Save Climate Pact by Arguing It’s No Big Deal: Sen. Corker

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By Dean Scott

President Donald Trump may hold off on pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate pact if he’s persuaded by a rather unorthodox argument being made by a top Senate Republican: The deal doesn’t really require the U.S. to do all that much on climate change.

“They know there’s no real substance to what the United States has to do” under the 2015 climate pact, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told reporters Jan. 24.“What they’re likely to do is formulate their own policies and move along for a while, and gain a greater understanding on how they might influence those things,” Corker said. “But I don’t see them waking up tomorrow and saying, ‘we’re out of it’ because again, there’s just no demands on U.S. citizens” imposed under the international climate pact if Trump leaves the deal alone, the chairman said.

Corker said he has “had some conversations” with the new administration urging it to go slow in deciding the pact’s fate. His comments may be a sign that the deal’s supporters may be shifting away from an oft-heard argument against U.S. withdrawal—that doing so would fracture international relationships—to a more pragmatic one highlighting the fact that the deal largely relies on pledges and cooperation without imposing binding emissions reduction targets.

One member of the Republican leadership, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)., said the new administration is likely to take into account the degree to which the climate pact actually imposes obligations on the U.S.

The question is “how much of this is aspirational in the Paris deal [and] how much of it is binding,” Thune told Bloomberg BNA. The climate pact’s fate likely rests on whether the administration views the deal as economically harmful, Thune said, or a relatively benign international agreement “that’s just pledges and goals and things like that.”

The South Dakota Republican also suggested there may be other options for Trump besides “completely abrogating” the deal, but added it is still unclear what those might be.

Democrats See Winning Argument

The Paris Agreement, the first climate deal in which developed and developing nations vowed action to address rising global temperatures linked to greenhouse gas emissions, didn’t include binding targets that ultimately sunk the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, countries put forth pledges that were specifically kept out of the deal, though those pledges are supposed to be anchored in domestic policies or laws.The pact does include some binding elements, including transparency requirements to ensure countries accurately report their emissions and verify whether nations make good on their pledges to cut emissions. But even the pledge by richer developed nations to provide $100 billion a year in combined private and public funds for nations vulnerable to climate impacts was, largely at U.S. insistence, kept out of the Paris Agreement and housed in a side agreement.

The argument that the Paris deal doesn’t require the U.S. to do all that much may seem awkward for Senate Democrats who are certainly more vocal supporters of the climate pact than Corker, such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz.

They were among 10 Democratic senators to fly to Paris in the days before the December 2015 UN deal was reached to back what they saw as an historic opportunity to get the first truly global climate pact, one that had eluded negotiators for more than two decades.

But Cardin largely backed Corker’s argument to reporters, suggesting Trump should reverse his campaign vow to “cancel” the Paris pact because staying in the deal doesn’t cost the U.S. much.

“When 190-plus nations reached an agreement and one country is going to pull out—the United States—well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly given it’s voluntary compliance” approach, Cardin told reporters.

A Quiet Campaign?

Cardin noted that Trump’s pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor picked to become the next U.S. representative to the United Nations, have called for keeping the U.S. at the table in climate negotiations.

“I think there will be people who advise him [Trump] ‘you can’t do it anyway as quickly as you would like, let’s give this a chance,’” Cardin said.

Tillerson cleared the Foreign Relations panel Jan. 23 along a party-line 11-10 vote. The committee Jan. 24 approved Haley’s nomination by voice vote, although Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Chris Coons (Del.) asked to be recorded as “no” votes.

Hawaii’s Schatz said Democrats are quietly urging Republican colleagues to counsel Trump to stay in the Paris deal to keep the U.S. from being seen as fickle on international agreements.

“The hope is that regardless of one’s views on climate, that there’s got to be bipartisan agreement that America doesn’t go back on its word,” the senator told Bloomberg BNA. “My sense is that we want this to be a quiet bipartisan foreign policy-oriented discussion, rather than something that lines up around D’s (Democrats) and R’s (Republicans) and climate,” the senator said.

“We need some foreign policy pragmatists to advise that it’s just not in America’s interest to get out of the agreement that we just got in,” Schatz said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington D.C., at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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