Obama Is Pursuing A 'Sweeping' International Climate Agreement - And He's Doing It Without Congress


Barack Obama

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President Barack Obama speaks at the American Legion National Convention on August 26, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In a move certain to draw the ire of congressional Republicans, President Barack Obama is working to secure an international agreement on climate change that would compel countries to slash their carbon emissions.

The New York Times' Coral Davenport reports the agreement would be a "politically binding" one that would "name and shame" countries into reducing their emissions of fossil fuels.

Obama is pursuing the "politically binding" accord to sidestep the U.S. Senate, where a "legally binding" agreement would almost certainly fail. Such an agreement needs a two-thirds majority of the Senate to pass under the U.S. Constitution.


There is virtually no chance the Senate would pass an legally binding U.N. accord on climate change in the near future, at a time when divisions over the causes of the earth's warming have become increasingly partisan.

The new plan for the accord is to "blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges," according to the Times. The end result would be updating the existing treaty - not establishing a new treaty - which negotiators argue would not require a new ratification vote.

Under the budding agreement, countries would voluntarily set certain levels of emissions cuts - but they would be legally forced to enforce certain climate-change policies.


"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.