Obama Set to Announce His Peer-Pressure Plan for Climate Change

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It's getting hot in here. So put on all your climate-change proposals.Photo: Comstock/Getty Images

The United Nations is scheduled to hammer out a climate-change accord this December in Paris. Between now and then, the 196 countries that promised to try to cut emissions as much as they could are supposed to draw up proposals for exactly how they plan to accomplish such feats. Today’s the deadline for those blueprints, and not many countries appear set to complete their homework on time.

The United States is supposed to announce its proposal today, which the New York Times says will seek to cut greenhouse-gas emissions up to 28 percent over the next decade. 

Republicans — from lawmakers to 2016 candidates — have criticized the plans and upcoming accord, so Obama will likely have to rely on his ever-popular executive powers to make these changes happen, as he has had to do for most of the climate-change initiatives he has tackled during his presidency. As Politico points out, there was an amendment to the Keystone XL bill that would have barred the U.S. from any international treaties allowing countries to promise different levels of emission cuts — which sounds a lot like what the Paris accords are shaping up to be. If the climate-change treaty happens, expect a lot of complaints that sounds exactly like the howls over the Iran talks and Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Rep. Lamar Smith told Politico, “The president should not bypass Congress and try to negotiate a climate deal on his own that could cost American jobs. He has to have Senate approval for any new climate agreement and cannot bind the federal government by himself.”

The United States’ involvement in 1997’s Kyoto Protocol was doomed by disapproval in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned other countries that the White House’s promises might be meaningless given lawmakers’ distaste for other components of Obama’s climate plans. “Considering that two thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it,” McConnell told CBS News, “our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal.”

As of Tuesday, the 28 members of the European Union, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland were the only other countries to submit plans. China and Russia, fellow big polluters, were notably absent, and have said that they plan to procrastinate until later in the year. Canada and Australia’s conservative governments have been loath to contribute too. And the longer it takes for richer countries to signal interest in this treaty, the more worried and reticent poorer countries will become about signing anything.

However, Obama seems determined to make this happen, especially since environmental policy is one of the few arenas where he is able to act alone. As he told Vice earlier this year, “When I leave this office, I want things to be a little bit better. The longer you’re in the job, the more you’re likely to take the long view.”