The Intersection: Dec 2015

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Something for Everyone: The Political Reaction to the Climate Deal

More than a year ago–after months of secret negotiations–President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement to reduce their respective countries’ carbon emissions.  As the world’s number one and number two carbon emitters, this was a significant milestone that conveyed a serious commitment to other world leaders in the lead up to the COP21 climate talks in Paris. This agreement became a key element of President Obama’s climate change strategy and set the stage for the global climate deal that was signed last week in Paris by 188 countries.

Obama picture

Getting a deal done in Paris was a big political victory for President Obama, who has made climate change a top priority for his administration.  He said the “agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is fully committed to a low-carbon future. We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.”

The Democratic Response

Democratic Party leaders were quick to praise the President’s leadership on the issue of climate change with House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, calling it a “monumental moment” and Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid, stating that “climate change poses one of the greatest threats the world has ever known, and that no country acting alone can stem the tide.” The feat of getting 188 countries to agree to a climate deal that aims to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius signified strong global support for the issue of climate change.

The Republican Response

Republicans were quick to point out that the signed climate agreement was “non-binding,” which means it is not a formal treaty and, therefore, does not need to be ratified by the US Senate. If the United States or any other country does not live up to their voluntary commitments, there is no official penalty or repercussion for failing to reach their emissions targets.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Obama was “making promises he can’t keep” and advised that “before his international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject.”

McConnell was referring to the 26 states that are currently suing the Obama Administration over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan which mandates that states reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 25 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.

What’s next for The Climate Change Agenda in the US?

The outcome of the court’s decision on the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions as part of their Clean Power Plan will have a significant impact on the nation’s ability to meet the agreed upon carbon reduction goals outlined in the Global Climate Change Agreement. While the US’s signature on the agreement sends a strong signal to the rest of the world about our intent to reduce emissions, the actual agreement on its own doesn’t have the legislative teeth to reduce emissions like the EPA Clean Power plan, which could be a significant climate change legacy for the Obama Administration. All eyes should be on the court ruling which is expected next year

Paris agreement

Alex Hahn

Senior Partner

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