Secretary Clinton appoints special climate envoy Todd Stern warning, “the urgency of the global climate crisis must not be underestimated”

What a day for climate news! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she was appointing Todd Stern Special Envoy for Climate Change (their remarks here and below). Stern will be “the Administration’s chief climate negotiator.”

The fact that this announcement was made so early on in Clinton’s tenure, and the fact that she offered a ringing defense of the science, is yet more proof that, as I argue in my Salon piece, “Real science comes to Washington at last.”

Stern is another climate catastrophist, which means he is another science realist:

Our scientists are telling us, emphatically, that the rate at which we are warming the planet is unsustainable and will cause vast and potentially catastrophic damage to our environment, our economy, and our national security.

He is also a technology optimist/realist:

Containing climate change will require nothing less than transforming the global economy from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy base. But done right, this can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and become a driver for economic growth in the 21st century.

I worked with Todd Stern during the Clinton administration and again at the Center for American Progress. He is very knowledgeable on all climate issues, has unique experience on matters of international climate policy, and is a very serious guy. Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but this is another great administration appointment.

Here are their full remarks:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, welcome to the State Department, but really, many of you work here and work at USAID and do the important business of our country, and I’m so pleased that you could join us today, because it is with great enthusiasm that I am naming today a Special Envoy for Climate Change.

As should be evident by now, the President and I believe that American leadership is essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. And chief among those is the complex, urgent, and global threat of climate change. From rapidly rising temperatures to melting arctic icecaps, from lower crop yields to dying forests, from unforgiving hurricanes to unrelenting droughts, we have no shortage of evidence that our world is facing a climate crisis.

And let’s be clear. A world in crisis goes well beyond the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. It is at once an environmental, economic, energy and national security issue with grave implications for America’s and the world’s future. A quick scan of the globe vividly conveys the human toll. Competition for scarcer resources like food and water will lead to further migrations of populations, regional conflicts, and greater disparities between the rich and poor. Reliance on foreign sources of oil and gas influence our way of life here at home and continues to compromise our national security.

So the urgency of the global climate crisis must not be underestimated, nor should the science behind it or the facts on the ground be ignored or dismissed. The time for realism and action is now. And President Obama and I recognize that the solutions to this crisis are both domestic and global, that all nations bear responsibility and all nations must work together to find solutions. 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.

On the domestic side, we are beginning immediately to enact measures that will lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to make new and significant investments in clean energy technology and a new green economy. Just this morning, the President announced major initiatives to improve the fuel efficiency of automobiles so that we can further reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are largely responsible for climate change and the problems resulting from it.

And that is just a start. As the President has made clear, he is committed to enacting a far-reaching new energy and climate plan. As we take steps at home, we will also vigorously pursue negotiations, those sponsored by the United Nations and those at the sub-global, regional, and bilateral level that can lead to binding international climate agreements. No solution is feasible without all major emitting nations joining together and playing an important part.

I want to mention that USAID already has been a leader in advancing climate, clean energy, and conservation activities in the developing world, drawing the clear and important link between solving the climate problem and promoting sustainable development globally. Here at the Department, our OES bureau has just recently established a new program that will link U.S. West Coast cities with Chinese and Indian cities to transfer clean energy technology. Our E bureaus are playing a key role as well. We are committed to building on this work to help developing nations build efficient and environmentally sustainable energy infrastructures through technology transfer, adaptation assistance, and support for environmental mitigation so that nations have the tools and the means to address this crisis.

There is no doubt about the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead, but we cannot any longer shrink from the challenge or overlook the chance. It offers us to be propelled toward a better future. If we are smart and bold, we can turn the climate crisis into an economic opportunity that creates jobs, generates growth, enhances our competitive edge, and ensures greater prosperity in the 21st century. This effort will require discipline and sustained attention at the highest levels, as well as vigilance and dedication of one senior official who can harness the broad array of shareholders in our government as we work toward these ends.

With the appointment today of a Special Envoy, we are sending an unequivocal message that the United States will be energetic, focused, strategic and serious about addressing global climate change and the corollary issue of clean energy.

Now our Special Envoy’s work will augment the ongoing work of this Department which has been our nation’s leader when it comes to international efforts on climate change since the late 1980s through the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and negotiations related to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as scores of other bilateral and multilateral climate-related initiatives.

The Special Envoy will serve as a principal advisor on international climate policy and strategy. He will be the Administration’s chief climate negotiator. He will be leading our efforts with United Nations negotiations and processes involving a smaller set of countries and bilateral sessions. Because the main cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuel and because the solution rests with our ability to shift the global economy from a high to a low carbon energy base, the Envoy will be a lead participant in the development of climate and clean energy policy. He will participate in all energy-related policy discussions that, across our government, can have an impact on carbon emissions, and will be looking for opportunities to forge working alliances.

