Obama has unveiled his pursuit of a climate change agreement as negotiators try to create an accord to politically bind the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions without Senate ratification of a new treaty.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has reportedly said the accord would do “serious damage to the rule of law in America” and violates the Constitution. Republican criticisms of Obama’s violations of constitutional law may be groundless, but the accord is more likely to damage the reputation of the U.S. abroad than it is to drive us to act on climate change.
To create a politically binding accord without the Senate, the president is trying to amend the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty ratified by the U.S.
By law, treaties may be amended without Senate approval when changes are technical in nature or derived from new interpretations. Without a supermajority in the Senate, the amendment process gives the president little room, but leaves his accord constitutionally legal.
Under the framework of the UNFCCC, developed nations are to support climate change initiatives in developing nations and enact their own initiatives while reporting their progress.
However, in an article of the UNFCCC, parties to the treaty are to promote “the development of … public awareness material on climate change” using gathered emissions data. So theoretically, a body could be created to vocally condemn nations producing greenhouse gasses excessively for the sake of “public awareness.”
The past has shown how well such bodies work. The World Trade Organization has condemned China for its currency manipulation, and the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly condemned Israeli human rights violations.
While the world has consistently condemned Israeli and Chinese actions, international pressure without a tangible consequence have created resistance rather than change. Such resistance, especially with the U.S.’s intransigent stance on climate change, is nothing but a fire without fuel.
If Obama can’t get Congress to agree to real changes to our climate policy, further denouncing other countries’ policies without changes to our own will end up doing more bad than good.
President Obama needs Congress to support renewable energy funding and other national policies because without it, the U.N.’s condemnations will only change our reputation for the worse. And since “Cap and Trade” died in a democratically controlled Congress in 2010, action beyond renewable energy subsidies may as well be dead until the next era.
Anhvinh Doanvo is a freshman majoring in biomedical science.