Hillary Clinton’s confirmation yesterday as Secretary of State puts the US on the path to advance President Obama’s climate change agenda in the global forum of the United Nations climate negotiations.

Our new President promised in his inaugural speech, “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Success in dealing with climate change requires US leadership as well as a serious domestic energy policy. Although the President’s declaration that “we are ready to lead once more” smacks of a certain arrogance and a reference to American exceptionalism that may grate, climate change is one area where no nation grudges America a leadership role.

President Obama set the scope of the challenge when he said: “we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

Negotiations are well underway for a new international climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil – about 190 nations all told – have agreed to work toward a shared vision culminating with a signing in Copenhagen this coming December. The next round of meetings is scheduled for March, and draft text for the Copenhagen Protocol, as it will be called, will probably be needed by June to allow governments time for review.

The US negotiating team should be prepared to participate fully in the March meetings. Secretary of State Clinton will need to move quickly to put in place her senior climate change team and the Senate should speed their confirmations so that they can join the seasoned, competent career staff that is already working hard at Department of State.

From Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “…let me just say one thing about global climate change. Many today do not see global climate change as a national security threat, but it is profoundly so. And the consequences of our inaction grow more serious by the day. In Copenhagen, this December, we have a chance to forge a treaty that will profoundly affect the conditions of life on our planet itself. The resounding message from the recent climate change conference in Poland was that the global community is looking overwhelmingly to our leadership. This Committee will be deeply involved in crafting a solution that the world can agree to and that the Senate can ratify. And as we proceed, the lesson of Kyoto must remain clear in our minds: All countries must be part of the solution.”