- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2015

The ink had not yet dried on the climate change agreement signed in Paris this weekend when complaints poured in from every direction, including from environmentalists who assailed the accord backed by President Obama for being nothing but empty promises.

James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who is considered the father of global awareness of climate change, said the agreement is “just worthless words.”

“There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned,” Mr. Hansen told London’s Guardian newspaper.

Energy industry advocates said the climate deal is unenforceable, underfunded and nonbinding.

“There is nothing historic about this deal. The Obama administration clearly doesn’t have the support of Congress or the American people — making the agreement nothing more than a paper tiger,” said Thomas Pyle, president of American Energy Alliance.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry responded to critics Sunday by saying the international agreement set goals for reducing carbon emissions and limiting the average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, or less than 1 degree Celsius until 2100.

“If we can stay on that track, we have a chance to avoid the worst damage of climate change,” Mr. Kerry, who was Mr. Obama’s lead negotiator in Paris, said in a series of Sunday talk show appearances to tout the deal, which leaders from nearly 200 nations signed.

“I understand the criticisms of the agreement because it doesn’t have a mandatory scheme and it doesn’t have a compliance enforcement mechanism. That’s true,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“But we have 186 countries, for the first time in history, all submitting independent plans that they have laid down, which are real, for reducing emissions,” he said. “And what it does, in my judgment, more than anything else, there is a uniform standard of transparency. And therefore, we will know what everybody is doing.”

The goal of limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius would be within the range that scientists say could avoid a future of severe floods and droughts, rising sea levels, more powerful storms and widespread shortages of food and water.

The agreement, hammered out at the 21st Conference of Parties, popularly known as COP21, also aspired to more ambitious goals of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Mr. Obama hailed the nonbinding agreement as the “best chance to save the one planet we have.”

“Together, we’ve shown what is possible when the world stands as one,” he said when the deal was announced. “This agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investments.”

The president took credit for the successful negotiations.

“Today, the American people can be proud — because this historic agreement is a tribute to American leadership. Over the past seven years, we’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change,” Mr. Obama said.

However, the agreement didn’t mandate how much each country must cut greenhouse gas emissions but required each country to set its own goal and create its own plan to achieve target reductions. The targets are supposed to increase over time.

After 2020, the deal commits the countries involved to submit progressively higher goals and plans to achieve them every five years.

The biggest shortcoming, according to environmentalists and others advocating drastic action to slow climate change, was the absence of an enforcement mechanism to punish countries that don’t reach their goals.

Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, said she was both hopeful and disappointed. She noted that the deal proposed future carbon-reduction measures such as reforestation.

“We are encouraged at the recognition that deforestation and forest degradation play a critical role in the climate crisis, yet greatly disheartened at the lack of binding inclusion for indigenous and human rights in the agreement,” she said.

Misgivings also came from Republican lawmakers, who called it an excuse for the Obama administration to impose more regulations that they say drive up energy costs and drag down the economy.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the Paris agreement would be as ineffective on climate change as the Kyoto Protocol signed 18 years ago.

“What is significant for the United States is that we can expect the administration to cite this ‘agreement’ as their excuse for establishing emission targets for every sector of the U.S. economy not only including utilities, but petroleum refining, all manufacturing, agriculture and others,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called it “more of President Obama’s big-regulation approach.”

“What you see here in this country is he is constantly putting forth regulations on everything from energy to you name it. But that’s not the right approach. And now, in essence, he’s trying to regulate the world’s approach to energy,” he said on Fox News.

“The right approach is to stimulate technology development, to encourage that investment, and then as you develop and deploy those new technologies, you get not only better energy but better environmental stewardship,” Mr. Hoeven said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Mr. Obama is “making promises he can’t keep” and should remember that the agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months.”

He noted that the presidential election is next year and the agreement could be reversed if a Republican wins the White House.

Mr. Obama has signaled that he will not submit the agreement for ratification by the Senate, underscoring its nonbinding nature.

Senate Republicans have insisted that any legally binding treaty must be ratified.

Several Democratic leaders applauded Mr. Obama’s efforts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, hailed the Paris agreement as a “monumental moment” and praised Mr. Obama for his leadership on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said climate change poses one of the greatest threats the world has ever known and that no country acting alone can stem the tide.

“The time to act is now,” he said.

Ben Wolfgang and Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

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