I’m extremely pleased to announce that Todd Stern has agreed to serve in this unprecedented role. Todd brings a vast experience in the private sector and government. While he worked as a senior advisor in the Clinton White House, he coordinated the administration’s overall efforts on climate change, and was the senior White House representative at the United Nations climate negotiations in Kyoto and Buenos Aires.
Todd has the benefit of understanding the intersection of policy and politics. And I want to note that he started his public service career working with my good friend, Senator Pat Leahy. Since leaving government, he has been actively engaged in domestic and international climate and energy issues as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a frequent writer and speaker on this subject. Most importantly, Todd is a creative and clear thinker, a man of great sensibility and good judgment. And I’m confident that he will have credibility with a broad range of constituencies here at home and overseas.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Todd Stern, our new Special Envoy for Climate Change. (Applause.)
MR. STERN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Secretary Clinton. Thank you all for joining me today. This is a great, great honor. I deeply appreciate the confidence that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have shown me. And I am excited by the opportunity to work for two such inspiring leaders who recognize the enormity of this problem and are deeply committed to solving it. And I — let me also say that 12 years ago, I worked for two other great and inspiring leaders, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and it was a great privilege for me to do that. And it’s a great privilege for me now to work — be able to work for President Obama and Secretary Clinton.
Let me also express thanks to just a few people. To John Podesta, who more than anyone has been my mentor in Washington, and is a model for all those who fight the good fight. To Tim Wirth, Stu Eizenstat and Frank Loy, who have led the way in pursuing diplomatic progress on this issue and have taught me many valuable lessons. And most of all to my family who are here with me today. To my wife Jen, who is my best and closest confidant in all things, and who, by the way, for the record, introduced me to the world of Hillaryland, back in the day. To my three boys, Jacob, Zachary and Ben, who — Ben, who is here somewhere — there he is — celebrating his fourth birthday today at the State Department. (Laughter.) They are my inspiration in most everything I do, and certainly in taking on this challenge.
As the President and Secretary Clinton have made clear, climate change poses a profound threat to our future. If our deepest obligation in life is to care for our children and leave a better world for them and those who follow, then we must confront climate change now with an entirely new level of commitment, energy, and focus. Our scientists are telling us, emphatically, that the rate at which we are warming the planet is unsustainable and will cause vast and potentially catastrophic damage to our environment, our economy, and our national security.
And so the challenge before us is great, but so is the opportunity. Containing climate change will require nothing less than transforming the global economy from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy base. But done right, this can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and become a driver for economic growth in the 21st century. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have left no doubt that a new day is dawning in the U.S. approach to climate change and clean energy. The time for denial, delay, and dispute is over. The time for the United States to take up its rightful place at the negotiating table is here.

As a threshold matter, we must first press forward in our own country with the kind of bold, far-reaching climate and energy plan that President Obama has called for. As the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, we 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. Eighty percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced outside the United States, and a rapidly growing percentage is produced in emerging market countries.
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. There is simply no other way to preserve a safe and livable world for our children.
This is no time for negotiators to cling to tired orthodoxies. Nor is it time for the kind of recriminations that have marred too many efforts in the past. We cannot afford that now. We should all acknowledge the good faith of those who are committed to this mission, pull our oars in the same direction, and do whatever it takes to get the job done. 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 financing. And we will need, above all, political will.
That will has been evident for years in many countries and at many levels in the United States among governors, mayors, and members of Congress, among business and labor leaders, among scientists, leaders of the faith community, NGOs and the public. And it is manifestly evident now with President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the broader Obama Administration. I am eager to get started. I plan to run an inclusive process, reaching out to the broad range of interested parties in this country and, of course, consulting closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Finally, let me say that one of the real pleasures I had working on this issue in the White House in the 1990s was the opportunity to work with the absolutely superb professionals in this building and I greatly look forward to the opportunity to start doing that again, as well as working with talented colleagues like Carol Browner, John Holdren, Steven Chu and others in the new Administration and of course, with my counterparts around the world.

Kudos to Clinton and Stern.

9 Responses to Secretary Clinton appoints special climate envoy Todd Stern warning, “the urgency of the global climate crisis must not be underestimated”

  1. David B. Benson says:


  2. ken levenson says:

    Change we can believe in.

  3. As an environmentalist, Obama is exceeding my expectations. He has not let the economic crisis slow him down, in fact it is speeding up progress. Amazing start!

  4. Jake Schmidt says:

    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. (I discuss some of the hints of that change that Clinton and Todd Stern outlined here:

    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.

