The political forecast for Friday’s signing of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change calls for sunshine at the White House, with lukewarm temperatures on the left and thunderstorms on the right.
The nonbinding agreement, scheduled to be signed on Earth Day by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and about 165 other world leaders at the United Nations, sets a long-term goal of keeping the increase of global average temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
President Obama followed up in March by pledging to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Forged in December in a suburb of Paris, the agreement is seen as a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy even though free market and climate change advocates have expressed serious concerns about its necessity and viability.
While crediting the president for leading on the climate issue, environmentalists have been less than effusive in their praise for the accord, framing the deal as more of a good start than a game-changer in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and staving off what they see as a looming global disaster.
“Paris isn’t the end of the story, but a conclusion of a particular chapter,” the climate change group 350.org said in a statement. “Now, it’s up to us to strengthen these promises, make sure they are kept, and then accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy.”
The National Resources Defense Council issued a petition Thursday calling on the “Big Five” world powers — the United States, China, India, the European Union and Brazil — to “keep your climate promise.”
Meanwhile, opponents warn that the Paris Agreement’s goals, if met, will result in widespread “energy poverty” with no appreciable impact on temperatures.
“The Paris climate agreement is a bad deal for America. The president’s promise is an unworkable political gesture,” said a statement by Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
“This administration has put ideology ahead of what’s best for hardworking American families.”
The agreement, and Mr. Obama’s promises in implementing it, “will raise electric bills, ration energy and slow economic growth,” Mr. Smith said.
In a video released this week, the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute pointed to aggressive greenhouse gas reductions in Europe that have led to spiking energy bills, forcing low-income residents to choose between “heat or eat.”
“In Germany, electricity has become a luxury good,” said the video, showing headlines from German publications Der Spiegel, Die Welt and Focus. “800,000 homes are unable to pay their electric bills. It’s called the ‘second rent.’”
The video calls on the Senate to defeat the Paris Agreement, although the White House has said no congressional ratification is necessary because the deal is not a treaty.
The agreement also calls for participating nations to gather every five years to “set more ambitious targets as required by science,” issue progress reports and provide international support and money to developing countries.
Impact on poverty
Climate change groups argue that doing nothing to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase poverty by creating more “extreme weather events” such as hurricanes and drought.
“World Bank research shows that without climate action, more than 100 million additional people could be living in poverty by 2030,” the Climate Investment Funds said in a Thursday post.
Climate advocates have reason to worry about whether nations will follow through on their pledges. Nineteen years ago, the Kyoto Protocol laid out ambitious international targets for emissions reductions but ultimately collapsed.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a white paper Thursday comparing the Paris Agreement to the 1997 Kyoto accord, pointing out that the earlier agreement was legally binding but “countries still failed to comply.”
Those that attempted to comply “devastated their economies and actually increased [greenhouse gas] emissions at a rate faster than the U.S.,” the report said.
“The Paris agreement, like the Kyoto agreement, is full of empty promises that will have no meaningful impact on the climate,” said committee Chairman James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a leading skeptic of man-made climate change claims. “The problem with international climate change agreements is that they ignore basic economic and political realities and therefore are doomed to failure.”
Advocates of the agreement say the world’s other biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, including China and India, have agreed to participate. The agreement takes effect once 55 countries producing at least 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions sign and ratify the deal, which could happen Friday.
“The Paris Agreement delivers a powerful signal to business, investors and communities that fossil fuels are not our future,” Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said in a Thursday statement. “Building on this foundation, it is time to work harder and faster to embrace the clean energy solutions we have in reach.”
At the same time, he said, his group “will be pushing United States leaders to come forward with a more ambitious pledge in 2018.”
A report issued this week by the Reason Foundation raises concerns that diverting funding into low-carbon technologies will impede innovation that could actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions, much as “clean coal” technology and the boom in natural gas production have done.
“The Paris Agreement will do little to reduce the rate of warming but will divert trillions of dollars into low-carbon technologies, thereby reducing innovation in other areas, slowing economic growth and hindering adaptation and resiliency,” Julian Morris, vice president of research at Reason Foundation, said in a statement.
“Given the potential for the Paris Agreement to result in harmful and even counterproductive restrictions on economic activity, it would appear that ratification is not in the interests of the majority of signatory nations,” Mr. Morris said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the agreement is expected to set a record for the most signatories “on the opening day of any international treaty,” breaking the mark of 119 countries that signed the Law of the Sea treaty in 1982.