Obama to speak at U.N. special session on global warming; Todd Stern testifies “Nothing the U.S. can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible…. President Obama and the Secretary of State, along with our entire Administration, are committed to action on this issue.”

Obama’s (first) big speech on global warming is going to come sooner than expected.

And all the nonsensical media reporting on how the administration is supposedly backing away from a sense of urgency on the climate issue — urgency on passing the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill and getting a global deal — should be dispelled by reading today’s House testimony from our top climate negotiator, Todd Stern (here, excerpted below).  Every word in that testimony is signed off on by the administration, so when Stern presses Congress for a bill ASAP and says Obama is committed to action, that comes from the White House.

E&E News PM reports:

President Obama will speak on global warming later this month during a special U.N. summit in New York where world leaders will try to jump-start talks on a deal that succeeds the Kyoto Protocol.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today confirmed Obama’s role in the Sept. 22 event that comes on the eve of general debate in the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called presidents and prime ministers together for the climate meeting in an attempt to “mobilize the political will and vision needed to reach an ambitious agreed outcome based on science at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.”

Obama’s role in the U.N. session is sure to spark widespread international attention, especially after eight years of resistance to significant steps on climate change under former President George W. Bush’s administration.

Obama is expected to appear alongside a handful of other government leaders and climate activists during a morning session that opens the U.N. climate meeting.

I think he’ll still need to give a more political speech before the Senate vote. When will that vote be? A key administration witness testified in front of a House Committee today that it really needs to be before a certain big international climate conference in Europe this December:

Also today, Obama’s top climate change diplomat urged Congress to keep working toward passage of a comprehensive climate law, saying it would be a useful tool for U.S. diplomats as they try to reach agreement in Copenhagen.

“The most important thing is Congress send the president legislation,” Todd Stern told the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “It gives us the kind of credibility and leverage that’d be useful in the context of these negotiations.”

Stern, the special envoy for climate change at the State Department, praised the House-passed global warming bill for the leverage it gives the United States as it talks to more than 180 other countries, including developing powerhouses China and India.

But Stern said that a final law would be even better, given the amount of interest focused on Obama as he sends his team to its first U.N. climate summit. “It’d be extremely helpful for the Senate to pass legislation before Copenhagen,” Stern said. “I’m certainly doing everything I can to help make that happen.”

At the same time, Stern said the Obama administration would adapt if Congress can’t get through with its bill. “If legislation is moving on a good track that isn’t passed yet, there will undoubtedly be ways to try and accommodate that,” he said.

Stern’s remarks to the House panel, and reporters afterward, reflect the difficult position the administration is in as officials push Congress on global warming at the same time as its full-court press on health care legislation. Senate action on the climate bill is expected to pick up later this month, though it is unclear how quickly senators will move.

The slow-going nature of the Senate debate was not lost on several House Democrats.

“The House has already acted,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We’re three months away from Copenhagen. So I think it’d be important to either close the Senate down or get them to do something they don’t like to do, which is vote on legislation.”

Oh, snap!

Worth noting is that Stern doesn’t pull his punches on the cost of inaction or the historical .  As he testified:

Moreover, the national security threats posed by climate change are real. As detailed in a recent front page story in the New York Times, discussing the rising concerns of the national security community, a world of uncontrolled climate change – with ever worsening storms, droughts, floods, the increased spread of disease; melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and more severe shortages of food and water – means a world of new and intensified security threats as millions of people are displaced, states are destabilized, and competition for resources intensifies.

In short, we have a lot of work to do this fall. The Congress has a crucial role to play on the domestic front. And internationally, we will be engaged full-out on all three of our fronts – the UN talks, the Major Economies Forum, and bilateral consultations with every relevant country and country block. President Obama and the Secretary of State, along with our entire Administration, are committed to action on this issue.

We are approaching this issue with the sense of urgency that it demands and are determined to do all we can to make the progress that is necessary to have a successful outcome in Copenhagen. Mr. Chairman, the world is going to make history over the course of the next months and years. We will either make it for the right reasons – because we found common ground and set ourselves on a path toward a new, sustainable, low-carbon model; or for the wrong reasons – because we blinked at the moment of truth and left our children and grandchildren to face the consequences. We have to get this right.

Hear!  Hear!

15 Responses to Obama to speak at U.N. special session on global warming; Todd Stern testifies “Nothing the U.S. can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible…. President Obama and the Secretary of State, along with our entire Administration, are committed to action on this issue.”

  1. In NYC Sept. 22nd? He should come a day early and go to the global premiere of the climate change documentary, “The Age of Stupid”. This group is satellite broadcasting the film worldwide so that people can understand the urgency for change and the importance of the upcoming talks at Copenhagen. I’ve seen the movie- it’s not your typical documentary- it’s got dramatic elements and animation and definitely worth it to go see. They’re having a green, eco-friendly premiere event too and are starting off NYC’s climate week along with a discussion panel after the movie. If Obama could come to the event, he could reach out to all of the US as well as the world.

