Lead US climate envoy Todd Stern to leave in April

Leading architect of 2015 Paris deal will be replaced by veteran US diplomat and energy expert Jonathan Pershing


US climate envoy Todd Stern consults with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua (Pic: IISD Reporting Services/2011)

By Ed King

Lead US climate change envoy Todd Stern will leave his post on 1 April, the US government has announced.

One of the main drivers behind the December 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2014 US-China climate pact, Stern headed the State Department team at UN negotiations from early 2009.

His former deputy Jonathan Pershing, who first took part in UN climate talks back in 1991, will take over Stern’s role after a stint at the Energy Department.

In a statement US secretary of state John Kerry offered Stern his thanks, praising him for his “persistence and dedication” in his quest to seal a deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“I have felt fortunate from day one to have Todd on my team, and we have all benefitted from his mastery of the climate challenge and all of its nuances, his diligence, and his negotiating skills,” he said.

“He played an enormous role in achieving so many of our climate milestones, and the tireless work by Todd and his team over many years will benefit future generations in every corner of the globe.”

Marshall Islands climate ambassador Tony de Brum, who in 2013 asked president Barack Obama to replace Stern after a series of rows, paid tribute to his former adversary: “Without Todd there would be no Paris Agreement,” he said.

Stern’s departure comes after news UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and UN talks president Laurent Fabius were both leaving the process.

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Nat Keohane, vice president for global climate at the Environmental Defense Fund NGO, said he deserved immense credit for his role as “point person” for US climate diplomacy in the lead up to Paris.

“He was a very steady presence throughout his time, his persistence and vision around that effort really contributed to the success of Paris,” he said. “I think his tenure will be seen as an extraordinarily successful one.”

A softly-spoken lawyer from Chicago, Stern’s view on how a global deal could work was shaped through Kyoto Protocol negotiations in the late 1990s, and the Copenhagen climate summit.

Viewed my most analysts as a diplomatic disaster, Stern believed the 2009 meeting in the Danish capital had achieved a breakthrough by getting rich and poor nations to pledge action.

Jonathan Pershing replaces Stern as top US climate envoy (credit: US Department of Energy)

Jonathan Pershing replaces Stern as top US climate envoy (credit: US Department of Energy)

His tenure as US climate envoy saw his team rigidly stick to the principle that all nations would need to make greenhouse gas cuts, a red line that was met under the Paris deal.

“He’s put a good stint in there since beginning of administration, was key in the administration’s strategy to get the Paris agreement over the hump,” said Alden Meyer, a veteran observer of the talks from the US Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Obviously Jonathan is a quite able replacement to step in for rest of administration’s term on this. He knows the brief, knows the players, knows the strategy. I don’t think they’re going to miss a beat.”

Stern – who celebrated the Paris climate deal by dancing to Village People hit YMCA – told reporters in London last month he was confident the US would support the global deal no matter who was elected president this year.

“I don’t see it’s remotely likely a president would pull us out of Paris… but people follow what’s going on in the US politically with great interest… because we’re a big, important player,” he said.

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