Paris Agreement reflects conservative values

Paris Agreement reflects conservative values
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This week, Democrats and Republicans in the House will spar over whether the U.S. should remain in the Paris Agreement.

The Climate Action Now Act, which will likely pass on a party-line vote, would prohibit President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE from withdrawing from the accord and require a plan to meet the previous administration’s pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Both parties will present their arguments for and against the bill in “common sense” terms, but don’t expect an honest discussion on the facts.

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Details matter in the debate over the Paris Agreement. I initially shared Republicans’ skepticism of the agreement but later became convinced that U.S. participation is in the national interest. Opponents of the deal argue that it binds the U.S. to reduce GHG emissions by dramatic rates at crippling economic cost, while China — the world’s largest emitter — doesn’t have to act until 2030

Supporters of the Paris Agreement might prefer that we not expose the fact that it really isn’t as “historic” as advertised. While it’s the first agreement of its kind to require all countries to take actions to reduce their emissions, the only binding requirements under the agreement are procedural. Specifically, the only true mandate on Paris parties is that they communicate their intended plans to address climate change. Known as “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), countries must submit a non-binding plan every five years on how they will contribute to the overarching collective goal of holding global temperature increases below two degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels.

President Obama presented an NDC to reduce U.S. emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — a target that would have required regulating most of the American economy. Unfortunately, the Obama administration never publicly released a cost-benefit analysis or economic justification of its NDC, much less consulted Congress or the private sector before submitting the pledge. As a result, all we can rely on are third-party analyses, one of which found that the Obama NDC could cost the economy 2.7 million jobs and $250 billion in gross domestic product by 2025. 

The fact is that President Trump didn’t have to withdraw from the Paris Agreement to achieve his goal of a better deal for the U.S. He could have simply withdrawn the Obama NDC and submitted a new pledge that better reflects market realities and preserves our economic competitiveness. I understand Trump made a campaign promise to “cancel” the deal, but remaining in it would strengthen the U.S. position to block the development of global policies that harm longer-term national interests or obstruct the deployment of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels. In an era of renewed great power competition, which the administration deserves credit for recognizing, there is no reason to give China the chance to falsely claim the mantel of global leadership on an issue it clearly is not leading.

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Republicans should better understand the Paris Agreement and recognize that it reflects conservative values in international climate policymaking — a non-binding, bottom-up agreement that includes the participation of all major economies. Democrats should not double down on a pledge made by President Obama without understanding its economic impacts. They should also support giving Congress a say in future NDCs. So-called moderate Democrats like Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push MORE (D-Minn.) voted against an amendment to the Climate Action Now Act that would have required future NDCs to be sent to Congress along with a detailed cost-benefit analysis that takes into account its impact on the U.S. economy, national security, the poor and world energy markets. This kind of partisanship is no way to solve the climate crisis. 

Both parties should work together to establish a national consensus on addressing climate change. Staying in the Paris Agreement in a way that works for America is possible and needed to protect U.S. national interests. Thankfully, the accord’s flexibility allows us to avoid choosing between economic harm and abdication of America’s traditional global leadership in addressing environmental challenges.

Andy Taylor worked in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2010-2019, most recently as the chief economic advisor on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Staff, where he covered international energy and environment issues.