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U.S. Chamber of Commerce VP to Congress: Paris UN Climate Deal’s 2 Degree limit is ‘a potent political symbol of little practical consequence’

Mr. Stephen Eule: Vice President for Climate and Technology, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Stephen Eule’s testimony is found here [link]. Key points:

For the purposes of this testimony I will limit myself to these main points:

  • The Paris Agreement fulfills the Durban Platform’s goals of an outcome with legal force, as it contains many legally-binding “shall” provisions, including committing the Parties to make future, more ambitious if non-binding mitigation commitments and to provide financing and technology assistance.
  • The binding aspects of the Paris Agreement would require implementing legislation and regulation potentially affecting every sector of the U.S. economy. An agreement with such far-reaching consequences, if it is to be considered binding on future administrations and Congresses, should be approved by Congress.
  •  As a recent State Department report demonstrates, the U.S. Paris pledge of a 26% to 28% reduction in net GHG emissions from the 2005 level by 2025 is completely unrealistic, and the administration still has no plan to achieve it. This and any future pledges should be approved by Congress.
  • A review of the Paris emission pledges show that they are very uneven, with a handful of developed countries being responsible for nearly all of the actual emission reductions while others countries pursue “business as usual.”
  • While making emissions pledges is mandatory, the pledges themselves are not binding, so there is no guarantee any of the Paris goals will be achieved.
  • Even if these goals were to be achieved, however, global emissions in 2030 would still be much higher than in 2010 (with a mid-range estimate of 18%) largely because of rapid emissions growth in economies in transition and in emerging and developing economies. Coal for power production will continue to increase throughout the world as developing economies work to reduce poverty and increase energy access to their people.
  • The United States has a huge energy-price advantage over many of its competitors. The uneven nature of the emissions goals, however, could raise U.S. energy prices and lead to carbon leakage to other countries with fewer environmental controls.
  • Although Parties have agreed to a non-binding aim to limit the global temperature increase to “well below 2°C” from the pre-industrial level, the Parties, as they have in past decisions, refused to identify a global emissions pathway that they believe would be needed to meet the goal. This temperature target, therefore, will remain what it always has been—a potent political symbol of little practical consequence.
  • Intellectual property rights (IPR) are not mentioned in the agreement, but there is concern that other language in the Paris Agreement and COP decision could open the door to weakening IPR in future meetings. Continued diligence to protect IPR is required.
  •  Developed countries are on the hook for providing finance for developing countries, but many issues have been kicked down the road. Congress has a role in authorizing and appropriating the U.S. share of these funds.

JC comment:  This is a very useful overview of the Paris agreement, and the complicated issues that have been kicked down the road.