Obama Looks Beyond Congress for New Climate Agreement

August 27, 2014

NYTimes:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

“If you want a deal that includes all the major emitters, including the U.S., you cannot realistically pursue a legally binding treaty at this time,” said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate change official in the Clinton administration who works closely with the Obama White House on international climate change policy.

Business Insider:

“There’s some legal and political magic to this,” Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, told the Times. “They’re trying to move this as far as possible without having to reach the 67-vote threshold” in the Senate
-

The move from Obama largely syncs with his domestic strategy toward climate change, which has been geared around executive actions and orders that have sidestepped Congress. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new proposed regulations that aim to force power plants to cut their emissions by as much 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA estimates the rule will cost approximately $5.5 billion in 2020, vs. net climate and health “benefits” of $26 billion to $45 billion to the economy.

Carbon pollution from power plants accounted for 33% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, according to the EPA. The U.S.’s carbon emissions have already fallen by about 10% since 2005, due in part both to the recession and the natural-gas boom. The new regulations are expected tol be a cornerstone toward accomplishing Obama’s 2009 pledge during international climate talks of reducing U.S. carbon emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.

The budding international climate accord and the new EPA regulations are likely to be the last significant moves for the Obama administration on climate change during Obama’s time in office.

 

 

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20 Responses to “Obama Looks Beyond Congress for New Climate Agreement”


  1. Even if Obama is serious about all this (and I have doubts), I don’t think it will be very effective at reducing CO2 emissions. The fact is, even if the EU could unilaterally decide world emissions and energy policies, the likely result would be shutting down nukes, burning more natural gas and coal, and “green” biomass (good-bye rain forests) while installing wind farms and solar panels for that “feel good” effect. Lots of effort will go into the PR campaign, with bold statements like “wind supplied 69% of Germany’s energy needs at 3 AM for one hour on a very windy and warm Sunday night.” Meanwhile, CO2 emissions rise, and methane too from natural gas leaks (though it won’t be measured or reported).

    I expect that most of the “progress” will just be finding ways to mitigate the damage caused by closing the nuclear power plants.

    • lesliegraham1 Says:

      The share of electricity produced from renewable energy in Germany has increased from 6.3% of the national total in 2000 to about 30% in the first half of 2014 and they have set a 45% Target by 2030.

      Oh look! – I didn’t mention the 69% at 3am for one hour.
      You did.
      And will you perleeese stop flogging that poor old horse. Nuclear isn’t just dead it was buried years ago.
      We need modern cheap clean power generation not the filthiest and most expensive dinosaur fuel ever devised for boiling a vat of water. What century do you think this is?


      • You forgot to mention Merkel is in trouble at the voter booth as the price of eletricity to the average peon is the highest in europe, millions of people are saying enough is enough. The other tiny problem is all that solar does not work at night but never fear, all good Germans go to bed when the sun stops shining and wake up when the sun comes up, everyone not complying is sent to jail and never sees the light of day. In the meantime since there are not enough jail beds they are buying the night time energy from nuclear France which is happy to sell as they have excess capacity and are getting a premimum price from the crazy Germans.

      • astrostevo Says:

        Maybe new forms of reactors like thorium will be developed? I hope so. I hope its not too late but there’ll need to be a mixture of measures I think with ideally most of those being renewable and sustainable.

        Plus a lot more boring but practical and effective energy efficiency measures.

        • lesliegraham1 Says:

          Yes – Thorium is definitely the fuel of the future – it has been for the last 50 years and I see no convincing reason why it won’t remain so.
          I realise the Chinese are having a serious crack at it, despite ever other country’s attempts ending in abject failure and the loss of tens of billions of whatever the local currency happened to be, and I wish them all the luck in the world – they’re sure to need it.
          The last country to throw in the towel (in 2010) after about 15 years of trying was South Africa. Germany had two attempts – the first ended in 1989 after costs soared out of control and a crack in the AVR caused a radioactive contamination of ground water and the second ended with a leak of radioactive dust when a feed pipe became blocked.
          So forgive me if I sound a little cynical and jaded about the idea of ‘safe’ thorium reactors appearing any time soon.

