Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Paris Climate Deal Is President Obama’s Biggest Accomplishment

By Jonathan Chait zzN
December 14, 2015 9:35 a.m., New York

This weekend, leaders from 196 countries approved the first global agreement to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in human history. The pact is a triumph of international diplomacy shared by diplomats across the planet. It also represents the culmination of a patient strategy by the Obama administration that unfolded over years, and which even many sympathetic journalists long dismissed as fanciful. Obama’s climate agenda has lurked quietly on the recesses of the American imagination for most of his presidency. It is also probably the administration’s most important accomplishment.

1. Climate change is different from other issues. The Obama administration has enacted important reforms to prevent a Great Depression, reform health care, overhaul the financial system and education, and craft important breakthroughs with Iran and Cuba. But climate change occupies a category of its own. The damage from climate change is irreversible. Melted glaciers cannot be easily refrozen; extinct species cannot be reborn; flooded coastal cities are unlikely to be rebuilt. Action to mitigate climate change has an urgency nothing else can match.

2. Paris is a BFD. In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a global treaty to limit the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions. The United Nations spent the next quarter century trying, and failing, to organize effective world action, despite increasingly dire warnings of massive, deadly, irreversible change that would threaten human life as we know it. An extremely simple conclusion can be drawn from this timeline: A worldwide-climate-change agreement is incredibly hard to do. If the Paris agreement were a simple matter of serving some nice French meals and writing some vague feel-good goals, it would have taken less than a quarter-century to happen.

3. Paris does not exist on its own. The Obama administration’s climate strategy began with a massive infusion of $90 billion in green-energy financing in the stimulus, which set off a wave of new investment and research in wind, solar, storage, and other measures. Obama signed the stimulus in his first month in office, and hoped it would launch the passage of a cap-and-trade law and an international climate agreement in Copenhagen. But the strategy derailed badly. The 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen virtually collapsed, and cap and trade was blocked by a coalition of a handful of Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing states and almost the entire Republican Party.

(More here.)

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