th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.

“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”

Environmental Insights is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher

A full transcript of the interview with Sue Biniaz can be found here. 

sue_biniaz_podcast_transcript_4.24.2020.docx28 KB
See also: 2020