Tony Blair for Climate Czar

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In modern American governments, presidents have delegated intractable policy problems to individuals who officially (or unofficially) became known as czars. Frank Zarb was Energy Czar during the first U.S. energy crisis, General Barry McCaffrey was Drug Czar under President Clinton, and most recently, President Bush appointed Lt. General Douglas Lute as War Czar to coordinate U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Usually these czars get special authority to manage cabinet-level departments and use the president’s clout to cut through bureaucracy and get things done. Results are by no means certain, but at the very least czars focus the government’s (and the public’s) attention on difficult issues.

I saw former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak at a conference in Long Beach, CA last week. In conversation with Thomas Friedman, Blair was brilliant, dynamic, and authoritative on every question asked of him. He sprinkled his remarks with touches of humor, which made him an even more engaging public figure.

The venue was the California Governor’s Conference on Women (TerraPass offset the carbon emissions associated with 14,000 participants getting to and from the event). In wide-ranging comments during his interview last Tuesday, Blair showed the most concern and urgency about climate change. He declared a moral imperative to confront the environmental challenge: “If we don’t act on this global problem, we are betraying future generations.”

Blair described how his views on global warming evolved during his time as prime minister. As the science became more convincing that human activities were warming the planet and setting in motion an alarming set of environmental impacts, Blair was the most determined leader among the major industrialized countries to support aggressive plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He led his country to sign the Kyoto Protocol, set ambitious targets for increasing the use of renewable energy sources, and embraced cap and trade and the European Union emissions trading system. London became the center of a global carbon market during Blair’s tenure. Blair also pressed for climate change to be a central issue at the G-8 Economic Summits and championed the Gleneagles Plan of Action in 2005. In addition, Blair and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger entered into an unprecedented agreement in 2006 between the U.K. and the State of California to work together to combat climate change.

Blair is now defining new roles for himself in his post-PM period. He just announced plans to write a book about his political career. And he has volunteered to serve as special envoy of a multilateral effort by the United States, Russia, the U.N., and the European Union (four diplomatic players known as the Quartet) to advance peace talks in the Middle East. Blair has committed to spend one week per month in the region.

But the man still has some time on his hands. What if the U.N., with support from both industrialized and developing countries, appointed Blair to a new post of Climate Czar, with broad authority to negotiate a successor agreement to Kyoto? The world needs a statesman who can appreciate the environmental, political, economic, and social forces reflected in the climate change issue. We need someone who can bring the community of nations to the negotiating table and hash out a deal. Can you think of anyone more capable of doing this job than Tony Blair?

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