On December 11, the UN Climate Change conference in Paris (called COP-21) will be wrapping up, and the headlines will announce if the negotiators were able to agree to save the Earth or not. Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy for Climate Change, will be leading the U.S. delegation at COP-21.
John Boehner must deal with tea partiers who voted against his reelection as Speaker of the House. Secretary of State John Kerry has to be jet-lagged and sleep-deprived as he commutes from one intractable world crisis to another. At the moment, however, no job in government is more challenging than the one that belongs to Todd Stern, America's chief climate negotiator.
A new and genuine, if inadequate, global climate architecture has been teed up for next year in Paris. But whether Paris serves as the foundation for steadily more ambitious climate progress or is the marker of the reality that that world will not break the back of fossil-fuel dominance is going to be determined by how the world community reacts to five new realities.
Negotiators running on 40 plus hours without sleep are huddling in the corners of the plenary halls, trying to come to agreement on language and terms for a text that will, everyone hopes, chart a course for how humanity will deal with this dire (for some countries, existential) threat. How all of the talk actually translates to a formal agreement can be confounding.
Many scientists and more than 100 governments argue that even a 2° rise in temperature is highly dangerous. Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, suggests that we abandon the 2° goal in favor of actions which are politically possible, whatever that means in the polarized context of the climate wars.
The somewhat deflating reality surrounding the global climate talks in Durban, South Africa -- now hurtling toward another arguably empty conclusion -- is that success or failure is heavily contingent on the whims of just two countries: China and the United States. The two nations, after all, produce far more climate-warming gases than their nearest competitors, and their mutual, steely-eyed refusal to budge from their bedrock negotiating positions tends to render even the most conciliatory gestures among lesser polluters both quaint and meaningless.