US Compliance with Recent International Agreement in Lima

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru was intended to lay the groundwork for a 2015 Conference in Paris where a comprehensive climate agreement covering all the world’s emitters is planned.  The Lima meetings reached a compromise that requires every country to submit plans for cutting their carbon footprints in the coming months.  This compromise differs from prior efforts to place full responsibility of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions only on highly industrialized countries; the new agreement would require all countries to submit their own proposals to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions linked to climate change.

The compromise framework recognizes countries’ different national circumstances while accommodating the desire of the European Union to have binding GHG reduction targets for all countries, “…airtight under international law.”  This new ‘hybrid’ approach developed by New Zealand—and favored by the US—requires that an emission-cutting plan be enforceable through domestic laws but not be binding under international law.    Thus, the proposed Clean Power Plan, expected to be finalized in June 2015, would be the required US plan compliant with the compromise reached in Lima, since it would be “enforceable under domestic law”, the Clean Air Act.

The hope is that reliance on domestic (versus international) laws for compliance will persuade more ambivalent countries to reduce additional GHG emissions over the coming decades, without the risk of political backlash that would undo the commitment, such as what transpired after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol when the US did not ratify the agreement and Canada withdrew from it.  The US is counting on the hybrid approach to bring more countries to the “compliance table” and thus make it easier to gain approval of the Clean Power Plan.

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