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Climate Skepticism in U.S. Puzzles Other Nations, Stern Says

Climate Skepticism in U.S. Puzzles Other Nations, Stern Says
U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern addressing the media at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Photographer: Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Skepticism in the U.S. about climate change bewilders other nations after midterm congressional elections in which opposition to global warming became an issue, Obama administration climate negotiator Todd Stern said.

“People from around the world look at some of the things that people who were running for the Senate or the House said, and some of the positions that were taken,” and “there is puzzlement,” Stern said yesterday at a news briefing in Arlington, Virginia.

At least three dozen candidates for Congress were elected after campaigning against proposals to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The Senate failed to pass climate-change legislation this year and President Barack Obama, who backed the measure, supports efforts to craft a new treaty combating global warming.

Global negotiators have “a lot of faith in the overall commitment of our administration and of so many people on the Hill and throughout the country,” Stern said.

Still, Americans need to be educated about global warming, he said.

“The message needs to be disseminated,” Stern said. While “climate deniers” represent a minority, “there’s no question it is something that needs to be addressed and dealt with in this country,” he said.

Stern spoke after a two-day meeting of the world’s 17 biggest greenhouse-gas emitters. The talks focused on working toward common ground when about 190 countries gather Nov. 29 in Cancun, Mexico, for United Nations-led climate-treaty talks. A similar meeting in Copenhagen last year failed to reach a legally binding agreement.

‘Optimist, Pessimist’

“I would describe myself right now as neither an optimist nor a pessimist,” Stern said when asked about prospects for Cancun.

He reiterated his expectation that countries won’t reach agreement on a binding accord in Mexico.

There won’t be any “enormous leaps forward,” though “real and concrete steps” can be made, he said.

Stern said the UN remains the preferred vehicle for global-climate negotiations, though he warned that eventually progress must be shown.

“The process can’t continually stalemate and remain the locus of activity,” Stern said. If the Cancun talks and meetings in South Africa next year fall short, it will become clear at some point that “it’s not going to work,” he said.

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