Why a Republican President Would Find it Difficult to Pull Out of International Climate Negotiations

If the next U.S. President is a Republican, chances are good that he or she will be a climate change denier. After all, there’s only one candidate, Jon Huntsman, who embraces the established science of climate change. The rest have made it a central platform to openly deny the scientific consensus that human activity is heating up the planet.

So if a climate denier steps into the White House, what happens to international climate negotiations? Will the U.S. completely pull out of the process? Probably not. Chances are, that President — no matter how extreme their campaign rhetoric today — will have to face up to the realities of today’s global negotiations. (And not to mention the science.)

“I am certain that there would be members of the administration who are not isolationists on foreign policy,” says Andrew Light, a senior fellow and director of international climate policy at the Center for American Progress.

“Of course, there is always that worst case scenario that a Republican president leaves negotiations. But climate negotiations are coming close to breaking out of their silo, making climate a central driver of broader foreign policy. In that case, leaving the negotiations behind would escalate into a much bigger problem,” Light tells Climate Progress.

A recent poll of “insiders” released this week by National Journal echoed this sentiment. Once the campaign ends and reality sets in, a Republican president may find it hard to back down:

Asked how important it will be for the next (or current) president to keep America relevant in these negotiations, more than 60 percent of Insiders said that it would be either “Very Important” or “Somewhat Important.” Thirty-two percent of Insiders said this job will be “Very Important,” while nearly 30 percent said it would be “Somewhat Important.”

Despite the overwhelming anti-climate-science tone in the GOP primary, Insiders say that a Republican president would have to swallow it for the sake of international cooperation and America’s economic future.

“Regardless whether the next president believes that climate change is taking place, the rest of the world is prepared to move forward without the U.S. If we are not at the table, American business will be severely disadvantaged,” one Insider said.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” another echoed.

However, some respondents to the National Journal poll expressed skepticism that international climate negotiations are still relevant:

“Multilateral negotiations on climate are going the way of the World’s Fairs. They still hold ’em, but no one knows about it or cares,” one Insider said, echoing the words of others who argued that the United Nations climate talks have turned into “nothing more than a show.”

“After this administration’s gratuitous failure in Copenhagen, the international climate dialogue has become a farce,” one Insider said.

After the failure to reach an agreement on a comprehensive carbon-reduction treaty at 2009’s Copenhagen climate conference, some were quick to declare the entire negotiation process dead. But people who make those claims “either don’t follow the negotiations or don’t know what they’re watching,” says CAP’s Andrew Light.

Because Copenhangen was so hyped by the press and the diplomatic community, the outcome caused a major crash in expectations. But this didn’t stop progress, says Light. It allowed negotiators to try an incremental approach and move forward on smaller pieces that have major impacts in a lead-up to a possible comprehensive treaty.

“In Cancun, 193 of 194 parties bound together and agreed to a fund that would deploy $100 billion a year by 2020 for climate adaptation and mitigation programs. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you just don’t know what’s going on,” says Light.

Negotiators will be looking for the same type of incremental agreements in Durban, South Africa at this December’s COP 17 conference that would boost renewable energy deployment, efficiency and disaster-preparedness efforts.

By 2013, however, there could be a different president in the White House, potentially setting back some of the progress made in recent years. Although experts believe there’s a chance that person would be forced to recognize the importance of negotiations, there’s still a chance it could unravel — putting the U.S. in a strategically poor position.

“If the President leaves the negotiations, then we risk having being having the rest of the world decide on a set of rules that could dramatically impact our ability to compete in the world. If we walked away, we would suffer,” says Light.

12 Responses to Why a Republican President Would Find it Difficult to Pull Out of International Climate Negotiations

  1. Raul M. says:

    I think that almost a year has passed since the experts said that the next ten years would be crucial in making the most significant voluntary reductions in co2 emissions.
    After that we would be at the whim of the weather?

  2. mike Roddy says:

    The “insiders” are wrong. Remember when one of Condi Rice’s first statements in 2001 was that “Kyoto is Dead”? And the current batch of Republican presidential candidates is completely out there.

