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Obama pushes for UN climate agreement without Congress

Barack Obama seeks to bypass Congress with sweeping UN climate change agreement.
Barack Obama seeks to bypass Congress with sweeping UN climate change agreement.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

It seems Barack Obama is no longer content with foisting executive actions on American citizens. On Tuesday, the New York Times said the president now wants to bypass Congress with a sweeping international agreement on climate change forcing nations to cut their emissions.

To sidestep the Constitutional requirement that the president must get two-thirds majority of the Senate to enter into a legally-binding treaty, negotiators are crafting a “politically binding" deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting emissions. The Times said the deal would likely face stiff objections from Republicans and from poor countries. Negotiators, however, say it's the only realistic path to their ultimate goal.

“If you want a deal that includes all the major emitters, including the U.S., you cannot realistically pursue a legally binding treaty at this time,” explained Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton climate change official now working with the Obama administration. Instead of crafting a new agreement, The Hill explained, the administration wants to essentially update a pre-existing 1992 treaty with "fresh voluntary pledges." Such a deal, The Hill added, would not require Senate ratification.

“Unfortunately, this would be just another of many examples of the Obama administration’s tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard laws it doesn’t like — and to ignore the elected representatives of the people when they don’t agree,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The Times said the agreement will infuriate Republicans who argue that Obama is abusing his executive authority while bypassing Congress.

Foreign officials also said they understand the difficulty of achieving such a sweeping agreement without Senate approval. Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate change to the United Nations, said there's a "strong understanding of the difficulties of the U.S. situation, and a willingness to work with the U.S. to get out of this impasse."

If the deal goes through, countries would be legally obligated to enact policies addressing domestic climate change. They would voluntarily specify emissions cuts and the amount of money channeled to poorer countries.

UN delegates will discuss the proposal at a meeting next month in New York. They hope to draft the agreement in December while meeting in Lima, Peru.

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