          On the upside we already have safe, long-established renewable technologies that scale up easily and could provide all the electricity Europe currently uses 43 times over according to some estimates. Not to mention millions of jobs and health benefits.
          But hey – you have to think of those poor billionairres in the carbon corporations – if we did that they would lose trillions of dollars in stranded assets. And who else could we trust to expose the great global warming conspiracy if not them?


      • Was there something about nuclear in the article? I missed it. Seems to be only in the comments section.


  2. You can argue all day about the merits of the agreement but what Obama is actually doing violates his oath of office and the US constitution. He is trying to make what is in effect a treaty affecting the US without the advice and consent of the senate of the United States. My take is that is an act of treason and he should stand trial and if convicted be disbared from office.


  3. If you look at the US population in 1970 roughly 200 million and the projected population in 2050 438 million they are asking you to use half the energy you used in 1970. Can you drive half as much, eat half as much, wear half as much clothing , live in a house half the size, use half the medicine, half the cokes, half of everything including your sports channel and that new Iphone 6 much less the computer and the internet? I bet you cannot and nobody else can either unless they were multi millionaires in 1970 so they went from two houses in the Hamptons to one. Ask yourself the next question, what about your kids when the population doubles again by 2100, wiill their dream of the good life be a mud hut and maybe a meal one day a week? The energy we use must be cheap or we cannot afford it, it must be all day, all night so that light workd when you get up in the middle of the night, it must allow you to have the lifestyle that you want, not what somebody in command gives you as a token because you were good. We need more energy for a rising population and until we invent a magic wand or go nuclear, fossila fuels will be neccesary for energy.

    • andrewfez Says:

      From Amory Lovins:

      “In 1975, government and industry insisted the primary energy needed to make a dollar of real GDP could never go down: trying to break this supposed iron link would send us, we were told, back to caves and candles. I heretically suggested in a 1976 Foreign Affairs article that U.S. energy intensity could fall by two-thirds over the next 50 years. How are we doing? As the graph shows, we’ve already cut energy intensity by more than half in 38 years. We’re using less than half the energy (and emitting less than half the carbon) we would be if today’s economy had 1975 energy intensities. But that’s only a fraction of the savings now available and worthwhile.” [see graph at link below]

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/amorylovins/2014/07/18/energy-intensity-the-secret-revolution/

    • andrewfez Says:

      And if we continue business as usual the 2100 generation will live in impoverished conditions secondary to:

      -oligarch ‘free market’ policies extracting all the wealth from the middle class
      -cheap energy resource depletion (oil, gas, coal)
      -cheap drinkable and industrial use water resource depletion
      -price of food will double by 2030 secondary to climate change, population growth, corn ethanol, etc.
      -long term economic costs of climate change

      You’ve seen for yourself that privatizing Iraqi oil and adding millions of barrels of oil per day to American production (drill baby drill) has not caused the price to come down any. That’s resource constrained economics at work. The apparent demand is smaller than the inherent demand. The only way for you to get $1.00/gallon equivalent now at the pump is to buy an electric vehicle or a Prius.


      • Andrew- speaking of how adding oil production has not lowered oil prices, here is Steven Kopits video about supply driven oil economics. See 30:50 where Kopits explains that nearly all new oil has been absorbed by emerging economies. At 23:00 see how he explains that advanced countries have reduced demand just as emerging economies have grown. He makes the case for a supply constrained oil market with a model at 10:00 and devotes the rest of the lecture to examples do supply driven market results since 2005.

        • andrewfez Says:

          Thanks Christopher – I have indeed watched that particular video before a couple times. In fact, I think you’re the one that showed it to me last year.

          I remember he said regular commodity forecasting was based off the GDP forecast, but oil is different because the economy is so dependent upon it, and thus GDP is a function of oil production; and further, when performing a traditional forecast, one fails to see the actual demand for oil, which is greater than just the GDP driven number. Basically the supply constraint is pushing GDP growth lower that it would be in an oil-plentiful world. The price won’t drop until inherent demand equals apparent demand which can’t happen due to the supply constraint.

          The theory is consistent with oil shocks, and makes what Post Carbon Institute has been pushing even more significant.

