Climate change pact has fighting chance at passage, according to US envoy

The Obama administration’s top climate change diplomat is taking a glass-half-full view of the political prospects for a new climate pact to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which the U.S. never ratified.

The eleventh-hour deal struck Sunday at United Nations climate talks in South Africa calls for a binding emissions pact that, unlike Kyoto, would impose requirements on major developing nations like China and India (now the world’s first- and third-largest emitters, respectively).

Todd Stern, the State Department’s special climate envoy, said that’s crucial to securing political support in the U.S. From The Wall Street Journal’s report from South Africa:

As long as India and China sign up for emissions cuts that are "symmetrical" to those pledged by the U.S., Mr. Stern said he believed the final treaty stood a chance of passing in a Congress that has rejected climate legislation in the past.

"If the agreement has those elements then we could get into the category of the just very hard rather than the impossible," Mr. Stern said.

His assessment came after the marathon U.N. talks produced an agreement to create a pact with “legal force” by 2015 that would take effect in 2020, leaving a path forward for a global deal even though the hard work of crafting the specifics remains.

Domestically, there’s nowhere to go but up for climate change measures on Capitol Hill.

Then-President Clinton never submitted the Kyoto pact for ratification in the Senate, but senators had already voted 95-0 in July of 1997 for a resolution condemning any treaty that did not include developing country requirements.

Legislation to curb U.S. emissions collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010, and climate bills are dead in Congress.

Any bills or treaties debated in future sessions of Congress are likely to continue facing stiff headwinds from Republicans. GOP members generally oppose binding emissions curbs, and in some cases question the scientific consensus on climate change.

The Durban talks also saw progress on creating the international Green Climate Fund, halting tropical deforestation and other issues, building on last year’s agreements in Cancun, Mexico.

Stern, in a prepared statement on the outcome, called the talks “successful” for the U.S. He said:

We succeeded in our goal of implementing all key elements of the Cancun agreements, including creating a first-ever transparency regime to monitor efforts by developed and developing countries alike to cut their emissions. We also were successful in establishing a new Green Climate Fund. And under the new 'Durban Platform,' all parties agreed to negotiate a legal instrument by 2015 applicable to all countries, developed and developing, to be implemented starting in 2020. This new Platform includes the kind of symmetry we have been pursuing since the beginning of the Obama administration. So the deal had the core elements we were looking for.