Philip A. Wallach | December 11, 2015 2:30pm Domestic politics and the Paris climate change talks

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Hello, I’m Philip Wallach of the Governance Studies Program and Center for Effective Public Management here at Brookings. Several of my colleagues who have long experience studying climate negotiations have given big-picture looks at what the Paris climate talks are intended to accomplish, and what they’re likely to accomplish. What I want to do is give a comparatively parochial view by thinking in terms of U.S. domestic policymaking, which is my area of expertise. Looking across the Atlantic from the banks of the Potomac tends to make me somewhat more skeptical about the prospects for success, or at least to focus more on the challenges that will have to be overcome.

That’s because our country’s policy-amaking process has historically not led us to take international leadership on the climate issue. Why not? Well, many people might summarize the issue as: Republicans. The Republican Party denies the reality of global climate change, which means it is going to obstruct any costly efforts to mitigate it through emissions reduction. That’s obviously a big obstacle, but I’d say it’s often overstated.

Republicans have supported in the past and could support in the future plenty of policies that would line up with their other priorities and would productively get at global climate change, maybe all the way up to a carbon tax if it could be included as part of a pro-growth tax reform package. The GOP doesn’t necessarily need to have a moment of truth in which they decisively repudiate all of the dubious assertions about the non-existence of anthropogenic global climate change to become productive players. Yes, as long as Jim Inhofe, the cantankerous senior Senator from Oklahoma remains the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, it is hard to see Republicans executing a turn, but there are already murmurs of a new direction at various levels of the party.

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More generally, I’d say America’s problem is: Congress. Remember, even when Democrats controlled both chambers and the White House back in 2009 and 2010, they couldn’t find their way to putting in place an overarching climate policy, and it’s hard to make the case that Republican obstructionism was the crucial barrier. Back in 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 for a resolution disavowing any intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol if it would impose significant and binding costs on the U.S. So Congress as a body has neither provided well-targeted climate legislation nor has it shown much willingness to concede any American sovereignty to an enforceable international climate treaty. And Congress has control over a number of constitutional levers that are hard to imagine working around: the power of the purse, the Senate’s ratification of treaties, and of course the power to craft new legislation.

Considering the magnitude of the Congress problem, it is actually remarkable how much the Obama administration has been able to do to address greenhouse gas emissions. The main way they’ve done that is by teaching an old law a new trick: with the blessing, or at least the acquiescence, of the Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency has interpreted the Clean Air Act to support far-reaching regulation of carbon emissions from automobiles (now a done deal); trucks and airplanes (now in progress); and power plants. That last one, in the form of the Clean Power Plan, is the centerpiece of American climate policy headed to Paris.

Using the Clean Air Act—and therefore proceeding without any new congressional help—the EPA will superintend a system of state-by-state emission reduction plans. That plan will have teeth from 2022-2030, but its formal finalization this past October was followed by a bevy of lawsuits, not to mention angry political rhetoric from governors around the state. Some of the legal and political complaints are facile, but many of them have some real merit, and so they are going to hang over the Clean Power Plan like a dark cloud for at least the next couple of years—as will the possibility that the 2016 election will produce a Republican President determined to reverse the EPA’s progress one way or another.

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The Obama administration has by and large put those concerns out of mind, proceeding under the assumption that the Clean Power Plan will stick (or perhaps, in the alternative, that they should get as much leverage out of it as possible before it gets knocked out). It is the single largest component in the country’s promises in Paris, and negotiators convey unshakable confidence in America’s willingness and ability to follow through on it. All this while various Republican legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have addressed foreign leaders with the message that Congress is not on board with the Obama administration’s plans.

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What are the implications of having U.S. political leaders courting open conflict even as the country ostensibly makes a decades-long commitment? This American conflict is shaping the whole architecture of the Paris agreement, because the core of the negotiated structure must be able to function without U.S. Senate approval unlikely to be forthcoming. But President Obama has said that he thinks some parts of the agreement will need to be binding—and it isn’t yet clear how he will square that with circumventing the Senate.

Senator Inhofe, for one, is not going to go quietly; he issued a declaration stating that “The U.S. Senate will not be ignored. If the president wishes to sign the American people up to a legally binding agreement, the deal must go through the Senate. There is no way around it.” On the key issue of providing direct financial support for developing countries’ investments in renewable energy, it is hard to see how Congress could be cut out of the process. Somehow, America will have to find its way to a climate policy that has at least minimal bipartisan support that allows it to weather changes in the political winds.

Of course, this isn’t a uniquely American problem. Australia and Canada have had high-profile reversals of climate commitments when conservative governments came to power. Last weekend the New York Times had a story about how even Denmark, a world leader in renewable energy, is reeling in its green spending somewhat as a new conservative government takes power.

(Taken from a talk given by Phillip Wallach 2015

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Allow us to dignify humanity

Please take the clip below as an allegory, Mother Abigail symbolises the forces of good, ‘The Walking Dude’ the forces of evil and the global multi-national corporations devouring & polluting the planet, and as for the well fed rats who roll with ‘The Walking Dude’ ? Well I think that speaks for itself.

