Thursday, December 17, 2015

Republican's Failed Attempts to Undermine the COP21 Climate Agreement

Republicans in Congress did what they could to scuttle a climate deal at COP21. Just as Republicans are expert in sewing doubt about the scientific veracity of climate change they tried to cast doubt on US support for a climate agreement at COP21. Republican committee chairs held hearings and they tried to undermine the work of government scientific agencies.

Republicans also used their control over the purse strings to try to stop the US from contributing to the Green Climate Fund. They even threatened to shut down government by refusing to pass a spending bill.

Just ahead of the start of the Paris climate talks at the end of November, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chair of the Senate environment and public works committee, sent a letter to President Obama to make it clear to the world that Congress hasn't approved green climate funding.

"The money is the linchpin," Barrasso said before the deal was signed. "The money is the linchpin that has to get a number of countries engaged in a kind of pay to play approach, and we want to make sure they know they are not going to get paid."

Republicans also tabled legislation designed to compromise US efforts in Paris. One such bill had the support of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is responsible for the State Department spending bill.

However the green climate fund is a priority issue for the President and many Democrats in Congress. In a deal announced on Wednesday December 16th Republican's traded their opposition to the Green Climate Fund for the lifting of a ban on oil exports.

House and Senate Republicans planned to go to the COP21 talks in Paris to tell other countries that Congress does not share the President's views on climate action. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) was supposed to have led the House delegation. Renowned climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) released a white paper outlining ways Congress could undermine a deal, and he sent some aides to Paris.

Republicans like Whitfield were at work trying to compromise a Paris agreement even before the start of the summit on November 30. One of a series of efforts to compromise the official US position at the talks came late November when Republicans Congress voted to block EPA's Clean Power Plan. The vote was split along party lines with only four Democrats joining and all but two Republicans in support. This was an attempt by the GOP to show the world that a Republican president will not follow through on President Obama's Paris commitments.

"We want the world to know that there is disagreement with the president on this issue," Whitfield said.

Even before the ink on the climate deal was signed Republicans went on attack led by Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

"The president is making promises he can’t keep, writing checks he can’t cash, and stepping over the middle class to take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months," McConnell said.

Despite the rhetoric from Republicans it will not be as easy for them to overturn the climate agreement even if through some miracle they manage to win the next presidential election.

"The rest of the world is going to expect the U.S. to live up to its commitment [made at the Paris meeting], no matter who is in the White House," said Henrik Selin, professor of international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. "If you have a president who comes in and starts rolling back the Obama initiatives, you're going to have international leaders being very unhappy about this – and they are not just countries, they are trading partners. This is not just a domestic issue, it's also very much a foreign policy issue."

While Republicans did not manage to undermine a climate deal in Paris they did succeed in making emissions reductions legally non-binding. A legally binding treaty would have required the support of the Senate. However, other elements of the deal are legally binding including the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews.

As reported in Politico, Republican presidential candidates dismissed President Obama’s address at COP21. The New York Times reports that Governor Jeb Bush would have skipped the climate conference altogether if he were president.

Once again Republicans are hopelessly out of touch with the American people. According to a New York Times/CBS poll conducted in November, 66 percent of Americans said that they believed the US should join an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming.


The Poll indicates that Americans are in favor regulating business activity and capping power plant emissions. A total of 50 percent of Americans want the government to restrict drilling, logging and mining on public lands. Although most respondents indicated that they do not want to pay more for electricity or gas, most Americans said that in situations where a sacrifice must be made, protecting the environment was more important than stimulating the economy (54 percent to 34 percent).

A number of prominent people including Jane Goodall and Pope Francis called out Republicans for their efforts to undermine a climate deal

In a speech to the African UN headquarters, the Pope leveled a criticism that was squarely aimed at Republican Presidential contenders and lawmakers. Francis said, "It would be sad, and dare I say even catastrophic, were special interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and interests."

Republicans continue to put the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the interests of the American people. As the party that opposes the EPA's efforts to provide Americans with clean air and water their efforts to undermine COP21 should not surprise anyone. The Obama administration deserves credit for doing a masterful job of making the Paris agreement impervious to the GOP. So, try as they may the Republicans could not kill the deal reached at COP21. However they did manage to draw even more attention to their contempt for climate action.

Their actions around COP21 reveal that they are disconnected from the will of Americans, out of step with attitudes of world leaders, and out of touch with the reality of climate change.

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