Obama Looks Beyond Congress for New Climate Agreement
August 27, 2014
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.
“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.