The Obama Administration is pursuing an international climate agreement that would be “politically binding” but would not be a treaty requiring ratification by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, China has announced it will create a national cap-and-trade program.
These two facts amount to a stunning juxtaposition. China, currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution, is taking decisive action to lower its emissions, while the leader of the United States, historically the world’s largest climate polluter, must circumvent his own government to take even modest first steps towards dealing with climate change.
According to the latest Global Carbon Budget report, CO2 emissions rose 2.3% in 2013, with China responsible for 28% and the United States contributing 14%.
Emissions are projected to increase by another 2.5% in 2014, according to the report, which also notes that the world is on track for a temperature rise somewhere between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100—well above the 2-degree mark scientists say we must limit warming to in order to avert the worst effects of climate change.
The New York Times reports that negotiators for the Obama Adminstration are calling an international agreement that bypasses the treaty ratification process in the Senate the only viable path forward:
Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.
This is not the first time Obama has gone around Congress to take action on the climate. The centerpiece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan uses authorities granted to the EPA under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon emissions on a state-by-state basis and requires states to come up with plans to achieve those cuts.
But even the Obama Administration admits that this type of measure is not, in and of itself, a solution to the climate crisis we’re facing.
“The point is, that this is a start,” White House science and technology advisor John Holdren recently told the House Science Committee. “The carbon-action plan is a start, and if we do not make a start, we will never get there.”