Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named a seasoned climate change negotiator to be her top diplomat to the United Nations on global warming.
Todd Stern, a partner at the Washington law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, will lead U.S. efforts to strike a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In a ceremony before more than 200 people in the State Department's ornate Benjamin Franklin Room, Clinton said the issue will be given unprecedented attention in the agency. Calling the creation of the envoy post "just a start," she noted that President Barack Obama has committed to enacting "a far-reaching new energy and climate plan" internationally and domestically.
"The time for realism and action is now," Clinton said. "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."
The creation of the envoy post just six days into Clinton's tenure at the State Department signaled to many the premium the Obama administration is placing on climate change, as well as on the U.N. talks that leaders hope will culminate in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December with a new global emissions treaty. The announcement also came on the heels of a morning move by Obama allowing California and other states to regulate their own tailpipe emissions.
"It makes clear how important the president believes this issue to be. And it is a huge issue for our age," said Frank Loy, a former undersecretary of State for global affairs under President Bill Clinton who served as Obama's climate adviser during the campaign.
"Obviously the issue of climate change is permeating everything that they are looking at in terms of their first week on the job," added Marty Spitzer, legislative director at the Center for Clean Air Policy.
Loy called Stern a "first-rate appointment" who can jump quickly into the complex minefield of U.N. climate negotiations.
"We are lucky to have somebody like Todd who has both a lot of common sense about how to move forward and who has a great deal of background in this area," he said.
Experienced runner gets a place on a faster track
In tapping Stern, analysts said the secretary of state has chosen an envoy with experience on both the global and domestic fronts. Stern also is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and served as her energy policy adviser during the Democratic primary when she was running for president.
Under President Clinton, Stern served as staff secretary, succeeding John Podesta in the role. He later coordinated the administration's Initiative on Global Climate Change from 1997 to 1999. He acted as the senior White House negotiator at the climate negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and later served at the U.S. Treasury Department on a broad range of economic and financial issues.
Recently, he served as the lead author of an energy strategy blueprint that the liberal think tank Center for American Progress wrote for the new Democratic administration.
Reid Detchon, executive director of energy and climate at the U.N. Foundation, said he believes Stern's background will be an asset as the administration gears up for some intense global negotiations.
"If time is of the essence, turning to someone who already understands these very complex talks and is comfortable with the senior leadership ... is a definite plus," he said.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Stern's appointment "another indication that this administration intends to make climate change a high priority and address the issue in a serious manner."
And Denmark's Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen praised Stern's "vast experience and in-depth knowledge of the international climate negotiations."
"The signal to the international community is particularly strong because the nomination is backed up by a number of ambitious domestic policy initiatives recognizing that there is a strong link between reducing the dependence of imported energy, creating millions of jobs and handling man-made climate change," Petersen said.
Several industry leaders from the oil and electricity industries and other sectors also attended yesterday's announcement. John Shaw, senior vice president of government affairs with the Portland Cement Association, called Stern "qualified" and described him as knowledgeable about the private sector's needs.
"We might not agree on how to address specific issues, but it's always good to have someone who is open to dialogue," Shaw said.