President Obama’s announcement Saturday that the United States and China had joined last year’s landmark Paris climate agreement together elicited tepid response from Republicans in Congress who insist the administration has shirked its obligation to submit the deal to the Senate.
Instead of threatening to take down the deal through legislation or litigation, Republicans released a few muted statements arguing that the global agreement would falter on its own.
“History already shows that this Paris Agreement will fail,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). “This latest announcement is the president attempting to once again give the international community the appearance that he can go around Congress in order to achieve his unpopular and widely rejected climate agenda for his legacy.”
Inhofe, who has called climate change a hoax, noted that the Supreme Court has stayed U.S. EPA’s flagship carbon rule for power plants. If the rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, does not survive court challenges, it could make the United States’ commitment under Paris harder to reach.
“Furthermore, environmental groups and industry agree that the U.S. commitments made under the Paris Agreement cannot be met with regulations and would require legislation from Congress that will never pass,” Inhofe said.
The United States has put forward a pledge to cut emissions between 26 and 28 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2025. The administration has said that target can be reached without congressional action, though it may require action from future administrations.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who has led the charge to make Senate approval of Paris a condition of Obama’s request for climate aid, said the president’s move would weaken the U.S. economy.
“This questionable unilateral action by the president can and should be struck down as soon as possible,” he said.
The United States and China formally joined Paris on Saturday by delivering their instruments of ratification to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was on hand in Hangzhou, where leaders gathered for the Group of 20 meeting.
The deal is based on national commitments put forward by more than 180 countries. China vowed to peak its emissions by 2030, and several recent analyses say it is on track to do so years before that. But Republicans say the agreement gives advantages to major developing countries like China because developed countries by and large have agreed to make deeper cuts.
But it is unclear what tools Republican lawmakers plan to use to combat Paris, or whether they’ll even try.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to talk about it until they decide to do it, and that will be after the election,” said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Election will clarify future of agreement
One option would be to use Congress’ power of the purse to limit spending on Obama’s international climate agenda.
The House has attached language to State Department spending legislation for fiscal 2017 that would bar the United States from contributing to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund for developing countries. It would also block funding for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris implementation. But the Senate version approves that funding, raising doubts about the House’s path.
Ebell argues that this year’s presidential election will go a long way toward determining whether Congress has the leverage to prohibit that funding during a postelection spending showdown. If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, Obama would likely threaten to veto any spending bill that barred Green Climate Fund contributions, he said. A Republican-led Congress would have a stronger hand if GOP nominee Donald Trump was preparing to take office.
Ebell has urged the Senate to debate the merits of Paris and kill it, if only symbolically, whether the administration submits it or not. He notes that the deal is accepted as a treaty by other countries and by the United Nations itself. By refusing to ask for the Senate’s advice and consent, Obama is ignoring the constitutionally mandated division of responsibility between the executive and legislative branches of government, Ebell argued.
“It’s merely a matter of tradition that the Senate doesn’t take up a treaty until the president submits it,” he said. Senate rejection of Paris would send a signal to other countries not to trust Obama’s promises, he added.
Paul Bodnar, a former senior director for energy and climate change at the White House’s National Security Council, said it might not be legally possible for the Senate to vote Paris down in the way Ebell suggests after the United States has formally joined it. A nonbinding resolution may be the only option.
Scott Segal of Bracewell LLP said that undoing Paris would effectively require a Trump victory. But congressional Republicans would seek to build as strong a record as possible on the subject “so that when action is forced, they have all the playing pieces they would need.”
Congress could potentially sue the executive branch under Obama or Clinton if it uses the Paris Agreement as a predicate for regulation if the Senate doesn’t ratify it, he said. But that is unlikely.
“Any future EPA is not likely to cite Paris as a particular grant of authority just for that reason,” Segal said.
‘Strong partnership’ with China
On a call with reporters last Friday, White House adviser Brian Deese said the joint ratification with China showed the strong partnership the world’s two largest economies have developed on climate change.
“If we can come together, we can help move the world forward on combating climate change,” he said.
The two countries also released addition areas of cooperation for the future, including efforts to curb heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons and aviation emissions. They set a “landing zone” for efforts to broker an amendment to the Montreal Protocol this year limiting HFCs. It’s aimed at ironing out differences over the date by which the chemicals would be phased down and a schedule for that.
China’s support this weekend for an early freeze date moves the nation toward a position long held by the United States and other like-minded countries, Deese said. It might also serve to isolate India, which has insisted on more time for developing countries to make the transition.
“That effort and that specific commitment by our two countries should help to increase momentum for adopting an amendment,” said Deese. Parties hope to arrive at a final amendment in Rwanda next month.
The United States and China also announced they would both join an impending offsetting system for international aviation emissions “early.”
Environmental advocates said China’s participation in the first six years of the system, when countries are expected to voluntarily opt in, would be necessary if the deal were to cover 80 percent of emissions from the sector. A senior State official said they were “cautiously optimistic” that the deal, still under negotiation, would be finalized by a vote at a meeting of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization in a month.
Meanwhile, environmentalists lauded the United States and China for bringing Paris closer to early entry into force. To take effect, the deal requires 55 countries totaling 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to join, and the two largest emitters will ensure that nearly 40 percent of the world’s emissions are covered.
It also means that 25 countries have now joined the deal. It is likely that number will grow to 55 by Sept. 21, when Ban holds a summit in New York City to encourage countries to formally join the agreement. The emissions threshold is likely to take more time, though observers say the odds are good that Paris will be in effect this year.
If the deal is live by the time world leaders gather in Marrakech, Morocco, in November for the next round of U.N. talks, parties would need to begin deciding how implementation could work.
“Logistically, negotiations on the agreement’s detailed rules will likely take another year or two to finalize, and all countries will need to raise the ambition of their commitments under the agreement if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and reach a goal of net-zero global warming emissions by midcentury,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said that boosting transparency must be a focus moving forward.
“The Paris Agreement not only commits all countries to do their best to combat climate change, but provides us the tools to hold them accountable,” he said. “Stronger transparency rules will make clear whether countries are keeping their promises and contributing their fair share to the global effort.”
Reporter Camille von Kaenel contributed.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net. Click here for the original story.