  2. Joel says:

    Sometimes I really love Emanuel Cleaver.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Media?

    As we all know, and as this piece notes, there is a time window involved here.

    What will the media DO?

    If the media let the next month or two go by without making the vast improvements (at least regarding coverage of this issue) that people have been seeing as necessary for YEARS now, that will say something BIG about the media, no doubt. And the record will be . . . the record. And time can’t be reclaimed or “done over”.

    So, it’s time for some in-depth soul searching. As Socrates might well say, it’s time for good ‘ole examination.

    Starting with tomorrow, it will be interesting to see whether The New York Times gives the present matter front page coverage.

    And, it will be interesting to see whether The New York Times starts shedding prominent light on The One Trillion Pound (Plus) Elephant . . . ExxonMobil. It will be interesting to see if they do so very soon — i.e., in time that the public and politicians will be suitably informed by the time of the upcoming Senate discussions, when it all matters.

    And, has The New York Times covered the recent 350 announcements — i.e., Pachauri and Stern and etc.?

    I’ll be calling The Times to follow up. Please, many others should do so as well. After these next couple of months pass, there’s no doing them “over again”. The media need to get their act together, and soon. Otherwise, they will have failed the public. Simple as that.



  4. Gail says:

    Laurel, I have tickets to the Age of Stupid, in Philly, and am dragging along some semi-reluctant grad students as well, as many as I can recruit!

  5. YES! Do it! It’s totally worth it! It’s going to be a fun night, get everyone you can to the theater. Feel free to email me for more info. Have you heard all we’re doing with the premiere? There are countries participating all over the world! Check it out on these pages:

    I’m so excited! It’s time for the world to wake up!

  6. Roger says:

    It’s about time! Our group, The Global Warming Education Network, has been encouraging President Obama, and everyone who’s got his ear, to get out in front of the American public on this vital issue. The time for bickering is over, and Obama needs to clearly explain what is at stake in terms of both the precious opportunities and the real risks!

  7. Roger says:

    Further to an earlier comment, I believe there’s a basic principle in science (Joe could probably name it) that says, in effect, “concentrated energy has a more noticable impact than diffuse energy.”

    Hence, getting many people who are concerned about our ONE climate to focus on asking ONE very important leader (President Obama) to do ONE very important thing (clearly explain climate change to misinformed Americans), could have ONE hell of an impact on where we’re headed.

    For a sample letter to Obama, you can go to, click on “Take Action,” then follow the link to the letter in listed item 2.
    (While at GWEN, look at our October 24th “Energy Revolution Rally too.)

  8. john says:

    The media has become a major source of many of our worst problems. They are so enamored with the food fight, that they will create it if it isn’t there; cover extremist whackjobs as credible sources; fabricate memes like “the administration is giving up on climate this year” out of thin air.

    It would be simply pathetic if it weren’t so destructive.

    Case in point: the Washington Post had 3 stories on Congressman Joe Wilson’s infantile outburst calling the President a liar — and none mentioned that Wilson was lying or mistaken, and that the President was telling the truth.

    This happens every day in climate-related stories. Key elements of the story are left out; linkages are not made; unscientific blathering is accorded the same weight as sound scientific consensus.

    Eric Severeid speaking of press’s “even handed” treatment of Joe McCarthy said, “Our rigid formulae of so-called objectivity … have given the lie the same prominence and impact that truth is given; they have elevated the influence of fools to that of wise men; the ignorant to the level of the learned; the evil to the level of the good.”

    As it was then, so it is now.

    Is there any wonder that our public discourse is so uncivil and so profoundly ignorant?

  9. jcwinnie says:

    Practicing the new routine before getting to Copenhagen, eh?

    [JR: This is actually the biggest story of the week, in my mind.]

  10. Jim Bouldin says:

    At the same time, Stern said the Obama administration would adapt if Congress can’t get through with its bill. “If legislation is moving on a good track that isn’t passed yet, there will undoubtedly be ways to try and accommodate that,” he said.

    I would sure like to know exactly what ways he has in mind there. It seems to me it’s very uncertain who’s going to vote for it, but more importantly, whether a potential filibuster can be stopped. I doubt if the rest of the world is going to go on promises of what might happen in the Senate.

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    New York Times Failing Its Responsibility: Who Will Point It Out In Time??

    Today’s paper is incredibly disturbing, to put it mildly.

    On the Front Page and as the only article on Page A3, The Times talks about the “shortcut” and “dream” passage available for ships now that the bothersome ice is going away. As far as I could tell, global warming is only mentioned — very briefly and in passing — two or three times. For the most part, it’s mentioned in sentences with entirely neutral and passive words (in contrast to the words ‘dream’, ‘shortcut’, ‘beckons’, ‘inaugural’, ‘reliable’, ‘save time’, ‘successfully’, ‘promote’, ‘hoping’, and so forth associated with the “dream” new route that will allow us all to get our “goods” faster).

