The Obama administration has been quietly working behind the scenes to convince world leaders to sign onto an international agreement to lower carbon dioxide emissions at the next United Nations climate summit in December.
Over the past few months, President Barack Obama has worked to secure emissions reduction promises from China and India while sending U.S. officials to talks in Bonn, Geneva and Lima, according to Politico. The White House is trying to set the stage for its crowning achievement: a global climate treaty.
“If I can encourage and gain commitments from the Chinese to put forward a serious plan to start curbing their greenhouse gases, and that then allows us to leverage the entire world for the conference that will be taking place later this year in Paris,” Obama told VICE News in an interview.
Not only does Obama hope to get an international climate deal approved, he’s trying to propose one that doesn’t need Senate approval. Obama’s climate agreement would be “voluntary” and based on individual nations implementing their own policies to cut emissions.
“When I’m done, we’re still going to have a heck of a problem, but we will have made enough progress that the next president and the next generation can start building on it,” Obama said.
Obama wants part of his legacy to be an international deal to cut carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists say is causing global warming. Politico even goes so far as to say “if it works, he can leave office claiming to have helped save the world.”
“When we think about the things that we want to get done that have significance and consequence, this is a big thing,” Brian Deese, Obama’s new senior adviser who took the place of John Podesta, told Politico.
“Paris is the big focus internationally for this year, and it’s clear that this is a very high level priority for the president,” a senior administration official told Politico.
But will the White House’s global politicking actually pay off?
Late last year, the White House announced it had struck a deal with the Chinese government to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030– a vague commitment that China has already been caught wavering on.
China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and, the administration argued, a pledge from them would help galvanize global support to fight global warming. Obama also pledged to give $3 billion to the United Nations’ climate fund, but that spending has been challenged by Republican lawmakers.
The president also failed to get an agreement to cut carbon emissions from India, the world’s third-largest emitter. India said it was “not willing to make any bilateral commitment until India submitted its intended domestically determined contribution” later this year.
Obama also has to navigate tough political currents at home. Republicans are now in control of the purse, and can easily strip funding from administration efforts to fund global-warming programs.
House Republican’s 2016 budget proposal would cut Department of Defense and CIA programs to study global warming. Republicans have also opposed Obama’s efforts to fund international climate programs. And that doesn’t even address whether or not Obama can sign a climate deal without Senate approval.
“Although the president has pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, I will do everything in my power to prevent taxpayer dollars from being spent by unelected United Nations bureaucrats to dictate U.S. energy policy, especially when it puts American competitiveness, jobs and livelihoods at risk,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe said in a statement.
It looks like president has a busy year ahead of him. Politico notes that the “next nine months will be marked by a series of meetings and interim deadlines. By the end of March, the State Department will put out its proposal for meeting the emission cut target as part of the China deal. By May, the United Nations will release the basic areas of negotiation for the Paris talks. And then in December, Obama’s supposed to travel to Paris to sealing the deal.”
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