Climate Change Guru May Be Special ‘Envoy of Disappointment,’ Critic Charges

By Penny Starr | January 27, 2009 | 6:42 PM EST

Todd Stern was named Special Envoy for Climate Change on Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Courtesy of Center for American Progress)

( – Signaling a departure from the Bush administration’s environmental policies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has named Todd Stern as special envoy for climate change and vowed that America will “vigorously pursue negotiations, those sponsored by the United Nations, and those at sub-global, regional, and bilateral level that can lead to binding international climate agreements.”
In his acceptance speech on Monday, Stern, a veteran of the Clinton administration, also foreshadowed the United States signing on to international environmental treaties, including the Kyoto Protocol.
“The time for denial, delay, and dispute is over,” Stern said. “The time for the United States to take up its rightful place at the table is here.”
But William Yeatman, an energy policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market group, said Stern and the State Department cannot act unilaterally to approve global agreements.
“No international agreement is going to be binding. No treaty is going to be binding unless the Senate were to approve it,” Yeatman told, adding that the Senate has a history of voting against legislation that agrees to environmental standards that could harm the U.S. economy.
“The Senate has expressed in 1998, the Byrd Hagel Resolution, by a vote of 95 to 0, that the United States would not agree to any economically harmful international climate agreement that did not also include China, India and other major developing countries,” said Yeatman.
Stern might turn out to be, Yeatman said, a Special “Envoy of Disappointment.”
Although the United States signed the 1992 Kyoto Protocol – a United Nations treaty regulating greenhouse gas emissions that went into effect in 2005 – it was never ratified by the Senate.
President George W. Bush rejected the Protocol in 2001, because it did not set the same emissions standards for developing and industrialized nations, such as China and India.
Stern, who was a senior Clinton White House representative at United Nations climate negotiations at both Kyoto and Buenos Aires, is likely to push for the United States to sign on to a global environmental pact.
He apparently would have the backing of President Barack Obama, who has already launched his domestic environmental agenda by issuing an order for U.S. automakers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles and asking the Environmental Protection Agency to review its waiver for regulating car emissions in California.
Stern has a long history of championing environmental causes, including as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, described by The Washington Post as a “left-of-center think tank and refuge for Clinton administration alumni.”
Its founder, former Clinton Chief of Staff John D. Podesta, said about his organization in the same May 22, 2006 Post article, “The right describes us as Hillary’s think tank.”
In an Oct. 15, 2007 article in Greenwire, Stern, who was then advising the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign on environmental issues, predicted the next administration would reverse the voluntary emission control stance of the Bush administration.
“All of the forces that have been supporting a purely voluntary approach suddenly think, ‘Oh God, there’s something bad coming down the track at us potentially, and God forbid we have President Hillary Clinton to deal with on this.’ ”
Yeatman said the Obama administration’s emphasis on climate change might be misplaced, given the other priorities facing the nation.
“A world beset with breast cancer, with mental health, with wretched poverty, I don’t really care about sweating warmer winters 100 years from now when we are all a lot richer,” Yeatman said, adding that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the earth will warm by two degrees by 2100.