Why world leaders are antsy about US participation in Paris climate deal

Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, told reporters in London on Thursday that despite Republican opposition to climate change, the political situation is different than when President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

Thibault Camus/AP/File
US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern attends a meeting of foreign and environment ministers to prepare the way for the climate conference's final negotiations, in Paris, France, Nov. 8.

If the next US president decided to pull out of the recently negotiated Paris Climate Agreement, the US could face grave "diplomatic consequences," the US climate envoy said on Thursday.

Todd Stern, the United States' lead negotiator in the landmark deal reached in Paris in December, said the global reaction would be greater than when the US left the Kyoto Protocol under President Bush in 2001, the BBC reports.

In contrast to the Paris agreement, the Kyoto decision – which Mr. Stern called "diplomatically challenging" – came amid opposition from Congress on ratifying the protocol, which was the first international effort requiring cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions.

But with a contested presidential election looming in November and a recent Supreme Court decision to block one piece of President Obama’s plan to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, many countries are concerned that the US could walk away from the Paris deal.

Those fears have sent Stern on a goodwill tour of sorts through Europe to “reassure” countries that the US will stay with the agreement.

"We anticipate that the Clean Power Plan will be upheld," he told reporters in London. "But if for whatever reason it is not, then we will have to use other means to get to our target, but we are not backing off our target," he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has asked leaders to come to New York in April to officially sign the Paris agreement. To go into effect, the treaty needs 55 countries representing more than 55 percent of global emissions to sign and ratify it, the BBC reports. Leaders in France, Peru, and Morocco have already said they will attend, and Stern has said the US will also sign.

Recently, Mr. Obama has been warning that a new Republican administration could have large-scale consequences on US climate policies.

"They're all denying climate change," the president said, referring to the Republican candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination.

"This is not just Mr. Trump," Obama added, referencing the billionaire’s comments in 2013 that man-made global warming was "a hoax." "There's not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change, that thinks it's serious."

In similar comments in December, he pointed to the agreement’s potential to unite leaders across party lines.

“Many of the key signatories of this deal, the architects of this deal, come from center-right governments. Even the far-right parties in many of these countries, they may not like immigrants for example, but they admit, ‘Yeah the science tells us we’ve got to do something about climate change,’ ” he said.

On Tuesday, Stern, the climate negotiator, told reporters at a stop in Brussels that he was confident Obama’s Clean Power Plan would endure despite the Supreme Court’s injunction. The court voted 5 to 4 along partisan lines earlier this month to halt the plan, a decision that came before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. An appeals court is expected to hear the climate change case this summer, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass reported.

The climate negotiator contrasted the political environment with that of Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by then-President Clinton but never submitted to the Senate for ratification.

Unlike the Paris deal, it omitted China and India despite their records of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the disagreements over the document, which Stern characterized as relatively flawed, former-President George W. Bush's decision not to sign created "lots and lots of diplomatic flak."

"Paris was seen as such a landmark, hard-fought, hard-won deal that, for the U.S. to turn round and say we will withdraw, that would inevitably give the country a kind of diplomatic black eye that I think a president of any party would be very loath to do," he added on Tuesday.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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