Thursday, August 28, 2014

Obama's End Run Around the Senate to Secure a Climate Deal

In an effort to bypass obstructionist Republicans the Obama administration is working on an international climate deal that does not require the approval of the Senate. A legally binding treaty would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. To circumvent partisan gridlock, in particular the anti science stance of Republican lawmakers, Obama is looking to craft a political agreement rather than a binding treaty. Republicans in the senate (alongside a handful of fossil fuel Democrats) will never ratify such a treaty. The sad reality is that these lawmakers, who represent less than 10 percent of the American population, have the power to kill a binding treaty.

This political agreement is being sought ahead of the December 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPCCC) meeting in Paris.

By doing an end run around the Senate, the Obama administration will be able to avoid the fate of the Kyoto protocol which was approved by then president Clinton in 1997 only to be shot down by legislators.

The end run may have been in the works for quite some time. At the 2011 United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, it was agreed that the goal for the 2015 Paris meeting was an, "outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties." However the US succeeded in changing the language at the 2013 conference. At the conclusion of the IPCCC meeting last year, the negotiating document removed language calling for a legally binding treaty under international law.

The political agreement being developed by the Obama administration is actually an updated version of a preexisting climate agreement which the Senate ratified in 1992.

Even if Obama succeeds in cobbling together such an agreement there will still be stiff opposition. Particularly vociferous resistance can be expected from the Conservative fossil fuel obsessed governments in Australia and Canada. Even the UK has back peddled on a climate agreement under Conservative rule, which calls one to question the intelligence of the white English speaking world.

If we are to have any hope of signing an international climate deal the US must be on-board. Without support for some kind of climate deal from the US it is very unlikely that other nations will follow suit. In the absence of a legally binding treaty, the Obama administration intends to use a name and shame approach to securing participation from other nations which is premised on global peer pressure.

The absence of a legally binding treaty will not please the EU and developing nations, however, there are few alternatives to the political deal being proposed given the legislative obstacles in the US.

President Obama is working within the framework of the powers allotted to him by the constitution. At the end of the day, a politically binding treaty is far better than allowing the process to be killed by the small minded ignorance of a few dozen legislators.

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