  5. kiwichick says:

    sounds great and not aminute too soon
    but can we change track fast enough to avoid disaster????/

  6. Barry says:

    Big social changes happen exponentially.

    Years and years of struggles with no apparent progress…then a period of more noticeable change but nowhere near enough…and finally rapid acceleration towards the goal.

    At no point on an exponential curve are you headed anywhere near the target until the very end. What is important to focus on all along is that the rate of change increase continually.

    That’s been the only solace so many times over the last many years on climate change.

    So this rush of great talk and great appointments in the heart of the carbon beast has me hopeful we are accelerating into the curve.

    Next up: actual policy that lowers ghg

  7. JeandeBegles says:

    Big talk with great expectations, without clear solutions.
    The main work is in our hands: cut by 5 times the CO2 emissions of the USA (it is exactly the same as 80% cut by 2050). Such a huge move will need the involvement of the whole society; every citizen, every company, every organisation.
    This shows the weakness of the cap and trade solution, because it involves some companies only. This is why the carbon tax is badly needed. Politically hard to sell, because it impacts the money of everybody, but with good redistribution, this is the hard medecine that the smart Obama has to deliver.

  8. Peter Wood says:

    This is very good news.

  9. David Lewis says:

    I posted this as a comment on Joe’s “Real Science comes to Washington at Last” article on Salon.

    Title: “it’s time for policy discussion to connect with what the science is”

    Given the darkness of the Bush years on climate I sympathize with your view that you “honestly don’t know if it is politically possible to preserve a livable climate”. But consider World War II.

    In the US, the generation of college kids that only days before Pearl Harbor were very isolationist rushed to join the armed forces. US Marine divisions in the Pacific suffered casualties at a rate only an elite few in history ever withstood as they let nothing stop their advance, such was their determination to defeat those who attacked their homeland. History shows that what is necessary can become politically possible.
    Also, I think we should be frank in discussion as to what these targets for CO2 reductions that you’ve discussed mean, and what the relevant scientists actually think about that. As you say, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama all campaigned on cutting US emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

    Global population is still expanding and demographers tell us a total of at least 9 billion people by 2050 is baked in as of now. Most of this two more Chinas worth of human beings will be born in the developing world. The developing world will not be satisfied to negotiate a permanent lesser right to per capita emissions than the US. Given these two assumptions, the math isn’t that hard to do. This 80% reduction from 1990 by 2050 target for the US would mean that the global forces driving climate change would be increasing every year from now until then. At that time total global CO2 emissions would be higher than they are now. The accumulated CO2 level will be far higher, and the composition of the atmosphere would still be unstable. In other words, if we achieve this target, all we get is that civilization will be accelerating into this disastrous planetary climate disruption somewhat more slowly than it otherwise would be. We would still be accelerating into disaster. This stark reality should be at the center of policy discussion.

    Again, consider the US once the decision was made as to what to do about Hitler. American planners set the target for the heart of the problem. They decided to aim to occupy Berlin, and they told Hitler his only alternative was unconditional surrender. They didn’t add up the cost beforehand, or calculate what doing nothing instead would cost. FDR told American industry to retool for all out war. They started training millions of the kids to be hurled onto battlefields to die. Imagine if the decision instead was to devote a tiny percentage of GDP spending per year for 41 years hoping that by 2050 US military power and will would be enough to confront a Nazi Germany occupied entire rest of the world?

    In climate terms, a comparable decision would be to set the target for stabilization at a level scientists agree is safe. Clearly, a target by 2050 that doesn’t stabilize the composition of the atmosphere which leaves the forces driving the disruption still steadily increasing is a recipe for global disaster.

    Why do we continue talking as if continuing to accelerate into global disaster is something reasonable to do, just because we believe we are not now and can’t become a new “greatest generation” that will find the way?

    As James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Space Center, wrote in his recent personal appeal to President Obama: “scientists at the forefront of climate research have seen a stream of new data in the past few years with startling implications for humanity and all life on Earth” which has caused them to come to “a stark scientific conclusion, that we must reduce greenhouse gases below present amounts to preserve nature and humanity, has become clear to the relevant experts”. He’s not talking about emissions, as you know. He’s talking about reducing the present level of accumulated level of greenhouse gases. As he writes: “there is a profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands”.

    In case President Obama has any doubt that this assessment is what the science is, Hansen states: “The validity of this statement could be verified by the National Academy of Sciences, which can deliver prompt authoritative reports in response to a Presidential request”. Hansen reminds Obama: “The NAS was set up by President Lincoln for just such advisory purposes”.

    Isn’t it time we all started to connect policy discussion with what the science demands?