US Climate Change Envoy in Place and Ready to Negotiate

Todd Stern is selected as Special Envoy for Climate Change in the Obama administrationYesterday, a ceremony was held at the US State Department to announce Todd Stern as the Special Envoy for Climate Change (see short bio and video of the event). As we outlined in our transition recommendations, it is crucial that President Obama appoint a climate negotiating team early in his Administration. We also suggested that the Secretary of State should play a stronger role in the negotiations as the top diplomat. As we suggested, appointment of his negotiating team in the first days of his new Administration would signal both his commitment to working to restore America’s international leadership on global warming and help to get the US ready for the serious push to get a strong global agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

Well…less than one week in office isn’t too bad for appointment of the “chief climate negotiator” (in fact that is amazingly fast).

So with the announcement of Todd Stern today as special envoy, the negotiating team is starting to get into place to help work with leaders in Congress and other countries to shape a strong international agreement to address global warming.

This team will have to get up to speed fast, start to reach out to other countries, and begin to flesh out the US positions as the pace of the negotiations are set to pick up speed following the meeting in Poznan, Poland this past December. In just over 60 days, this team will be sitting with other countries at the negotiating table as the next international negotiations will be held the end of March in Bonn, Germany.

At this meeting they will have in front of them a document to begin to focus their attention — a “convergence, divergence, and options” paper. They won’t have to formulate US position on the options in this paper, but it will help focus them on the current state of play in the negotiations. And, they won’t have to completely figure out the course of the new agreement on their own as the signs are starting to emerge (as I discussed in my New Year’s Resolution).

At the announcement Secretary Clinton also reiterated the need for domestic and international efforts to address global warming — providing strong signals that she too is committed as the US’ top diplomat (see full transcript):

“Under President Obama, America will take the lead in addressing this challenge, both by making commitments of our own and engaging other nations to do the same.”

The chief climate negotiator didn’t provide any specific details on what the US will bring to the table and what they’ll be asking of other countries, but he did provide some hints of how he’ll approach the job as chief climate negotiator:

“[W]e can only expect to lead abroad if we are prepared to act decisively at home. Yet we can only meet the climate challenge with a response that is genuinely global.”

“We will need to engage in vigorous, creative diplomacy to dramatically reduce emissions. And we will need to work with vulnerable regions and countries to help them adapt to the climate change that is already locked into the system. In the years ahead, every large emitter will have to make major changes in the way that they use energy and manage their forests and lands.”

“We will need a strong, new multilateral agreement. We will need partnerships and joint ventures among countries, collaborations between governments and the private sector, new technology and new finance. And we will need, above all, political will.”

This last point — the need for political will — became even clearer at the negotiations in Poznan, Poland as framework for the agreement is emerging, but clear political leadership was lacking. Both the US domestic and international climate teams are sending the right signals this early in the process that they will provide the leadership that has been lacking for the last eight years.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton are continuing to show that they are going to make addressing global warming a top priority as they are putting their team in place in record time. Oh how refreshing a change from the last eight years of no leadership and no progress. So now we have real leadership on this issue, let’s hope that we can make real progress by Copenhagen.



Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard.

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