Hillary Clinton: Stemming the Tide of Climate Change

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton spearheaded global action to fight climate change, building international partnerships to counter its threat. Sec. Clinton worked actively to protect the planet and its inhabitants by making climate change a priority in U.S. foreign policy and built partnerships to mobilize the international community to mitigate climate change and its adverse effects. Recognizing the clear and present danger of climate change, Sec. Clinton emphasized the need for American leadership in tackling this ever-growing global issue.

Made Climate Change an American Foreign Policy Priority

Sec. Clinton changed the way the U.S. approached climate change. According to the New York Times,“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up her first diplomatic mission to Asia yesterday with climate change experts praising her for putting global warming at the center of U.S. foreign policy… Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of a new blueprint on how to bring China and the United States into cooperation on climate change, said he thinks Clinton sent a powerful signal that was ‘fundamentally different’ from the one sent by the Bush administration over the past eight years. He noted that Clinton chose [Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd] Stern as her travel companion — and not a Treasury Department official, a nonproliferation expert or an envoy on any number of other top-tier foreign policy issues. ‘Climate change is one of these existential threats that the U.S. and other countries face, and we do not have the luxury of procrastinating anymore. I think that’s the message that Hillary Clinton brought to China,’ Lieberthal said. ‘She’s saying, “We have changed the U.S. approach to this in a huge way. We want you to know that, and we want you to know the door is wide open for serious communication,’” he said.” [New York Times, 2/23/09]

Sec. Clinton appointed a Special Envoy for Climate Change to “serve as a principal advisor on international climate policy and strategy.” According to Sec. Clinton’s remarks announcing the appointment of Todd Stern as Special Envoy for Climate Change, “The Special Envoy will serve as a principal advisor on international climate policy and strategy. He will be the Administration’s chief climate negotiator. He will be leading our efforts with United Nations negotiations and processes involving a smaller set of countries and bilateral sessions. Because the main cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuel and because the solution rests with our ability to shift the global economy from a high to a low carbon energy base, the Envoy will be a lead participant in the development of climate and clean energy policy. He will participate in all energy-related policy discussions that, across our government, can have an impact on carbon emissions, and will be looking for opportunities to forge working alliances.” [Remarks Announcing the Appointment of Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, state.gov, 1/26/09]

Sec. Clinton established the Bureau of Energy Resources because “how the world uses energy is a key factor” to addressing the threat of climate change. According to Sec. Clinton’s remarks on delivering on the promise of economic statecraft, “Next, on energy. We know energy can be a source of healthy competition, with countries racing to develop new technologies and renewables. But it can also be a source of conflict, fueling corruption and instability. And how the world uses energy is a key factor as to whether we will finally address the threat of climate change. So we have created at the State Department a new Bureau of Energy Resources, and made this issue a priority in our diplomacy.” [Remarks on Delivering on the Promise of Economic Statecraft, state.gov, 11/17/12]

Sec. Clinton viewed U.S. leadership on climate change as both “a responsibility we should accept and an opportunity we should seize.” In her book Hard Choices,Secretary Clinton wrote, “In our meeting in Copenhagen, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia told me that the world was looking to the United States to lead the way on climate change. I believe this is both a responsibility we should accept and an opportunity we should seize. After all, we’re still the largest economy and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. The more serious the effects of climate change, the more important it will be for us to lead.” [Hard Choices, pg. 504, 2014]

Advanced International Partnerships on Climate Change

Sec. Clinton expanded U.S. efforts to assist developing countries hit hardest by climate change. In her remarks on the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, Sec. Clinton said, “A year ago, President Obama proposed this partnership as a forum for sharing ideas and devising solutions. And through consultation with many of the countries here today, we identified five critical areas of engagement: energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner fossil fuels, energy poverty, and infrastructure. And today, I propose we add two new areas to help advance the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and to be prepared for the next conference in Cancun. Those are: sustainable forestry and land use, and adaptation to assist developing countries that have been and are being hardest hit by climate change.” [Remarks on the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, state.gov, 4/15/10]

