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The Next U.S. President Could Make Or Break The Paris Climate Agreement

Carolyn Beeler, Public Radio International

The next President can totally shape US climate policy and can re-shape it

If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wins the White House, US climate policy would, in broad strokes, stay the current course.

Both Sanders and Clinton agree with the established science that climate change is largely man-made, and have mostly backed President Barack Obama’s climate policies, or pledged to expand them.

Across the aisle, it’s another story. The leading Republican candidates could all be classified as climate skeptics.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has called global warming alarmists “the equal vent of the flat-Earthers,” because he says they ignore a lack of scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is less outspoken on the topic, but he has said he does not believe “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate.”

Rubio, Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich all say they’ll scrap Obama’s hallmark Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon emissions from power plants and is a cornerstone of the climate commitments the US made in Paris.

Billionaire Donald Trump hasn’t weighed in on that specific policy, but he did tell Fox News in October that he would cut the agency responsible for limiting carbon pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency.

“[The EPA], what they do is a disgrace,” Trump said. “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”

International climate policy experts closely tracking the election

All of this puts international proponents of strong climate action more than a little on edge.

Henrik Selin, a Swede who is a professor of global studies at Boston University, has studied international environmental negotiations for 20 years.

“This is generally seen as a very, very, very big deal,” Selin said of the election.  “The United States is the second-largest emitter in the world, and you’re not going get to the desired reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the short-, medium- or long-term without very substantive US participation.”

The environmental regulations established during the Obama administration put the US on the way to meeting the carbon reductions it agreed to in Paris.

But those regulations are not set in stone, says David Goldston at the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.

“Many of them can be reversed, in some cases there are a lot of hurdles to doing that, in some cases fewer,” Goldston said. “But in the end, presidents, especially if they have a Congress that’s willing to go along, can totally shape US climate policy and can re-shape it.”

Then there’s the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia cast a decisive vote for a stay of the Clean Power Plan just days before he died. The court will likely decide the plan’s ultimate fate, so if Obama does not name a successor before he leaves office, the policy’s survival may hinge on whether a Republican or Democrat follows him in office.

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