  4. petersjazz Says:

    The graph is a bit misleading. It looks as if the rate of change is a lot bigger than it is. Its the common error of not starting y axis at zero. If that would be done the curve would look smoother. And you could write a cross where a sustainable level of CO2 emissions is, a guess it would be about 1000.


  5. When groups like The Nature Conservancy are (slowly, hesitatingly) dropping their anti-nuclear positions, the hard-core antinuclear ideologues are getting desperate (probably because their coal- and gas-funded backers won’t have any more use for them, like the pro-tobacco “researchers”).  One of the signs of desperation is hysterical rhetoric, which can be found in abundance in Leslie Graham’s comments above:

    And will you perleeese stop flogging that poor old horse. Nuclear isn’t just dead it was buried years ago.

    Right now there are 77 reactors under construction world-wide.  Only 5 of them are in the USA, where the public still listens to people like Leslie Graham.  That won’t be true much longer.

    As a point, the nuclear capacity under construction RIGHT NOW is nearly equal to the USA’s total nuclear generating capacity.

    We need modern cheap clean power generation not the filthiest and most expensive dinosaur fuel ever devised for boiling a vat of water. What century do you think this is?

    That rhetoric is so over-heated it calls for a fire extinguisher.  I could make equally negative comments about Green’s favorite renewables, but I’ll spare everyone.  Though “What century do you think this is?” is particularly rich; many “Green” countries are going back centuries in time to clear-cut their forests for fuel.

    “Filthy” is an interesting adjective in this context.  What other technologies produce “waste” that is not only very useful (e.g. Cs-137 has a bunch of uses in medicine and food safety), but literally cleans up after itself by decaying away?

    Yes – Thorium is definitely the fuel of the future – it has been for the last 50 years and I see no convincing reason why it won’t remain so.

    The final run of the Shippingport reactor, using a Th/U-233 core, worked beautifully and flawlessly.  It demonstrated net fuel breeding with a light-water moderator, ending the run with 1.3% more fissile material than it started with.  This was after a run of 5 years, during which the fuel needed no changing.

    It’s not at all hard to imagine a new generation of cores for current reactors that can run for 10 years at a time and have enough fissiles to make more than one new core at the end of it.  That turns nuclear into a truly renewable resource… something that probably gives Leslie cold sweats.

    I realise the Chinese are having a serious crack at it, despite ever other country’s attempts ending in abject failure and the loss of tens of billions of whatever the local currency happened to be, and I wish them all the luck in the world – they’re sure to need it.

    The Chinese are building one or two, or four, of everything.  They’re busy learning everything we forgot.  When they’re done, they will be the leaders, not us.  And all thanks to you, Leslie!  Feel good now?

    On the upside we already have safe, long-established renewable technologies that scale up easily and could provide all the electricity Europe currently uses 43 times over according to some estimates.

    Meanwhile, after 25 years of effort Denmark creeps toward 35% wind (just 33.8% in 2013) and burns shredded forest for another 11% or so.

    Not to mention millions of jobs and health benefits.

    48% of Danish electricity still comes from coal.  Just what are the health benefits of clearcuts, exactly?  I can see people getting more vitamin D than they would sitting under leaf canopy, but the aesthetics just aren’t there and the wildlife would have something to say if it could talk.

    But hey – you have to think of those poor billionairres in the carbon corporations

    Which is why those billionaires finance all the anti-nuclear “environmental” organizations like Greenpeace and FoE through their web of foundations and charities, which promote wind and solar as “alternatives”.  Nuclear power has largely or fully eliminated fossil-fired electricity in several places, like Sweden, France and Ontario.  These people know which side their bread is buttered on.  The billionaires don’t sign Leslie’s paychecks, but they pay those who do.

    I think what scares Leslie is that when the anti-nuclear battle is lost, his usefulness will be over.  New battles call for fresh faces.  Discredited activists will only be millstones in those fights, so it is the end of the line for him.

    • andrewfez Says:

      = They’re busy learning everything we forgot.=

      The Chinese steal any intellectual property they can get their computer hackers’ hand on. Anything from US pop entertainment to the design of a low-material-intensive carton for shipping computers to retail purchasers. And their court system regularly sides with their patent and copyright thieves, against international gentlemens’ agreements. They even backed out of a 2GW order they had placed with First Solar after (I speculate) they probably collected enough info from the company to satisfy their ‘curiosity’.

