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The US and China “Ratify” Toothless Climate Deal

Over the holiday weekend, both the United States and China “ratified” the climate deal drawn up in Paris this past December, raising the hopes of greens the world over. But the United States Senate didn’t approve the agreement with a two-thirds majority, so what kind of ratification are we talking about here?

Well, what do you do when you show up to an international climate convention knowing that your legislature won’t ratify any sort of binding treaty? If you’re the United States, you water the deal down by removing any hint of enforcement mechanisms to ensure you don’t overstep the bounds of executive power. Lawfare Blog breaks down how nine months ago some very clever drafters went to work to get something that others would look at like a binding commitment that nevertheless passes some sort of U.S. constitutional muster:

Even the most cursory review of the text of the Paris Agreement discloses a careful, purposeful alternation between the mandatory “shall”—indicating a binding obligation governed by international law—and the hortatory “should”—non-binding statements of strictly political intent without legal force…

A close read of the Paris Agreement demonstrates that the U.S. delegation was entirely successful in navigating the line delineating the President’s legitimate exercise of his existing authority.  If anything, the American negotiators were excessively conservative, in insisting on hortatory language when legally binding obligations were arguably entirely appropriate. […]

An over-reliance on a non-binding approach—and its costs—are most obvious in the all-important emissions reduction (mitigation) obligations known as “nationally determined contributions (NDCs)” identified by each participating state including the United States. In its contribution—expressly not a “commitment”—the U.S. stated its intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% by 2025, as compared to a baseline of 2005. Despite the willingness of other participants, most notably the 28-member European Union, to accept substantively binding obligations, the U.S. insisted on a non-binding undertaking instead of a binding commitment on this most critical of all elements in the Paris Agreement.

In working around those congressional restraints, the U.S. completely hollowed out the Paris deal, making it an entirely aspirational affair. None of the goals the Paris deal asks UN member states to set will be enforced in any real way—naming and shaming is the most coercive tool the international community has on this. And yet we see environmentalists breathlessly exhorting the actions taken by Washington and Beijing on Saturday as some sort of monumental achievement.

This is a perfect illustration of one of the green movement’s core tendencies: it oscillates wildly. During the negotiation phase, it moaned about the inadequacy of the process, but after the summit it needed to show and hail progress and the inevitability of its agenda, so now it celebrates this nothingburger of a ratification as a substantive achievement.

There’s something else at work here: the desperate need of the Obama Administration to keep up the facade that American foreign policy isn’t a complete disaster. An empty ‘agreement’ with China can be presented as both a global achievement and a sign that despite the terrible atmospherics and the deliberate humiliations at the hands of the Chinese, he has historic accomplishments that he can run with. That somehow the United States and China are united on the big things—even though this is actually a small thing.

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  • Frank Natoli

    Does this mean I will be able to afford to heat my NJ home with fuel oil this winter?
    That I won’t have to rely upon wood pellets, which were $180/ton but zoomed to $250/ton and now even higher, thanks to environmentally maniacal Europeans importing them from us?
    Imagine Europeans, killing nuclear, killing coal, and now burning WOOD.
    Environmental maniacs are funny people.

  • FriendlyGoat

    When you have a Senate with no interest in cooperating with either our president or any other nations and you have a candidate for president indicating that nothing matters but “America First”, an outgoing president simply does the best he can with the days he has.
    That is what Obama is doing.

    • Jim__L

      So, lying to look good is the best he can do?

      Not a surprise.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Keeping the process alive for another day is more like it.

        • Anthony

          Not related to U.S./China deal but you may find this of interest:

          • Jim__L

            HRC’s no Margaret Thatcher. Not even close. That’s the problem.

          • Anthony
          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. I know I am not good at trying to tell women voters what to do. So, sharing with you and not necessarily with them, here’s the deal. They will either have enough sense and guts to refuse the Trump presidency at the ballot box or they will be laughed at in every possible policy matter from his administration and their daughters will be laughed at from the Supreme Court for a generation. The fact is, the only demographic which can or will fix the misogyny is the female gender itself. Some would criticize me for victim blaming—-BUT—-the ladies have the numbers of votes to keep themselves from being slapped. And “liberal” men alone do not.

          • Anthony

            I found the piece instructive (that self deception regarding true motivation behind Hillary rancor perhaps). Also three days ago on Charlie Rose, Gloria Steinem echoes your point. But, she added much, much more from a power and control point of view.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, I saw part of Gloria’s interview. She is an unequivocal voice and though some women reject her, they shouldn’t.

          • Anthony

            I agree and am glad you saw interview (and whether her gender (some) rejects or dislikes her activism, she has a made a societal contribution to their general benefit here in America).

          • FriendlyGoat

            Like I said before, I know I am “not good at” talking politics to women. I could probably make plenty of them mad by asking, for instance, do you prefer Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie to Gloria Steinem? That is, after all, who Donald will be sending to manage their issues and affairs.

          • Anthony

            We’ll see how many decides Nov. 9, 2015. I think the fairer sex will understand the stakes.

            As an aside, you were introduced (by one of your pairings) into my comment on mass incarceration reform. You may care to interject as I have bowed out.