    Get this: One of the very few times that global warming is even mentioned, the quote is that it “enables us” to do things we couldn’t do before. So there we have it: Global warming as an enabler of wonderful things, “dreams”, shortcuts, faster ways to get “goods”, and so forth.

    Then, way back on page A13, there is a very modest-sized article where key people in the government express the SERIOUSNESS of the matter, the major disagreements among countries, and the fact that the clock is ticking.

    ANYBODY who understands human psychology can compare and analyze (word by word, if you like) the front page article and the much smaller article on page A13 and notice a huge problem. For one thing, among many, the two articles should be reversed in terms of placement and size. And that’s just point one.

    And The Times wonders, why doesn’t the public “get it”?

    The real question is, why doesn’t The Times “get it”?

    Where are the media watchdog organizations on this? Where are they? Analyze today’s paper and the general pattern, PLEASE.

    To be clear — and to avoid misunderstanding — my point is not that the new passage shouldn’t be covered. Instead, the point has to do (for one thing) with the many articles that The Times SHOULD HAVE had on the front page or near there, but didn’t, during the last two years. That’s one point. Another point has to do with tone . . . presenting facts IN CONTEXT. Is it a responsible and accurate assessment, and position, that global warming is an “enabler” of good things? It that what the overall word-balance and emphasis should be? And then the other more honest article is on page A13?

    The New York Times is losing credibility to me. In fact, it has lost credibility on this issue, all things considered. The question now is, will it regain credibility quickly enough to actually DO ITS JOB in time for Senate deliberations and the pivotal Copenhagen meeting?

    And where are the media watchdog organizations on this? Can someone please write a comment, here, to tell us what she/he is doing to prompt — or push if necessary — the media to get its act together on all this?

    You can tell I’m frustrated. In this case, I think the frustration is more than warranted. Please, I suggest, compare the two articles yourselves.

    Be Well,


  12. Greg Robie says:

    Does anyone know if Stern has withdrawn the pervious “blink” he did on this Administration’s behalf in Mexico this past June that has further entrenched us/US on the path Todd is now saying we should not go down (as reported in the Guardian (see: )?

  13. Roger says:

    I agree with Joe that this is the biggest story of the week: we see Obama and team starting to stretch their real leadership wings for the larger climate ‘battles’ ahead, both in Washington and in Copenhagen.

    Also encouraging is the firming of international stances concerning what is necessary in Copenhagen: Japan’s new prime minister, who won by a landslide, promised early this week to shoot for a 25 percent reduction in Japan’s GHG emissions, from 1990 levels, by 2020–FAR more ambitious than the US House bill’s call for a 17 percent reduction in US GHG emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2020. (Using a 15-year-later base year–2005 vs. 1990–for US GHG cuts, essentially means that the US is promising NO reduction in GHG emissions from its 1990 level.)

    And, it is more and more widely recognized that we need to ultimately get CO2 levels back down to no more than 350 ppm in order to have a climate that will sustain life as we have come to know and love it.

    So, bottom line, IMHO, the rate-determining factor for US political progress towards achieving a sustainable climate is the level of support and/or pressure that the politicians get from constituents.

    Since most constituents are confused and misinformed, thanks to decades of fossil fuel interest-fueled PR falsehoods, we need to get millions of Americans brought up to speed in short order. (To quote today’s Climate Progress, “It is knowledge of the facts that makes people climate science realists.”) Consituent knowledge is the power this planet needs to overcome the financial might of the status quo fans.

    So, who has the power to bring millions of Americans to climate science enlightenment overnight? One President Barack Obama, with a carefully-worded, one hour speech on prime-time, national television. No one else.

    In my dreams, Obama covers the awesome opportunities for green jobs and US leadership in green technology, Secretary Chu backs him up with a brief outline of the dire consequences of dumb denial, then Senator McCain makes a pitch for all true, red-blooded, patriotic Americans to respond to our President’s plea for the preservation of a livable planet for our progeny. (If there’s time, Senator Kerry can chime in about the greatly-heightened security risks that dumb denial will bring.)

  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with Roger, Comment 14. Well said.

    The only thing I’d add — as a supportive point — is that such a session should probably be done many more times than once. Perhaps it should be repeated, containing some degree of repetition of central points (for different audiences, different times of the day, different networks, whatever) and also including additional leading scientific, humanitarian, and even artistic voices to help broaden the audience and appeal, in genuine ways of course.

    And, even as the public communications provide clarity and energy to a valid, fact-based message, the media should (also) raise their bar, a lot, and the public shouldn’t let the media off the hook.

    Cheers, Be Well,