Hillary. Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP

Hillary Clinton.
Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP

The hot news in foreign relations on Tuesday was, of course, the confirmation hearing for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to be the next secretary of state. But also noteworthy is the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee‘s declaration that the panel’s attention will soon turn to global warming, which he plans to be the subject of the panel’s first hearing this year.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who takes over the committee with Joe Biden’s ascension to the vice presidency, tells the New York Times that he wants to use his committee to urge the Obama administration to act fast on climate change. “I think we are standing on the threshold of a huge opportunity to actually get something done,” he said. “The Obama administration is going to have to get up to speed very, very quickly.”

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The Times described Kerry’s new role as “a gold-plated consolation prize,” considering he ran for the presidency in 2004 and was rumored to be a top contender for secretary of state post under Obama. But Kerry seems to be ramping up to use his chairmanship for big things, not least of which is climate change. Shortly after it became clear that he wasn’t going to the Department of State, he pledged that his committee would “pick up the baton and really run with it” on climate.

His first action as chair of the committee, though, was to preside over Tuesday morning’s confirmation hearing for Clinton. His made a nod to climate change in his prepared opening remarks:

Before turning to Senator Lugar, let me say one thing about global climate change: Many today do not see it as a national security threat. But it is — 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. The resounding message from the recent Climate Change Conference in Poland was that the global community is looking to our leadership. This Committee will be deeply involved in crafting a solution that the world can agree to and 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.

In her own opening remarks, Clinton recognized Kerry’s work on climate and pledged to focus on the issue in her new role as the country’s top diplomat:

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You, Mr. Chairman, were among the very first in a growing chorus from both parties to recognize that climate change is an unambiguous security threat. At the extreme, it threatens our very existence but well before that point it could well incite new wars of an old kind over basic resources like food, water and arable land.

President-elect Obama has said America must be a leader in developing and implementing a global and coordinated response to climate change. We will participate in the upcoming UN Copenhagen Climate Conference and a global energy forum; and we’ll pursue an energy policy that reduces our carbon emissions while reducing our dependence on foreign oil and gas; fighting climate change and enhancing our economic and energy security.