On Day 1 of the newest round of the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, the French foreign minister warned delegates that any agreement to lower emissions would have to avoid needing approval from the United States Congress.
“We know the politics in the U.S.,” Laurent Fabius told African delegates, the AP reported. “Whether we like it or not, if it comes to the Congress, they will refuse.”
The United Nations is seeking to develop an agreement that will keep global warming to below the scientifically recognized two-degree limit to avoid cataclysmic climate change. Two weeks of negotiations began Monday, and the final agreement is scheduled for a December meeting in Paris.
The threat — almost guaranteed — of congressional refusal to ratify the United States’ participation in an international climate agreement might not be as meaningful as some would think. A successful, legal agreement to keep global warming to below two degrees could take a number forms, David Waskow, director of the World Resource Institute’s International Climate Initiative, told ThinkProgress.
Under U.S. law, any international treaty must be ratified by Congress. International agreements that bind or prohibit the United States from actions not otherwise mandated by law must also be ratified by Congress. But there have been hundreds of executive agreements that do not trigger Congressional action, Waskow said.
“It doesn’t have to be something that is strictly considered a protocol or treaty,” Waskow said, speaking from Bonn. “There are other ways to achieve a legal agreement.”
However, a strict and binding limitation on carbon emissions — which some negotiators are hoping for — would need to be ratified by Congress.
The current Republican-controlled Congress has adamantly rejected federal action to address the causes — or even reality — of anthropogenic climate change. Administrative action, including the proposed Clean Power Plan expected this summer, has been met with legislative and legal challenges.
Republican members of the 2015 Congress broadly reject the science backing climate change. In the House, 53 percent — 131 members — of the Republican caucus deny the occurrence of human-caused global warming; 70 percent — 38 members — of the Senate do.
This position is at odds with most of the rest of the world. Even big fossil fuel companies have called for action on carbon. At the U.N.’s welcome address Monday, Fabius, who will host the December talks in Paris, said that he has heard from many people that addressing climate change is a critical and important issue.
“We absolutely have to succeed in Paris,” Fabius said. “I am impressed by the mobilization on this subject and the immense will to succeed.”
One Maldives delegate said his group still wants a binding carbon emission target, but was upbeat about finding consensus, the Guardian reported. “I think it’s important that we get everyone on board. We are still looking into options,” Amjad Abdulla said.