    Any Republican president in 2013 will follow the memos from the oil companies. Every one of them is an ignorant and spineless disaster.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    I think there’s a slight amount of truth to the fact that a Republican president would have to participate somewhat, would have to give lip service to climate change, and perhaps would even want to pass a few small things to seem like he or she is doing something. But there are far too many excuses available, and far too many ways to give lip service without doing much, and far too many benign and insufficient things that could be done, to think that a Republican president would have to actually get something REAL done. Heck, we’ve had Obama for the last three years, and he has barely gotten anything done; and he’s full of excuses and barely even utters the word. (And most Demos still seem willing to vote for him, despite that record, even if he approves Keystone XL!)

    So I question a great deal of what this post seems to imply. Yes, other countries will put more pressure on us (as they should!) — but not all that much more, at least in the next four years. They are led by politicians too.

    We THE PEOPLE are going to have to demand and catalyze action, to push our leaders to address climate change, and hard. And we’ll have to use our votes, and much else, as leverage.

    Be Well,


  4. Tom Lenz says:

    And then there’s the weather. The election is still a year away and 2012 could prove to be real eye-opener for many. It’s my guess that we’ll be looking at a disturbingly darker picture by next November. The media never could ignore weather disasters and they should have plenty to feast on next year. The climate catastrophy may well speak for itself by election day and force itself into presidential politics like it or not candidates. NBC broke new ground in connecting the dots and a growing display of human and ecological tragedy will change minds, eventually. Whoever the next president is he or she will be confronting a massive dose of ugly reality, maybe substantially worse than today and they won’t be able to sweep it under the table much longer.

  5. BillD says:

    I agree with the scenario of the US president not pulling out, even if his/her position is to deny the problem. It will be interesting to see if the GOP presidential platform goes all out in discounting the need to control green house gases and other forms of pollution. Of course sitting at the table and opposing even small steps will not cut it.

    I have to believe that at some point (perhaps fairly soon), even the news media and the public will demand action. Also, large parts of the business community may also see the need for connecting US policy with some relationship to science, reality and the rest of the world.

    Here is a hint to Obama and his strategists. Please call the Republicans on their anti-environment agenda. This is a winning issue!

  6. Robert says:

    Why are we just not hearing about this “Climate Change”??? You make it sound like everybody knows or has heard of it. What is “Climate Change”?? If it is bad, why haven’t there been any stories about it in the news until now?

  7. In the past both GOP and Dem presidents have delivered far less than they promised when campaigning.

    Remember W promising to regulate CO2? Hah. Even Obama, now in power, seems to unable to find a carbon deposit he isn’t ready to vaporize for jobs and cash.

    I suppose we can hope for some miraculous Nixon-to-China scenario. But even that will never happen as long as the American people continue to silently watch climate threats unfold.

    The fight to stop our climate from destabilizing ever more dangerously requires a response at least equal to the power of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Frack combined.

    Instead Americans seem to be living a fantasy where Corporate Carbon decides to self-downsize to save couch potatoes from getting involved to save themselves.

  8. JohnSullivan says:

    It would be more helpful if the 100 million dollar Cancun Climate fund actually had 100 million dollars.

    Unfortunately, it has zero dollars currently.

  9. Sasparilla says:

    I’d have to go with the cynical viewpoint here.

    Any GOP administration would be listening to their fossil fuel masters (which is why they are denying it in the first place) and would those corporations (or the Koch’s) not want a hand in any climate change negotiations? Of course they would want a hand – to do the worst possible – and having a US administration at their beck and call (even beyond the current one) to throw any wrenches into the process they could would be money well spent.

    They wouldn’t leave the negotiations, any fossil fuel run administration would stay to do as much damage to those negotiations as possible and make sure they do not succeed substantially.

  10. Steve Funk says:

    I suspect that Romney understands climate change, but realizes that advocating a carbon tax, the heart of any climate policy, is political suicide, especially in the primaries. In that respect, he is not too much different than Barack Obama.

  11. Joan Savage says:

    It may be different business sectors that push for new GOP policies, as climate change generates production losses on larger scales.

    What are the climate change views of agribusiness giants like Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and Monsanto? We’ve seen media attention to agricultural loss (peanut butter, coffee, beef, chocolate). For sure, the food internationals are thinking about this.

    Other businesses are affected by the flood in Thailand which shut down their factories for weeks. What are their views?

  12. M Tucker says:

    All you need to do is ask, “would the Koch bros be happy with an international agreement?”

    The Republican party, and especially the death (tea)-party wing, are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch’s and the fossil fuel corporations.