Politics & Policy

Congress, Ready to Drive a Stake through the Climate Vampire’s Heart

(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

It’s nearly Halloween again, the time of year when little monsters roam the streets begging for goodies. All in good fun. Scary!

What’s really scary about October is that it’s nearly time for another round in the seemingly endless series of annual climate-treaty conferences. This year’s conference, the 21st, will take place in Paris just one month after All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.

The climate treaty under negotiation is like a vampire from a bad old horror film. Every time you think it’s dead, it rises from the grave. This vampire is not sucking blood, but money and resources from taxpayers and needy people around the world. It’s time to put a stake through its heart and cut off the head of this climate-treaty monstrosity once and for all.

Congressional Republicans are working to do just that. Politico reports that Neil Chatterjee, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been making the rounds at foreign embassies alerting the countries’ diplomats that Republicans intend to fight President Barack Obama’s climate agenda until the end of his term and beyond.

In meetings with ambassadors representing both developed and developing countries, Chatterjee has reiterated McConnell’s message: “Proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal” with Obama. McConnell has pointed out that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government — Congress and the Supreme Court — have not signed off on Obama’s plans.

Without Senate ratification, any climate agreement coming out of Paris, just like Obama’s executive orders and climate regulations, can be undone by his successors. Republicans have already made it clear that the Senate will not ratify any agreement Obama makes requiring either steep, economy-killing, greenhouse-gas emission reductions or climate payoffs to developing countries.

A stake will be driven through the heart of the Paris treaty negotiations if Obama shows up with empty pockets, unable to make good on his promise to fund the U.S. portion of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF was an idea developed by the United States to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries make the transition to clean-energy technologies, adapt to climate change, and compensate them for climate harms allegedly imposed on them by developed countries’ use of fossil fuels.

Developing nations have indicated that they will not sign on to any climate deal in Paris until the fund’s coffers are filled. Reuters reported that Ronny Jumeau, U.N. ambassador from the Seychelles, a member of the Association of Small Island States negotiating bloc, issued this warning: “Obama cannot come to Paris and not put money on the table. He’s got to put his money where his mouth is.”

Congressional Republicans, however, have vowed to deny Obama’s spending request for a $500 million down payment on the initial $3 billion he promised for the GCF. The GOP will probably make good on its vow, as Obama and Congress are already battling over budget priorities and funding the government for the coming fiscal year. In addition, the U.S. House passed an appropriations bill this summer that directly prohibits the United States from funding GCF. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that Obama will have any money to give away by the time treaty negotiations end in Paris.

Without that money in hand, the climate deal is bound to unravel. French president François Hollande said in September, “If there’s not a firm commitment to financing, there will be no accord, because the countries of the [global] South will reject it.”

Republicans are also working to stymie Obama’s domestic climate efforts and thus, by extension, undermine his negotiating authority in Paris. Just hours after Pope Francis challenged Congress to take “courageous actions” to tackle climate change, House Republicans took up a bill to block the government from measuring the carbon dioxide emissions from construction projects.

In addition, it appears that Republicans are considering using the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama’s recently finalized Clean Power Plan. This would undercut Obama’s commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gas by 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Republicans are also considering a resolution expressing their opposition to any climate deal coming out of Paris. This action would be similar to the 95–0 vote the Senate took in 1997 to repudiate the Kyoto climate agreement the Clinton administration was negotiating at the time.

Obama would almost certainly veto the Clean Power Plan bill and ignore the GOP resolution as nonbinding, but the congressional opposition to Obama’s plans would further undermine his weak negotiating position by demonstrating that there’s virtually no chance Obama can deliver on any promised emission reductions or funding commitments he makes in Paris.

If what emerges from the Paris conference is an empty shell of a climate treaty, there’s little chance that any future international treaty will manage to restrict U.S. fossil fuel use and redistribute wealth from the poor in rich countries to the wealthy in poor countries. Unfortunately, like the late-night reruns of B-movie horror films that return each October, climate-treaty negotiations will probably be shocked back to life eventually, this time in 2016, bringing all manner of doom and chaos in their train.

H. Sterling Burnett is a research fellow on energy and the environment at the Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill.

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