Upon taking office, the new US president will immediately face major decisions on domestic and international climate policy. The United States and the rest of the international community have set December 2009 as the deadline for concluding a new global climate agreement. The controversial 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and new international arrangements are urgently needed. This new round of climate negotiations provides a real chance to ensure strong, equitable action by all major economies, including the United States, China, and India, which in the past have resisted obligations to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. Simultaneously, the US Congress is likely to take up major legislation to dramatically reduce US emissions--an objective each of the leading presidential candidate supports.
The key to success in managing climate change, of course, will be aligning the international and domestic efforts. New domestic laws must help spur international cooperation. New international agreements must mesh with domestic strategies and political realities. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading scientific authority on the topic, tells us we probably have one last clear chance to deal with the climate problem in time to avoid unacceptable environmental, economic, humanitarian, and security risks. Given this urgency, integrating US domestic and international climate policy is vitally important to the United States and the world.
The truth is this: the United States has neither a sound climate foreign policy nor the right mechanism for creating one. Absent a fundamental change in the way the United States makes and carries forward its climate diplomacy, the next president and Congress may fail to do what is necessary to stabilize the Earth's climate system in time to avoid disastrous consequences for the United States and the world. Now is the time to consider innovative alternative approaches. For inspiration, we should look to more successful areas of international cooperation, specifically international trade.
Heading in the Wrong Direction
Before delving into the trade model answer to climate policy, it is important to understand why one must conclude the United States is heading in the wrong direction.. There are two main problems with our current approach. First, the United States lacks a compelling bipartisan vision for how it should engage the world on climate change. In fact, die United States does not even have publicly stated negotiating objectives for the climate talks that are already underway. Without further guidance, US climate diplomats seem unlikely to thread the needle--crafting a politically acceptable, economically feasible and environmentally effective climate agreement. Furthermore, in the absence of a bipartisan climate change foreign policy, Congress may fail to design new domestic climate legislation with the international community firmly in mind. A go-it-alone approach would forego important opportunities that domestic climate laws provide to entice and cajole other nations to do more to mitigate their emissions as well.
Second, securing the two-thirds support of the Senate that the US Constitution requires to ratify a new climate treaty would be a truly daunting task. The supermajority for treaties is among the highest bars imposed by the Constitution, equal to the standard for removing a president from office. The Framers expected treaties to be relatively rare--a few agreements with England, France, and Spain. Today, the United States enters into several hundred new international agreements each year, but very few of these are treaties because as a general rule the Senate will not act on a treaty if a single member of the Committee on Foreign Relations asks for more time. These informal committee "holds," as they are called, can last for years and even decades. …