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Kerry: Climate Deal Won’t Be a Treaty

Walter Russell Mead

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has poured cold water on the looming Paris climate talks, telling the FT that there is “definitively not going to be a treaty.” The FT reports:

He said it would contain measures that would drive a “significant amount of investment” towards a low-carbon global economy. But he stressed there were “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto”, a reference to the 1997 Kyoto protocol, a UN climate treaty that had targets for cutting emissions that countries ratifying it were legally obliged to meet. […]

The Paris deal is supposed to cover all countries, but Mr Kerry’s comments underline the differences between the US and other nations over how to ensure it is robust enough to shift billions of dollars of investment away from fossil fuels and towards greener energy sources.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius wasted little time hitting back at Kerry’s comments, suggesting that his American colleague might be “confused” while insisting that the climate summit would be focused on creating a “real accord with facts”, and was more than just “hot air.”

But Kerry’s admission cuts to the heart of the problem for negotiators hoping for a binding accord: President Obama simply does not have the power to make legally binding commitments on future presidents or any American Congress. There is therefore zero chance that the much ballyhooed Paris climate meeting can produce a real treaty that will bind the United States, just as there is zero chance that the U.S. Senate, now or in the foreseeable future, will have the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty under the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, any administration promises of U.S. contribution to the mythical $100 billion climate fund, which the developing countries insist on as their minimum price for participating, do not bind anybody. That’s a very serious problem, as climate financing has been identified as a make-or-break issue for the Paris talks by the developing world, but there is nothing either Obama or Kerry can do that would change the non-binding nature of any such promises.

The administration has been carefully weaving a shiny web of attractive implausibilities in the hope of getting something that looks enough like a real climate treaty so that the WH can claim a legacy-boosting accomplishment. The WH wants something pretty to show to the green billionaires who will pump the Democratic treasury full of money as long as their environmentalist egos are appropriately stroked.

But this president cannot commit the United States to any, repeat any, future actions or policy with respect to climate and energy. The countries “negotiating” in Paris must choose between an empty set of inspiring phrases or a “legally binding” document that the Senate won’t ratify and that will not commit the United States to anything at all.

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