Sec. Clinton launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which has 37 countries working to reduce methane emissions. In her book Hard Choices,Secretary Clinton wrote, “I held an event at the State Department with the Environmental Ministers from Bangladesh, Canada, Mexico, and Sweden, the Ambassador from Ghana, and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. In 2014, there are thirty-seven country partners and forty-four nonstate partners, and the Coalition is making important strides toward reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production and black carbon from diesel fumes and other sources.” [Hard Choices, pg. 501, 2014]

Sec. Clinton launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to negate the “serious health risks” of dirty cookstoves and to reduce their contribution to climate change. According to Sec. Clinton’s remarks on the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, “The World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks that face people in poor, developing countries. Nearly 2 million people die from its effects each year, more than twice the number from malaria. And because the smoke contains greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as black carbon, it contributes to climate change. […] I know that maybe this sounds hard to believe, but by upgrading these stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved. This could be as transformative as bed nets or even vaccines. So today, I am very pleased to announce the creation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.” [Remarks on the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, state.gov, 9/21/10]

Sec. Clinton helped drive an unprecedented deal between major economies, developed and developing, to curb carbon emissions. According to Foreign Affairs, “Obama and Clinton barged into a meeting at the 2009 global climate change talks in Copenhagen and forced the Chinese president to agree to a nonbinding pact under which rich and poor countries alike pledged to curb their carbon emissions.” In her book Hard Choices,Secretary Clinton wrote, “Sitting [in Copenhagen] next to President Obama in the small leaders’ meeting he and I had just forced our way into, I hoped that we might finally be getting somewhere. I looked across the table at Wen Jiabao, then at the leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa. […] In the end, after lots of cajoling, debating, and compromising, the leaders in that room fashioned a deal that, while far from perfect, saved the summit from failure and put us on the road to future progress. For the first time all major economies, developed and developing alike, agreed to make national commitments to curb carbon emissions through 2020 and report transparently on their mitigation efforts. The world began moving away from the division between developed and developing countries that had defined the Kyoto agreement.” [Foreign Affairs, May/June 2013; Hard Choices, pg. 499, 2014]

Sec. Clinton signed an agreement with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim to “strengthen bilateral cooperation” on climate change efforts. According to a State Department fact sheet, “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim today signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation Regarding Climate Change’ that will strengthen bilateral cooperation between the United States and Brazil as we work to meet the global climate and clean energy challenge. This Memorandum of Understanding launches a new ‘Climate Change Policy Dialogue’ to discuss key issues, including: The implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and ways to build on the Copenhagen Accord as quickly as possible; Strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; Joint efforts on research, development, deployment and dissemination of clean energy technologies; Adaptation; Cooperation on climate change scientific research; and Capacity-building in sectors related to climate change.” [Announcement of Increased Cooperation on Climate Change, state.gov, 3/3/10]

Urged Global Cooperation in the Fight against Climate Change

Sec. Clinton called for a cooperative international effort to implement climate change action plans “in individual countries, in regions and globally.” According to Sec. Clinton’s remarks at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, “All of us participating today must cooperate in developing meaningful proposals to move the process forward. New policy and new technologies are needed to resolve this crisis, and they won’t materialize by themselves. They will happen because we will set forth an action plan in individual countries, in regions, and globally. It took a lot of work by a lot of people to create the problem of climate change over the last centuries. And it will take our very best efforts to counter it.” [Remarks at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, state.gov, 4/27/09]

Sec. Clinton: “No solution” to the climate problem “is feasible without all major emitting nations joining together and playing an important part.” According to Sec. Clinton’s remarks announcing the appointment of Todd Stern as Special Envoy for Climate Change, “As the President has made clear, he is committed to enacting a far-reaching new energy and climate plan. As we take steps at home, we will also vigorously pursue negotiations, those sponsored by the United Nations and those at the sub-global, regional, and bilateral level that can lead to binding international climate agreements. No solution is feasible without all major emitting nations joining together and playing an important part.” [Remarks Announcing the Appointment of Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, state.gov, 1/26/09]