Two prominent Obama administration officials tried to spin the Paris climate treaty as a done deal this week.
In an interview with ClimateWire ($) on 5th July, reported the same day by The Hill, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing said foreign diplomats and ministers ask him “at every turn” how a Trump presidency might affect the Paris Climate Treaty. Citing new technologies, appliance efficiency standards, and congressional support for renewable energy tax credits, Pershing assures his counterparts “there’s more likely to be continuity no matter who’s in office.”
Repeating a familiar administration talking point, Pershing stated that the 195 governments that negotiated the Paris treaty believe climate change is a “big problem,” so “no matter who is president, it's going to be part of what they have to deal with."
Pershing also suggested U.S. financial support for the Green Climate Fund would not be a sticking point, because Paris puts pressure on industrial countries to “mobilize” $100 billion for the fund, not pay it all out of “public coffers.”
In an interview in Nature published Wednesday, White House science adviser John Holdren also predicted Obama’s climate policies would survive under a Trump presidency, claiming “all” of those policies are “enthusiastically pursued by career civil servants and not just political appointees.” Holdren also emphasized there is now “a huge amount of global momentum behind” the Paris treaty and the United States “would become a pariah if we backed out.”
There is some merit to these comments. Our feckless Congress renewed renewable energy tax credits that subsidize implementation of EPA’s so-called “Clean Power” Plan, which is the largest single component of Obama’s emission-reduction pledge to the UN. It is also the case that what EPA has adopted via notice-and-comment rulemakings cannot be undone by the stroke of a presidential pen.
But most of what Pershing and Holdren say is spin. Both EPA’s Power Plan and theprerequisite regulation imposing carbon dioxide emission standards on new coal power plants have immense legal flaws. If courts overturn those rules, Obama’s emission-reduction “commitment” would ring hollow regardless of which party wins the White House. Moreover, if elected, Trump could submit the Paris Treaty to the Senate for ratification, where the treaty would almost certainly die for want of the requisite backing of “two thirds of the Senators present.”
Although the architects of the Paris Treaty expect much of the climate finance to come from private funds, little of that would be raised without substantial seed money from “public coffers.” There is virtually no chance President Trump would ask Congress to shell out tens of billions to the Green Climate Fund.
Finally, pariah status is a bogeyman. President G.W. Bush proved it’s possible to oppose a UN climate treaty—in his case, the Kyoto Protocol—and win re-election to a second term.