Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Building Towards a Global Climate Agreement in Paris

In December more than 190 nations will gather in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference. The goal will be to negotiate the world's first legally binding and universal agreement on climate. For years now, the Obama administration has been working towards such an historic landmark.

You may have thought that Sec. of State John Kerry had been singularly focused on the successful conclusion of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries over nuclear weapons. As much as he deserves a lot of credit for that major accomplishment, back in January 2014 Coral Davenport reported that he has been quietly building towards Paris from day one.
In his first year as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry joined with the Russians to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and played the closing role in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. But while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution...

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.
Combined with the announcement of the EPA's new guidelines on carbon emissions, this work bore fruit recently when the United States was able to reach agreements with China, India and Brazil in the lead-up to Paris.

President Obama's trip to Alaska this month was designed to heighten awareness about global climate change - not only as a future threat - but one that is already having a direct impact on that state. It's also obvious that the Pope's visit to the United States and his speech to the United Nation's General Assembly has been timed to maximize discussion about this important issue at a critical time.

And so I found it interesting that it's not just the Obama administration and Pope Francis that have set their sites on Paris this December.
Nine more giant corporations, including Nike and Walmart, pledged to transition to 100 percent renewable energy Wednesday. The announcement, made during Climate Week, is intended to show international governments that there is broad-based business support for going off fossil fuels in advance of the United Nations climate talks in December.

Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Voya Financial also took the RE100 pledge, organized by the Climate Group, an international sustainability non-profit.

“Research shows that the most ambitious companies have seen a 27 percent return on their low carbon investments,” Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, said in a statement. “Today these companies are signaling loud and clear to COP21 negotiators that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see a strong climate deal in Paris.”
Of course we all know that the only ones who are not on board these days are Republicans. Their Congressional leaders are doing all they can right now to actually undermine the prospects of an agreement. But I suspect that they'll be about as successful with that as they were in undermining the agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons.

In the end, this will likely be the last legacy-building accomplishment of the Obama era. Here's how Jeff Goodell summed it up in a truly fascinating interview with the President in Rolling Stone.
Obama's trip to Alaska marked the beginning of what may be the last big push of his presidency — to build momentum for a meaningful deal at the international climate talks in Paris later this year. "The president is entirely focused on this goal," one of his aides told me in Alaska. For Obama, who has secured his legacy on his two top priorities, health care and the economy, as well as on important issues like gay marriage and immigration, a breakthrough in Paris would be a sweet final victory before his presidency drowns in the noise of the 2016 election.


  1. Excellent news! In the long run there's no issue more important than this. Climate change is the biggest threat to the development and even survival of civilization. The Republicans will make the usual fuss, but future generations will recognize what they owe to Obama.

  2. He's going to get the global climate agreement, but don't sell Barack short. As soon as the ink is dry and Republican heads are starting to explode over it, Obama will pivot to his 2016 priority - criminal justice and race.

    The Obama legacy can't be added up until he is done, but wow. Just wow. He's been joy to watch. We won't see another like him.

    1. Yeah, I was thinking about that last line from Goodell about the "noise of the 2016 election." I'm expecting that we'll see lots of announcements coming out of the President's Clemency Initiative while everyone is looking the other way.