The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
International Discord Obama Gives Up On the Global Climate Treaty

We can’t say the Global Climate Treaty is dying, because doing so would imply that it had ever lived. What is apparent, however, is that momentum for a binding international accord addressing climate change stalled some time ago; delegates who still trudge to the do-nothing annual summits must be more disheartened by the year.

Now, the White House seems to be acknowledging the futility of the GCT movement, as the Obama Administration is reportedly pursuing a non-binding approach to international climate policy, in the hopes that such a strategy will sidestep the need to seek Congressional approval. The New York Times reports:

President 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 Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path. [...]

American 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 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.

Of course, Congress isn’t happy with this new tack. In fact, the strategy has drawn fire from both sides of the aisle, with one Democrat calling the effort “fruitless.” The State Department has already responded to Congressional ire, claiming it’s too early to say whether or not this voluntary agreement would require Senate ratification, as the proposal hasn’t yet been drafted.

We’ll have to wait for Obama’s climate team to mock up a draft before we can tell how this will play out, but there are already some things to take away from this NYT report. First, it seems the President is intent on following through on his promise to take more executive actions in order to circumvent a quagmired Congress. A climate accord, binding or not, would be a significant battleground on which the conflict between the two branches of government is played out, and for that alone it’s worth paying close attention to.

But this also highlights the pure fecklessness of the GCT movement. The gap between the developed and developing world, in terms of both responsibilities for and vulnerability to climate change, is enormous. Both sides have cases to make, axes to grind, and real concerns when it comes to agreeing to the terms of such a massive deal.

Our climate is enormously complex, and crafting policy regarding it is understandably difficult. Add to that the simple fact that many measures to mitigate climate change also curtail economic growth, at least in the short term, and it’s no wonder there’s a dearth of politicians willing to step up to the table and sign off on a binding international treaty.

None of this is new; we’ve known the GCT was in the gutter for a long, long time. But it’s significant that the Obama Administration is acknowledging that even if, by some miracle, the world’s big players were able to iron out conditions for such a deal, Congress wouldn’t approve of it (a fact we’ve known since 1997, when it voted against the Kyoto Protocol), and is exploring other options. The White House is now effectively giving up on GCT. It’s about time.

Published on August 28, 2014 5:41 pm
  • Corlyss

    The ineffectual nature of all this loud noise about AGW is what makes what the EPA under this administration of True Believers and its fellow travelers in Congress like McCain and Graham sooooooo offensive to common sense and crazy-making from a public policy standpoint: nothing, zero, zip, nada done by EPA’s and other True Believer actors like Ca.’s nutcases has the least off-setting effect on what China and India, not to mention nascent industrialization in Africa does now, nor twenty years ago, nor twenty years hence. These crackpots are screwing over the American economy, American producers, American workers and voters all for naught and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO DISABLE THE ZEALOTS.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    I think you are missing the real action here. Yes, this non-treaty is meaningless: A sop to the president’s elitist green donors and, potentially, a red flag to Republicans which may goad them into doing something precipitous on the eve of the 2014 elections. The real action however is with the EPA which is going merrily along enacting regulations which go much, much further than any treaty Obama could ever dream of getting approved.

    The greens have won this fight, sad to say. In centuries to come historians will date the Fall of the West to this period, I believe. Of course, those historians will be writing in Chinese.

    • Corlyss

      LOL I don’t agree with you about our possible fate, but just remember Thatcher’s wisdom: When something can’t go on any longer, it will stop. That insight covers a lot of sins committed by the Left. The Chinese are going to have to transmogrify into something entirely unChinese to win. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to do that. 2000 years of Chineseness are agin it.

      • S.C. Schwarz

        The greens are, at bottom, Luddites who would like to repeal the industrial revolution. Why do you think that can’t go on “forever?” India was the richest country in the world until the 17th century, where are they now? We can fall too.

      • Brian H

        Actually, that’s known as Stein’s Law: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Stein. Thatcher said the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. Related, but not identical.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Not to mention that “Global Warming” is BS.