      I say, let them work out the details, send some folks over there to help them out, then let General Electric et. al steal it all back for any state that wants to achieve their emissions targets in such manner. Perhaps such design sharing already takes place? I don’t follow it, so i don’t know.

    • lesliegraham1 Says:

      “when the anti-nuclear battle is lost, his usefulness will be over.”

      Oh drop the melodrama, please.
      The nuclear industry comitted suicide years ago and I have only a fringe interest in that arena anyway.
      The arguments have all been done to death and we don’t have the resources to build the estimated 14,000 nuclear plants that would be required globaly even if we did.
      I’ll make a deal with the nuclear industry – when they have figured out a way of disposing of the 300,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste they have already had in leaky ‘temporary storage’ for years and decades then maybe I would be more receptive to them creating millons of tons more.

      With regard to your “clear cuts” comment – I never mentioned them.
      You did.
      But I will add that wood is virtualy carbon neutral in that, when burned, it releases exactly the same volume of CO2 into the atmosphere as it absorbed during it’s growth.
      Providing it is burned and replanted on a sustainable cycle it is carbon nuetral.
      Not that I’m advocating it particularly I would rather see a continent wide HVDC smart grid combining off-shore wind from the UK coast, hydro-storage in Scandinavia and solar PV and CP – possibly using the Sahara region and linking to southern Europe.
      Solar is simply a no-brainer. It’s cheap and it’s nuclear. Should keep everyone happy.


      • The nuclear industry comitted suicide years ago

        When there’s reason to suspect that even TMI was sabotage, your claim of “suicide” sounds an awful lot like Chicago’s re-classification of obvious homicides to “death investigations” to improve its crime numbers under “compstat”.

        The arguments have all been done to death

        Translation:  “My mind is made up and I’m tired of hearing the facts which show that I’m mistaken.”  Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes nuclear.

        we don’t have the resources to build the estimated 14,000 nuclear plants that would be required globaly even if we did.

        I’m not familiar with the global stats, so let’s just look at the USA.  At $5000/kW, installing 500 GW of nuclear capacity (to replace essentially all other generation plus today’s aging fleet) would cost $2.5 trillion.  Reworking the US grid to integrate large amounts of “renewables” is estimated to cost $10 trillion, and would still require fossil backup.  “Renewables” are the unaffordable option, and not even complete.

        I’ll make a deal with the nuclear industry – when they have figured out a way of disposing of the 300,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste they have already had in leaky ‘temporary storage’ for years and decades then maybe I would be more receptive to them creating millons of tons more.

        Wait a minute, “nuclear industry”?  You are referring to MILITARY wastes, nothing to do with civilian nuclear power.  Spent nuclear fuel is a solid, and sits in pools and concrete casks.  It can sit there more or less forever without hurting anyone.

        Total spent nuclear fuel from nearly 60 years of generation in the USA is about 70,000 tons.  Of this about 95% is uranium, 1% transuranics, and 4% fission products.  Only the fission products are actually “waste” (and even they have uses), so the true inventory of waste in US spent fuel is roughly 300 tons.  Rather, it was; a fair amount isn’t radioactive and the rest mostly has half-lives of 30 years or less, so more than half of everything from 1957-1984 is gone already.

        France reprocesses all its spent fuel.  The entire French inventory of actual wastes are held in canisters in one building.

        wood is virtualy carbon neutral in that, when burned, it releases exactly the same volume of CO2 into the atmosphere as it absorbed during it’s growth.

        You’re still converting fixed carbon to atmospheric carbon, and burning wood that took 200 years to grow will take on the order of 200 years to pull out of the air again.  There’s also the detail that climax-forest ecosystems need climax forests; you can never renew lost species.

        Solar is simply a no-brainer. It’s cheap and it’s nuclear.

        Meanwhile, Sweden (50% nuclear/50% hydro, 23 gCO2/kWH) and France (78% nuclear, 77 gCO2/kWh) have the cleanest and some of the cheapest power in Europe.  They ARE already where you HOPE to get with solar… but hope is not a plan.  You don’t have a plan.  It IS a no-brainer; any application of brains to the issue shows that the “renewable” scheme is dangerously mistaken.


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