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A 2015 Climate Treaty? Don’t Bother, US Congress Says

Lisa Friedman and Jean Chemnick, E&E Daily

As activists gathering this week for U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, fuel hopes for a 2015 legally binding treaty, U.S. lawmakers already are throwing cold water on the prospects.

In interviews this week with members of Congress on the right and left, even the most ardent supporters of international efforts to curb global greenhouse gas emissions said chances of Senate approval for a treaty have not improved much since the Kyoto Protocol crashed and burned in Washington, D.C., in 1997.

“It will be difficult to get a treaty passed in 2015 in the U.S. Senate as it is presently constituted,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who co-chairs the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse, aimed at supporting legislation to cut carbon emissions.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) agreed: “I am for global action on climate change. I am a proud supporter and very anxious for the U.S. to participate globally.” But, he added, “I think if you look at the current makeup of the U.S. Senate, it’s very difficult.”

The Obama administration and nearly 200 other governments have pledged to devise a new international pact to curb global emissions, expected to go into effect by 2020. Talks this week in Warsaw and over the next two years will hammer out the contours of that deal — including whether it is a formal agreement under international law or something looser and more fluid.

The United States is pressing for a “flexible” agreement in which each country decides what level of cuts it is able to offer the world, and a combination of strict reporting and peer pressure from the international community helps ensure that collectively the efforts are enough to avert catastrophic warming.

Whether it will ultimately become a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force,” as the tortured language of a 2-year-old U.N. agreement laying out the options for the 2015 deal offers, is unclear, and Obama officials have not formally stated a preference.

But U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern cautioned in a speech last month: “Keep our eyes on the prize of creating an ambitious, effective and durable agreement. Insisting that only one way can work, such as an agreement that is internationally binding in all respects, could put that prize out of reach.”

If the deal winds up being a treaty, Republican opponents of climate action have said, it won’t get far — even if, as the Obama administration has insisted, it puts major economies like China on an equal legal standing with the United States.

“It’s not going to go anywhere. It’s dead on arrival,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who argued that new U.S. EPA authority imposing carbon dioxide emissions limits on new power plants is “hurting our economy on a daily basis.”

And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who maintained that “there is a lot of difference of opinion among very educated people on the science” of global warming, said he, too, does not believe a treaty would pass muster in the Senate.

“I kind of doubt it,” he said. “There is still a legitimate question of science, and you can’t brush that away.”

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