Prior to the much anticipated Paris climate conference, participating countries, including heavy polluters like the United States, India and China, have released comprehensive plans to reduce their GHG emissions. Though this demonstration of commitment is unprecedented, the devil is unfortunately in the details. For example, the United States and France are in disagreement over whether the climate agreement will be legally binding under international law.

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To find the roots of this disagreement, it is helpful to understand how the United States Congress impedes climate action. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry clarified that the Paris agreement is “definitely not going to be a treaty,” and would not include “legally binding reduction targets.” Under the US Constitution, an international treaty must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate before it can go into effect. The United States Senate is currently controlled by the Republican Party. In 2015, only five Republican Senators voted in favor of a resolution which stated that “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

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After the Democratic Senate’s failure to pass a comprehensive climate policy bill in 2010, there has been little hope for a Congressional response to climate change. According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the executive branch has the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. However, this authority was granted by a 5-4 decision and is being furiously challenged by 24 Republican state governments. If the United States is to have any chance of fulfilling its commitments in the Paris agreement, it must do so through executive action. American politics unfortunately will not allow for a legislative solution to what may be humanity’s most urgent threat.

Via Al Jazeera

Images via AP and UN