Obama administration pursuing climate accord

President seeks to bypass Senate

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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 U.N. 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 Barack 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 Cap­i­tol Hill Re­pub­li­cans and poor na­tions 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.

Law­mak­ers in both par­ties on Cap­i­tol Hill say there is no chance that the 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.”

U.S. 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 achieve 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 strat­egy comes as sci­en­tists warn that the earth is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the first signs of hu­man-caused global warm­ing — more se­vere drought and stron­ger wild­fires, ris­ing sea lev­els and more dev­as­tat­ing storms — and as the United Na­tions heads to­ward what many say is the body’s last chance to avert more cat­a­strophic re­sults in the com­ing cen­tury. At the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York next month, del­egates will gather at a side­line meet­ing on cli­mate change to try to make prog­ress to­ward the deal next year in Paris. A Decem­ber meet­ing is planned in Lima, Peru, to draft the ac­cord.

In seek­ing to go around Con­gress to push his in­ter­na­tional cli­mate change agenda, Mr. Obama is echo­ing his do­mes­tic cli­mate strat­egy. In June, he by­passed Con­gress and used his ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to or­der a far-reach­ing reg­u­la­tion forc­ing U.S. coal-fired power plants to curb their car­bon emis­sions. That reg­u­la­tion, which would not be fi­nal un­til next year, al­ready faces le­gal chal­lenges.

But uni­lat­eral ac­tion by the world’s larg­est econ­omy will not be enough to curb the rise of car­bon pol­lu­tion across the globe. That will be pos­si­ble only if the world’s larg­est econ­o­mies agree to en­act sim­i­lar cuts.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­na­tional cli­mate strat­egy is likely to in­fu­ri­ate Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers who al­ready say the pres­i­dent is abus­ing his ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity by push­ing through ma­jor pol­i­cies with­out con­gres­sio­nal ap­proval.

united nations - United States - North America - United States government - Europe - Barack Obama - France - Western Europe - United States Congress - U.S. Republican Party - George W. Bush - United States Senate - Paris - Mitch McConnell


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