US climate envoy calls UN green summit a priority despite Obama no-show

The State Department’s top climate change diplomat says next week's United Nations green development conference in Brazil is a high priority for U.S. officials even though President Obama isn’t showing up.

Heads of state from over 100 nations are slated to attend the June 20-22 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Obama, is heading the U.S. team, disappointing some environmentalists.

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But Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, noted Friday that not every nation is sending its head-of-state.

“The Secretary of State is coming at a very high level. There are many, many countries that are represented at the head-of-state level and many, many countries that are represented at a senior level comparable to the Secretary of State. I don’t have any other comment on that,” Stern said on a conference call with reporters about the summit.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and a number of other senior U.S. officials are also attending.

Stern called development a major foreign policy focus for the U.S.

“The President and the Secretary of State have elevated it, made it one of the three pillars of our foreign, national security policy, together with defense and diplomacy,” Stern said.

“[G]iven the inevitable pressure on resources of all kinds that we see now around the world, whether it’s water, oceans, pressures on food, and so forth, really the only kind of development that can occur in the 21st century and ensure growing economies, not only for this generation for us but for our kids, is broad-based, sustainable development,” Stern said.

The event, dubbed Rio+20, comes 20 years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio.

Stern also previewed the “outcome document” that officials are negotiating that will emerge from the summit.

He noted discussion on topics such as possible strengthening of the United Nations Environment Program, how sustainable development will be handled going forward at the UN, and other matters.

“There is a section of this which goes through a broad range of different sectoral or substantive issues, whether it’s food or water or energy, oceans, biodiversity, et cetera, et cetera. And then there’s a lot of discussion regarding so-called means of implementation,” Stern said, according to a State Department transcript of the call with reporters.