Issue in Focus
Nov 06 2015
In a few weeks Paris will host the latest round of climate-change negotiations – what’s called the “Conference of Parties” – under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Paris will be the twenty-first Conference of Parties in twenty-three years, but this summer the European Union’s commissioner for climate action said there is no “plan B” for Paris. He confidently declared, “[These are] not just ongoing U.N. discussions. Paris is final.”
And in at least one important respect, Paris will be final. It will be President Obama’s last, best hope to continue his pursuit of that infamously lofty ambition from 2008 – his goal of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
In addition to trying to use a new climate-change agreement to fundamentally transform America’s energy and transportation sectors, the unilateral process by which President Obama plans to commit the United States to such a deal – a process designed explicitly to bypass the Senate and avoid seeking its advice and consent – would be another step in the fundamental transformation of the way we make international commitments.
Pursuing a deal in Paris as an executive agreement instead of a treaty would not only violate the plain meaning of the U.N. Convention; it would also defy the historical understanding of the constitutional limitations on the executive in foreign affairs – limitations that exist to safeguard the sovereignty of the American people.
Congress has several options to preempt President Obama’s unprecedented and reckless unilateralism in Paris.
First, the House and Senate should take up and pass a joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress that an agreement of the cost and legal character contemplated by the Obama administration in Paris should be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent.
Next, Congress needs to wield its most potent tool — the power of the purse.
Members of both chambers and from both parties have a constitutional duty to assert with one voice – to the Obama administration and more importantly to the foreign governments attending the Paris negotiations – that Congress will not send a dime of taxpayer money to the implementation of any agreement to which the Senate has not provided its advice and consent.
That goes for the billions of dollars that President Obama has pledged to send to the so-called “Green Climate Fund.” And it goes for any other funds that the Paris agreement would expect the United States to give to developing countries for clean-energy adaptation.
Finally, we need to start thinking more broadly – beyond the Paris talks and beyond January 2017 – about how we can repair the institutional damage wrought by Obama’s will-to-power approach to the presidency, and how to reform the laws and bad habits that have facilitated the accumulation of power in the executive.