Todd Stern

Todd Stern, the United States climate envoy, in charge of brokering an international deal on climate, photographed at the State Department, Washington. D.C.


The United States Major Economies Forum

by Joe Conason

When the world’s leaders left Copenhagen under a cloud of disappointment last December, the prospect of an unprecedented planetary disaster loomed on history’s horizon. How could the threat of rising temperatures be averted if, as many environmentalists had declared, the fifteenth conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) represented the last best chance to save the earth? Bitter debate between advanced and developing countries again delayed vital progress. Once more, the United Nations proved defective as an institution for resolving the most pressing disputes among nations. Under the roles governing the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties or COP15, no binding agreement could be approved unless every member agreed—and every member would never agree on anything that truly needed to be done.

Humanity was trapped in a carbon cul-de-sac. Several months before that spectacle unfolded, however, Barack Obama and his peers had quietly set forth on a parallel path toward a sustainable future. Without abandoning the U.N. process, the American president had brought together leaders of 17 major industrial and developing countries in March 2009 to discuss practical means for addressing climate change with technology and money. Arrayed around the same table were representatives of the most prolific current sources of greenhouse gas, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with representatives of those that will soon reach or surpass that level, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa (the E.U. and Denmark were als invited). Aiming for both candid dialogue and concrete solutions, the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), as the group is formally known, was unable to save the Copenhagen summit. But it has become far more important in the wake of that debacle.


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