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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Climate Change Agreement hurdle


BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Climate Change Agreement hurdle

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ARE CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS and American businesses conspiring to be the “Grinch” who “stole Christmas” from United States (US) President Barack Obama and, by extension, Barbados and 44 other small island developing states?

It seems that way. For without allowing the ink to dry on the global climate change agreement signed two weeks ago in Paris by 195 countries, Barbados included, and even before Caribbean states can enjoy the Christmas holiday season by savouring the fruits of their climate change labours, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader is vowing to block any enabling legislation and funds, actions that would transform the global pact from an effective deal into strips of useless paper.

McConnell has gone so far as to warn that the pact would be “subject to be shredded in 13 months”. That’s provided, of course, that Republicans win the 2016 presidential election. McConnell’s threat must be taken seriously. But he doesn’t have the last word. Remember he had vowed five years ago to make Obama a one term president but American voters decided otherwise and the Democrat is still in the White House.

It didn’t come as a surprise to many in Paris and New York that when Obama began praising the Paris plan as a “huge” development Republican Congressional leaders started warning that the president was “making promises he can’t keep”. One such promise was to start the proccess to limit the rise of world temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Actually, that proposal was placed on the table by Caribbean countries that belong to the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) so as to help stave off the damaging fallout from extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts and rising sea level. They also argued for financial assistance to rebuild their infrastructure after damage or destruction by the effects of climate change. The Caribbean got both in the agreement.

But the Republicans on Capitol Hill are vowing to block any climate change legislative proposals and programmes that come before the House of Representatives and the Senate and are linked to the climate change pact. The Republicans aren’t alone. Actually, the US Chamber of Commerce, the powerful big business promoter, believes the accord is almost dead in the water as far as the US is concerned.

“None of the commitments made, including those by the US are binding, and many aren’t complete,” said the chamber in a statement. “Moreover, Congress must appropriate funds that the Obama administration has pledged.” In other words, these plans aren’t going to materialise.

In an analysis of the Paris agreement, David Gelles warned in the New York Times the other day that in order to achieve the agreement’s objectives, Obama must be prepared for the political fight that’s on the horizon.

“The accord’s lofty goals wouldn’t be achieved without large corporations making big changes,” was the way Gelles put it. “And while many companies have welcomed the deal and voluntarily pledged to cut emissions, the sweeping reforms required to avert a sharp rise in global temperatures will almost certainly require substantial new government regulations.”

And that’s not going to be easy. For instance: electricity generators may be forced to switch from coal to natural gas, a move that would boost the use of renewable energy while reducing carbon emissions. Several states are up in arms and so are electric companies. Auto manufacturers, already under pressure to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, can face stiffer regulations designed to reduce gasoline consumption.

Manufacturers may feel the heat from the US Environmental Protection Agency to bring more appliances to the market that use less energy. There is a growing demand for the introduction of a carbon tax. Of course, the negotiations in Paris and the experts, including Barbados’ Selwin Hart, director of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Change Support Team, fully expected some corporate resistance to the deal from the get-go. And they are seeing the push back materialise.

“It’s going to take time to get many of the provisions in the agreement to be fully implemented and accepted,” said the Bajan. Clearly, Hart, once the chief climate change negotiator for Barbados and the 45 states that belong to AOSIS, got it right. But the deal which the UN helped to broker is not the paper tiger that some critics are making it out to be. It’s the result of realistic negotiations which the Economist magazine described last week as the product of the “collective intelligence” of countries around the world.

As the Economist pointed out, “the nations of the world know that they cannot suddenly force each other to stop emitting greenhouse gases because fossil fuels are fundamental to the way the economies work”. However, the countries can begin the process of reducing the emissions while offering a financial helping hand to small and poorer countries so they can deal with consequences of climate change. The international community can do two things at the same time.