        • Jim__L

          Best to let it go.

          • FriendlyGoat

            That’s why you’re not president.

          • Jim__L

            Apparently the Senate would be just fine for me.

          • FriendlyGoat

            In a minority-party status I would hope.

          • Jim__L

            If the president is dedicated to policies that beggar the country, and only gained office because that president was elected on an Affirmative Action (novelty) basis rather than on any basis of competence?

            Majority-party is far more likely.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m of the opinion that Obama has been a far more competent president than the one who preceded him and probably than the one who will follow him. He didn’t get there on Affirmative Action. He got there because the Bush presidency was bookended with a security catastrophe on one end, a financial catastrophe on the other end—– and because McCain was a loose cannon and Palin was a nincompoop.

          • Anthony

            FG (pardon the interruption), something of definite interest – similar to your lists. A long excerpt of a Policy piece directed to a future administration or policy shops perhaps (maybe both): As an aside, you have to ignore what can appear as the Obama “derangement syndrome” which comes in various disguises.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. That author is way smarter than me, so I’ll not criticize his piece other than to observe,

            1) None of his reforms are saleable unless they can be reduced to really, really plain English. This is the lesson of Trump and what he is actually selling. Build a wall. Exclude Muslims. Cut taxes for everybody. Reduce the size of government. Get tough on trade.
            (None of this may be doable or make sense, of course, but you don’t get to even try if you don’t sell something and win elections. He hasn’t won yet but he IS selling something to a bunch of people.)

            Leading with “cut corporate taxes to 25%” is not the way to sell this to the left side. We would need to lead with what people are to get that is going to cost something to business that we pay back to them by cutting the corporate rate. Just “cut taxes and the rest is fuzzy” would need SPECIFIC work on speakable details.

            2) In general, I am cool on transaction taxes compared to taxes on net income or accumulated wealth. They may be easier to define, pass and administer—–but we haven’t addressed inequality in America by passing more state sales taxes. Financial transaction taxes, B2B taxes, carbon taxes, VAT and so forth may work, but they are disappointing in terms of who they are passed down to in pricing. I hear conservatives argue that higher income taxes mean companies just raise prices to cover the tax. That is harder to do when the tax is on the profit than when the tax is on the sale.

            (And yes, Obama derangement syndrome is alive above.)

          • Anthony

            We agree 100%. I think author is auditioning for something. I also sensed that ideas proposed would stir your thoughts despite their improbability (which I share with you). Nevertheless, ideas are always worth perusing when they address what you and I recognize as citizen stress, due 30 years or more of economic and political misdirection (as highlighted in piece).

            Meanwhile, attacking President Obama justifiably comes with not only hardcore politics but also American Democracy. That other S*** is cover for resentments, self-serving biases (conscious or unconscious), insecurities, etc. I recognize audience and act accordingly as President Obama is head and shoulders above Andrew Johnson (and others). But, history will be final arbiter.

          • Jim__L

            Obama is no better than Bush, and in fact is far worse on many different grounds — foreign policy, domestic policy, fiscal policy, you name it. I think one would be similarly hard pressed to argue Biden is better than Palin. Clinton’s housing policies did as much to inflate the bubble that caused the 2008 crash, as much as Bush’s. Security lapses in the 8 years of the Clinton administration (like HRC’s more recent lapses) did more to cause 9/11 than anything Bush did in the eight months he was in office before that occurred.

            Obama was elected, first and foremost, on his inspirational status as “the first black president”, as well as his soaring oratory. (The persuasive power of that oratory falls rather flat; again, the qualifications remain skin-deep.)

            NFL stars are irrelevant here, except possibly to point out that there are measurable grounds (statistics) for saying one is better than another — unlike the nonsense reasons you provide for comparing presidents.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I, as “one”, am not “hard-pressed” at all to flatly state that Obama is far better than Bush and that Biden is far better than Palin. I do it all the time and all your ridiculous spinning does not change that Bush allowed 9/11 on his watch, bungled the response, exhausted the military, ruined the budget and the economy for the lower half with tax cuts for the upper half, appointed quacks to the Supreme Court and presided over a world financial meltdown . This is not hard, Jimmy. Neither is recognition of the fact that your assessment of Obama’s election is beyond patronizing and racist to the core.

  • LarryD

    Here’s some irony for you: North America is a net carbon dioxide sink. Has been for decades. And U.S. CO2 emissions have been going down, even before the last recession. Of course, that won’t satisfy the Greens, they still want the rest of us to wear the hair shirt. Makes you think that’s the actual point, huh.

    • Frank Natoli

      When you have tens of millions of people who believe that increasing the CO2 concentration from 0.038% of the atmosphere to 0.040% of the atmosphere means death and destruction for much of the planet, you’re going to have a hard time convincing them of anything rational.

  • ljgude

    Faux climate agreements combined with pallets of cash for a faux nuclear agreement with our sworn enemies. Obama is all in on “the narrative” and entirely disconnected from reality. “The Narrative” looks like getting another 4 years, but when you combine the support for Trump and Sanders it sure looks to me like the punters have wised up.

  • M Snow

    Ooh, toothless climate deals. Those are my favorite kind.

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