Comment: Take Stern seriously when he says "We're back"

10 March 2009

US Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern delivered a promising speech at last week's US Climate Symposium, writes our Policy Manager Evan Juska

Less than a year ago, it would have been hard to imagine a US official giving a speech like the one Todd Stern gave to the US Climate Action Symposium last Tuesday.

Stern demonstrated a full understanding of the threat of climate change, the response needed, and what it will take to get there.

This understanding along wtih a genuine desire to make progress is needed if the US is ever to successfully reengage in international climate negotiations. Stern appears to have both in abundance. That is why the world should take him seriously when he says, "We're back." (Click to read the full address)


In his speech, Stern mentioned three things that could serve as the foundation for the US' nascent international negotiating position.

First, he acknowledged the "entirely legitimate" needs of developing countries like China and India to raise the standard of living for their people, while stressing the need for them to take "large scale action soon." The first point is crucial to reestablishing trust between the key international actors, while the latter reaffirms that significant contributions from the developing world will need to be a core part of a global deal.


Second, Stern pushed back on the mid-term target floated by EU representatives in Bali. He pointed out that a reduction of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 is both scientifically "unnecessary" and "beyond the realm of the feasible" politically.

The latter point reflects the fact that the most recent proposal put forward by the US Congress aims for a 6% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. President Obama's latest proposal meanwhile seeks to find the middle ground with about a 15% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. Either way, it seems clear that the US will be pushing for more moderate interim targets than some in the EU had hoped.


Finally, Stern emphasized that what should be expected in Copenhagen is a "framework calling for ambitious actions" and that a "small group process of the major economies will have an important role to play in following through." This is intended to set realistic expectations for success in Copenhagen, given the huge challenges that remain in passing domestic climate legislation in the US.

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