How much room is there to maneuver between a rock and a hard place?
That’s a question President Barack Obama must be asking himself, when it comes to the question of climate change. On one hand, you have overwhelming evidence of an increasingly unstable climate system, posing an existential threat to the future of mankind — and most of the entire world angry at the U.S. for being the leading cumulative emitter and doing so little at the governmental level to address the problem. On the other hand, you have some Senate Republicans who are politically entrenched in denial of the problem, along with coal-state Democrats ready to contribute enough down-votes to block any attempt at a climate treaty — which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
With a United Nations summit meeting coming up in Paris next year that will attempt to come up with some kind of meaningful global agreement, the president is determined not to show up empty-handed this time.
So, in what appears to be a move modeled on his domestic climate agenda where he bypassed congressional action by means of an executive order directed through the EPA, he is now looking for some kind of international agreement that does not meet the legal definition of a treaty — but could still demonstrate meaningful intent on the part of the U.S. — that would hopefully convince other laggard countries to pick up their game as well.
This, according to negotiators, would be accomplished by “naming and shaming” those countries that have not been cooperating. “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 climate change official in the former Clinton administration.
How is this kind of maneuvering viewed from abroad? “There is an implicit understanding that this not require ratification by the Senate,” said an apparently sympathetic Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate change ambassador to the U.N.
Clearly, the president wants to show the world that he, personally, is truly concerned about the need for meaningful action on climate change. But is this merely a toothless gesture, intended to burnish his legacy? Or can he translate his intentions into what he’s calling a “politically binding” agreement that other highly emitting nations, including Russia, China and India, will be willing to participate with in both word and deed? Only time will tell.
Image credit: Beth: Flickr Creative Commons
RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.
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