On Tuesday, October 14th, US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern spoke at Yale to address international and domestic efforts to mitigate climate change. The address by Stern, who has been the lead negotiator for the US at global climate talks since 2009, comes at a crucial time for climate negotiations. It has been just a few weeks since the United Nations Climate Summit in New York and it’s just a few weeks before the COP20 in Lima, Peru. A mix of graduate and undergraduate students attended the event, hosted by the Yale Law School and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, in order to hear what one of the key players in global climate policy had to say.

Noting that global climate negotiations are necessary but not sufficient as an answer to combating climate change, Stern categorically stated that it was the responsibility of the US, as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, to commit to action. He noted that one of the key obstacles to a global climate treaty was the interpretation of the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ principle which, coupled with the classification of countries into annex 1 and non-annex 1 (UN speak for developed and developing), has not been in the interests of everyone. According to him, it is now time to relook at and possibly even redraw those lines and instead emphasize countries doing best as they see fit.

He then went onto articulate his office’s position on thematic areas of finance, adaptation and the modalities of a legal agreement. However, what stood out was his indirect reference to politics in a world with a changing climate. For the audience, this came as a pleasant surprise and even though he didn’t make any direct remark, Stern used the example of the People’s Climate March to tacitly state that Americans need to convince politicians that climate change must remain high on the political agenda. “It’s a basic rule of politics that politicians listen to the voice of potential voters,” he said. “When politicians come to believe that not listening could be detrimental to their political health, they listen.” However, many were left asking for more details on the American stance ahead of the Summit in Paris next year.

The event, also available as a live webcast, had also called for participants to submit questions to Stern, attracting queries from as far afield as Bangladesh! In the Q&A session (moderated by Yale Professor Dr. Karen Seto) that followed, Stern was asked, among other things, about US-India and US-China relations in the climate negotiation process, as well as the role of universities in the process of sustainable development. He said he continues to remain hopeful of India’s and China’s stance on climate policy and that academic institutions have a crucial role to play in the research for cleaner modes of development and energy. He concluded on a hopeful note by saying that there is a need for institutions to take the lead in sustainability and that Yale continues to uphold that responsibility.


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