Todd Stern: ‘We Can’t Rewrite The Last Eight Years’

In an interview with the Wonk Room, Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, explained that he believes the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) is both necessary and sufficient to achieving an international agreement to tackle global warming. Following a speech yesterday at the Center for American Progress on his trip to engage China in a bilateral climate partnership, Stern explained that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is doing “what can be done.” Stern recognized, however, that the United States has to catch up to the rest of the world because of the Bush administration’s refusal to act:

We’re starting later! It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the reality. We can’t rewrite the last eight years, so we’re starting later.

Watch it:


Recent scientific papers have defined the global warming challenge as keeping cumulative global greenhouse emissions between 2000 and 2050 below a trillion tons. Only by staying below that threshold is the world likely to avoid catastrophic increases in global temperatures. When asked, Stern dismissed the differences between the Waxman-Markey targets and what the Europeans want as resulting in “only one or two parts per million” of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He argued that the key question is what the “major developing countries” like China, India, and Brazil achieve:

There’s a very big difference between whether the major developing countries do a lot and don’t. There you have not one or two parts per million but a big difference. Eighty percent of the growth in emissions going forward for the next several decades is going to come from the developing world.

We are the first to admit, recognize, and talk about our own historic responsibility. The U.S. is the biggest historic emitter of greenhouse emissions. We have a huge responsbility to take leadership, to take action, and to move forward. But, having said that, if you look at the trajectory from now on — hugely weighted toward the developing countries.

The short answer to your question is that I think we can be quite consistent with those sort of scientific goals provided everybody gets in the act.

When asked about the concerns of legislators like Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) about the potential for job loss due to a cap on global warming pollution, Stern also said that climate policy offers “a lot of gain” by driving the “transformation to a clean energy economy,” and noted the free allowances given to exporting industries in the Waxman-Markey legislation. He concluded:

It’s a fair question. We don’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage. But the real, most important way in the long run — whether or not it’s immediate or not, but in the slightly longer run — to address these questions is to have an international agreement that has all the parties involved and all the parties taking real action.