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Republicans Threaten to Shred Historic UN Climate Agreement

While GOP presidential contenders avoid comment on the international climate pact approved this weekend, Congressional Republicans continue their efforts to overturn President Barack Obama's environmental policies.
Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

If you're wondering what the leading Republican presidential contenders have to say about this weekend's landmark agreement to rein in planet-warming carbon emissions, here's a summary:

None of the top Republicans have addressed the Paris agreement, though most are on record dismissing climate change as an issue the US government needs to address. But the Republican leadership in Congress is threatening to shred Obama's climate policies — jeopardizing the scope and effectiveness of the UN climate accord, which aspires to transition the world's economies away from fossil fuels in just a few decades.


GOP front-runner Donald Trump wasn't asked about it on either of his Sunday news show appearances, on Fox and CNN. Up-and-coming Texas Sen. Ted Cruz hasn't mentioned the deal yet, nor was it raised when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke to NBC's "Meet the Press."

In fact, none of the GOP campaigns contacted by VICE News on Monday responded to inquiries about the Paris accord. But experts like Robert Stavins, the director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, said there's almost nothing Republicans can do to derail the deal.

Nothing in the pact is written in such a way that it has to be voted on by the Senate. Most of the emissions cuts the United States has offered as part of the Paris pact are already under way, through a combination of state programs to restrain emissions, federal regulations requiring better gas mileage and other energy efficiency rules, he said.

"None of them are really interested in the issue, and most of them are opposed to the US actions," Stavins said. "There's not a lot of reason for them to talk about it, and they're obviously focused on the threat of domestic terrorism."

Related: Nations Agree to Historic Pact on Climate Change

Not all Republicans are opposed to climate action: Rob Sisson, executive director of the conservative environmental group ConservAmerica, urged candidates to be ready to discuss the deal at Tuesday night's debate in Las Vegas.


"I can't speak for any of the candidates, but if I was in their shoes, I would want to read the full details of the agreement, discuss it with trusted experts, and be prepared with an answer by tomorrow," Sisson told VICE News in an e-mail Monday afternoon. "CNN is certain to ask the full panel of candidates about the Paris agreement during the debate this week."

The Paris pact, hammered out after two weeks of negotiations among nearly 200 countries, calls for countries to sharply reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases over the coming decades in order to avert catastrophic warming.

The cuts promised so far don't keep the world to the proposed limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial global temperatures — the world is already nearly halfway there. There's no mechanism to sanction countries that don't meet their proposed cuts, to the dismay of some leading environmentalists.

But the plan is for countries to reassess their progress every five years and ratchet up efforts as needed to keep warming below that mark. And supporters say the deal will mobilize investors to put money into the low-carbon energy technologies that will allow the world to replace fossil fuels by the end of the century.

The deal was met with the expected hostility on Capitol Hill, where the Republican leadership of both houses of Congress had vowed to fight any potential agreement.


Global warming conspiracy theorist and snowball aficionado James Inhofe, a Republican from the shaky petro-state of Oklahoma, said Washington "is not legally bound to any agreement setting emissions targets or any financial commitment to it without approval by Congress." Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, told CNN the agreement skips any mandatory cuts because "[o]ut of 100 senators, they couldn't get 30 senators to vote for something like that."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — whose home state of Kentucky is being battered by the coal industry's decline — called the accord "nothing more than a long-term planning document" that could be "shredded" by the next president.

"Before his international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject," McConnell said in a written statement.

Related: In Case You Forgot: Republicans Remain a Huge Obstacle to Serious Action on Climate Change

But Jennifer Morgan, head of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, said the deal undercuts one of opponents' biggest talking points.

"One of the big questions in the United States has been, 'How should we move forward without other countries moving forward?' " Morgan said Monday. "And I think the Paris agreement answers that question. It is an agreement where all countries are moving forward collectively in a common way, and the Obama administration has played a leadership role in getting all counties to do their fair share."


And GOP warnings to other countries that the US might not stand by any commitments turned to be "irrelevant" to other negotiators, Stavins said.

"That didn't succeed, right or wrong," he said.

Sisson urged the GOP to push for more renewable energy and encourage utilities to support wind and solar power, as well as nuclear power and natural gas—which has helped the US cut emissions sharply by displacing far-dirtier coal as power-plant fuel.

"It is wonderful that the nations of the world have agreed to a common vision on climate change, and have generated a great deal of enthusiasm for the work to follow," Sisson said. But he added, "If we're serious about tackling greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas and nuclear power are cleaner, here, now."

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl

Watch Who Cares About Climate Change here: