The United States–China climate change agreement announced this Wednesday already faces strong resistance in the U.S. As detailed here, the U.S. and China, which combine to produce nearly half of the world’s emissions, struck a deal to strengthen their reduction commitments. The U.S., which has already pledged to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, now promises to reduce them by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. China promises to cap its emissions by no later than 2030 and to produce one-fifth of its energy from zero-emission sources by then. The historic agreement has the potential to serve as a “wake-up call” for the international community. Deemed a gamechanger, analysts and policy advisers say the agreement could galvanize large-scale cooperation in Lima, setting the pace for a binding climate treaty in Paris 2015.
However, Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress has vehemently opposed the climate change partnership and threatens to derail U.S. committed emission reduction efforts. After last week’s midterm elections, conservative leadership will control next year’s Congress and thereby U.S. climate policy. Next year’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was one of the first to condemn the U.S.–China partnership. Calling the plan “unrealistic” and part of President Obama’s “war on coal,” he said that it would lead to a loss of U.S. jobs. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with McConnell, stating that the plan is “the latest example of the president’s crusade against middle-class families.” Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Fred Upton (R-MI) member and Chair, respectively, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also criticized the agreement. Both lawmakers said the deal meant that China is “promising to double their emissions while the administration is going around Congress to impose drastic new regulations inhibiting our own growth and competiveness.” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who authored “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” also declared the agreement a “charade.”
Despite the resistance to the U.S.–China agreement David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the agreement attempts to jump one of the highest hurdles in international climate negotiations the “vicious cycle of finger-pointing.” The agreement deflates a vital tenet of right-wing dogma: “limiting our carbon emissions would serve no purpose, since other countries in general, and China in particular, would never agree to limit theirs.”
However, strengthened by an influx of climate change deniers and fossil fuel pundits, Republicans have made it known they plan to launch an all-out war on Obama’s climate legislation, starting with the President’s Climate Action Plan. McConnell has said as Senate Majority leader, his top priority next year is to “do whatever [he] can to get the EPA reined in.” Previously, McConnell said a viable tool Republicans have is the federal budget process, which they can use to constrain the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding. He also mentioned earlier this year that he could look to a rarely used law—the Congressional Review Act—to repeal the EPA’s regulations on automobile and power plant emission and mercury reductions. The EPA’s ability to regulate emissions is central to U.S. climate change policy.
McConnell’s efforts to derail domestic and global climate action are joined by other climate deniers like Senators Jim Inhofe and Ted Cruz. Inhofe, who is slated to take over the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, voted against federal disaster relief for Sandy and has compared the EPA to the Gestapo. Despite the fact that 97 percent of the world’s scientists claim unequivocally that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening now, Inhofe thinks the UN invented the idea of climate change to “shut down the machine called America.”
Similarly, Cruz, who was re-elected last week and is in line to chair the Subcommittee on Science and Space, which oversees agencies like NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, also denies climate change realities. In an interview with CNN last February, Cruz said he doesn’t think the Earth is warming. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz.
Other newly and re-elected congressman like Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), and Shelly Capito (R-West Virginia) all ran for election and won on a platform that denied the existence of climate change, promoted opening up more federal land for oil and gas drilling, and supported the Keystone XL pipeline. In September, Senator Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, said “the jury’s out” on whether climate change is man-made. Senator Cotton, has stated “[t]he simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth’s temperature has not warmed.” Cotton has also pushed for new coal power plant construction and the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Daines has already signed a pledge that he will “oppose any legislation relating to climate change.” Claiming global warming, to the extent that it exists, is probably caused by solar cycles. Similarly, House member Lankford called climate change a “myth,” and along with Gardner, Cotton, Capito, and Daines voted to prevent the Pentagon from considering the national security impacts of climate change. U.S. conservative leadership is also likely to use the federal budget to prevent the State Department from offering funding to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. A fund that is essential to help the world’s least developed countries adapt to the effects of climate change.
The conservative backlash threatens to derail the most ambitious efforts the world’s largest emitters have taken to lead an aggressive stance on climate change. Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, warns that “[a]nything that undermines the President’s ability to follow through on his climate plan will undermine Paris.” In issuing the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, chair Rajendra Pachauri called the work “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively.” The report released this month confirmed once again that “human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions are the highest in history.” The report warns that to avoid the most damaging and potentially irreversible impacts of climate change (e.g., “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation”) we must switch to renewable energy, phase out fossil fuels, and set emission reduction goals. Despite this most recent report, the conservative leadership mentioned above stands on a policy platform that is in direct opposition to the report’s recommendations. How far will political posturing and scientific reality diverge? Only time will tell.