But as usual I’m straying off the point, this post is mean’t to be focused on the varied reactions to the Pope’s pending encyclical. Never before, church leaders say, has a papal encyclical been anticipated so eagerly by so many. With Pope Francis expected to make the case that climate change, unchecked development and over-consumption are exacerbating the suffering of the poor, advocates for the environment and the poor are thrilled.

Intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate

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Pope Francis will call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality in a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Thursday. He’s not pro a Soylent Green world either, this is a good sign (can ya dig that happy clappy? Please see Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ for further reference please see also my favourite character from that post apocalyptic opus ‘Mother Abigail’) but I digress….

In an unprecedented encyclical on the subject of the environment, the pontiff is expected to argue that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural boundaries, and that the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds. The much-anticipated message, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops, will be published online in five languages on Thursday and is expected to be the most radical statement yet from the outspoken pontiff.

However, it is certain to anger sections of Republican opinion in America by endorsing the warnings of climate scientists and admonishing rich elites, say cardinals and scientists who have advised the Vatican.

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Francis’s radicalism is attracting resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate.

Earlier this year Stephen Moore, a Catholic economist, called the pope a “complete disaster”, saying he was part of “a radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-people and anti-progress”.

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Moore was backed this month by scientists and engineers from the powerful evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who have written an open letter to Francis. “Today many prominent voices call humanity a scourge on our planet, saying that man is the problem, not the solution. Such attitudes too often contaminate their assessment of man’s effects on nature,” it says.

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But the encyclical will be well received in developing countries, where most Catholics live. “Francis has always put the poor at the centre of everything he has said. The developing countries will hear their voice in the encyclical,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at the Catholic development agency, Cafod. “I expect it to challenge the way we think. The message that we cannot just treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation will be a message that many will not want to hear.”

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.

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Earlier popes, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, addressed environmental issues and “creation”, but neither mentioned climate change or devoted an entire encyclical to the links between poverty, economics and ecological destruction.

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(Excerpts taken from ‘The Guardian’ )

Ghanaian Vatican official calls for moral awakening on global warming

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Increasing use of fossil fuels is disrupting Earth on an “almost unfathomable scale”, a top Vatican official has said, warning that a “full conversion” of hearts and minds is needed if global warming is to be conquered.

The statement by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Pope Francis’s point man for peace and justice issues, was made at a Vatican summit on Tuesday, which focused on climate change and poverty. His call for a moral awakening of politicians and people of faith is a likely precursor to the highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, which was drafted by Turkson and which Pope Francis is expected to release in June.

“In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” warned Turkson. “And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today: pride, hubris, self-centredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.”

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general who delivered the keynote address at the summit, said he believed the pope’s encyclical – coupled with the pontiff’s planned speeches before the UN general assembly and a joint session of the US Congress – would have a profound impact on climate change negotiations.

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“[The encyclical] will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience,” Ban said. While he declined to comment on any details of the encyclical following his morning meeting with the Argentinean pontiff – the document has already been written and is being translated – he said he was counting on the pope’s “moral voice and moral leadership” to help accelerate talks.

Pope Francis’s September address will be the first time any pope has spoken before a special session of the general assembly.

Both Turkson and Ban emphasised that scientists and people of faith were united in their call for action.

“Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt,” Ban said.

Turkson called on leaders of all faiths to be good role models. “Think of the positive message it would send for churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples all over the world to become carbon neutral,” he said. “At a time like this, the world is looking to faith leaders for guidance. This is why Pope Francis has chosen to issue an encyclical on protecting the environment at this unique moment in time.”

The Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity meeting has brought about a rare meeting of minds between scientists and religious officials on climate change, even if they frame their arguments in different ways.

Teresa Berger, a professor at the Yale Divinity School, said she believed the encyclical would have an overarching theological vision – one of “a God-sustained universe, anchored in a theology of creation as articulated in the biblical witness. And based on this, Pope Francis will probably not mince words, but note as evil, for example, the sin of exploiting the Earth.”

Pope Francis has already said he believes global warming is mostly manmade and that a Christian who does not protect God’s creation “is a Christian who does not care about the work of God”. He has also linked environmental exploitation to social and economic inequality, saying: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

Activists hope the summit and the encyclical will influence the next round of international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will take place in Paris in November. The pope, whose foray into diplomacy helped spur negotiations between the US and Cuba, is expected to address the topic in a speech before the UN in New York in September.

Some conservatives in the US, where the Republican party has fiercely resisted attempts to regulate greenhouse gases and questioned the scientific consensus on global warming, have criticised the pope for getting involved in the issue.

“Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologised propaganda,” Maureen Mullarkey wrote in First Things, a conservative journal.

Another conservative group, the Heartland Institute, which seeks to discredit established science on global warming, held its own meeting in Rome on Monday– and will hold a second on Tuesday – in which officials derided the pope for taking on the issue.

“You demean the office that you hold and you demean the church whom it is your sworn duty to protect and defend and advance,” said Lord Christopher Monckton, a prominent climate sceptic and former policy adviser to the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Monckton’s opinions have beenrefuted by scientists, who have called his statements “very misleading” and “profoundly wrong”.

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(The Guardian 28 April 2015)