Climate Envoy Stern in Bonn: The U.S. can’t “ride in on a white horse and make it all work.”

You will not hear anyone on my team cast doubt upon or downplay the threat of global climate change. The science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction — or inadequate actions — are unacceptable.

But along with this challenge comes a great opportunity. By transforming to a low-carbon economy, we can stimulate global economic growth and put ourselves on a path of sustainable development for the 21st century. I would go so far as to say that those who hang back and cling to a high-carbon path will be economic losers in the end because with the scientific facts of global warming getting worse and worse, high-carbon products and production methods will not be viable for long.

So chief negotiator Todd Stern told delegates to the 190-nation climate talks kicking off today in Bonn, Germany. In a Q&A, he said, “The United States is going to be powerfully and fervently engaged in this process.”

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You can read a U.S. news story, “U.S. Climate Envoy Vows Support: Commitment to Global Talks Affirmed Even as Caveat Is Issued,” here; a German one, “Bonn Climate Talks Give Obama’s Green Team First Chance to Impress,” here; and Stern’s full transcript here. Stern acknowledged the need for U.S. action:

The United States recognizes our unique responsibility both as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases and as a country with important human, financial, and technological capabilities and resources. America itself cannot provide the solution, but there is no solution without America.

But had a lot of caveats:

… there must be a global response, with truly significant actions by all major economies. The simple math of accumulating emissions shows that there is no other way to make the kinds of reductions that science indicates are necessary.

And in the Q&A:

But that doesn’t mean that anybody should be thinking, and I don’t think people do, but this is sort of part of your question, that the United States can ride in on a white horse and make it all work. Because we can’t.

He also warned against putting together a treaty that can’t pass the U.S. Senate:

Let me speak frankly here: it is in no one’s interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won’t gain sufficient support at home in all of our countries, including my own.

Unfortunately, there’s virtually no possibility of getting 67 votes in the U.S. Senate — conservatives simply are stuck in denial (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?” and “Obama can’t get a global climate treaty ratified, so what should he do instead? Part 1”).

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Indeed, I doubt Obama could get 51 votes for an international treaty in which China fails to agree to a hard in emissions by 2020.

So team Obama, Clinton, and Stern have a great challenge indeed.

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