Climate Trial-Ballooning

by Bill McKibben

RUSSIA-G20-SUMMIT

The NYT is out with a story today that the Obama administration is “devising” a politically ingenious strategy to get around the fact that no Senate in the foreseeable future will ever muster a 2/3 vote to approve an actual treaty on global warming. The story really isn’t newseveryone has known this for years, though the Times adds a little more detail about how such a scheme might work:

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.

If this sounds dubious to you, it will also sound dubious to those countries being hit hardest by climate change. At this point, however, the desperation of the rest of the world for any kind of leadership from the U.S. might convince them to cobble something together, especially since the French, who will have leadership of key negotiations in Paris in 2015, seem inclined to go along (they’re desperate not to come up empty, like the Danes after the Copenhagen climate fiasco):

There’s a strong understanding of the difficulties of the U.S. situation, and a willingness to work with the U.S. to get out of this impasse,” said Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate change to the United Nations.

The real questions, as always, will be less the form of any agreement than the content. The only concrete thing that international negotiators have ever agreed on is that the world can’t let the planet’s temperature rise more than two degrees Celsius. So far nothing that the US or most other nations have proposed would get us therewe’re solidly on track for four or five degrees. Unless the Obama administration sends a sharp signal that it wants serious–as opposed to face-savingaction, that course is unlikely to change. Keep an eye on that two-degree figure, and on the Keystone Pipeline, a bellwether for whether they’re willing to suffer any political pain.

(Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)