Obama Will Pursue a Historic Climate Change Agreement — Even if Congress Won't


The Obama administration is planning to pursue an international agreement to address climate change, and they're doing an end-run around Congress to get it done.

According to the New York Times, the White House is gearing up to negotiate an agreement to limit carbon emissions with a mix of legally binding commitments and voluntary pledges to reach lower emission rates. The agreement would aim to bring the world's largest carbon emitters on board to sign a deal in 2015 at a United Nations summit. 

Any deal would be toothless without the U.S., which is second only to China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. To join the agreement, the administration is planning to bypass the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed under the Constitution to enact an international treaty. Any treaty on climate change would be dead on arrival in the Senate, so international negotiators are crafting a deal that would not require legislative approval. As the Times explains:

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.

The State Department sought to downplay the Times report, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying in a statement that "anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate. We will continue to consult with Congress on this important issue." (The idea, of course, according to the Times, is to craft a deal in such a way that the agreement shouldn't go to the Senate.)

Congress hasn't exactly been a bastion of productivity over the past several years, and this isn't the first time that President Barack Obama has felt compelled to implement his agenda by going around normal legislative procedure. Just this past June, Obama made a historic decision to pursue domestic climate change regulations that would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. without the approval of Congress.

This tendency to go around Congress has enraged Republicans, to put it lightly. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is spending $350,000 for delaying the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and 12 states have already filed suit to block the president's domestic climate change plan. 

The resistance to Obama's climate plan is expected to be just as intense. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) provided this statement to the Times

Unfortunately, this would be just another of many examples of the Obama administration's tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard laws it doesn't like — and to ignore the elected representatives of the people when they don't agree.

The Republicans' knee-jerk opposition to any plan to deal with climate change is only surpassed by their opposition anything supported by the president. This deal is a perfect storm of GOP obstructionism, which Obama has seemingly decided to avoid altogether by leaving them out of the process.