Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty

What US Constitution?

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.

Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.

“There’s a strong understanding of the difficulties of the U.S. situation, and a willingness to work with the U.S. to get out of this impasse,” said Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate change to the United Nations. “There is an implicit understanding that this not require ratification by the Senate.”

American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

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

The Obama administration’s climate change negotiators are desperate to avoid repeating the failure of Kyoto, the United Nations’ first effort at a legally binding global climate change treaty. Nations around the world signed on to the deal, which would have required the world’s richest economies to cut their carbon emissions, but the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, ensuring that the world’s largest historic carbon polluter was not bound by the agreement.

Seventeen years later, the Senate obstacle remains. Even though Democrats currently control the chamber, the Senate has been unable to reach agreement to ratify relatively noncontroversial United Nations treaties. In 2012, for example, Republican senators blocked ratification of a United Nations treaty on equal rights for the disabled, even though the treaty was modeled after an American law and had been negotiated by a Republican president, George W. Bush.

Full article: Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty (NY Times)

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