Democratic Platform

The Party Platforms: International Climate Negotiations

Sep 7, 2012 | Daniel F. Morris

This is part of a series of short posts in which RFF scholars will analyze the environmental plank of the Republican and Democratic Party platforms. This week we’re looking at the Democratic platform (though this post discusses both). Previous posts analyzed the Republican platform. As with all posts on Common Resources, this and other posts in this series reflect the opinions of the authors alone, not Resources for the Future.

It’s a safe bet to say almost no voters are going to be swayed in this year’s election by the Democratic and Republican stances on international environmental and climate negotiations. Regardless, the topic warranted a brief mention in both party platforms, and the language presents a window into how they might approach the UNFCCC process and other environmental conventions. First, the following from the Republican platform, under the heading “Sovereign American Leadership in International Organizations”:

Under our Constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress—the Senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power—shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include… the various declarations from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development... We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of U.N. Global Tax...

While no one really expects Republicans to embrace international processes on environmental issues like climate change (as Ray discussed in an earlier post), this language takes an adversarial position that suggests (or explicitly states, as with Agenda 21) that agreements negotiated through the United Nations are threats to the sovereignty of the country and should be rejected outright. This is clearly a nod to the Tea Party wing of the party, which has a well-documented mistrust of Agenda 21, a set of sustainable development goals adopted as part of the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (a "laughably paranoid" view Jim Boyd criticized in his recent post). Assuming Mitt Romney has similar views to those in the platform, one could expect his administration to take an unhelpful, obstructive stance in many negotiations, as the Bush 43 administration was known to do at times. If that happens, the chances that the US would sign on to a climate agreement under his presidency are almost non-existent, and an already complicated and arduous process would become even more so.

While chances of the US joining an international climate agreement are probably not much better under a second Obama administration, the Democratic platform at least views the process legitimately and takes it seriously. The platform reads:

…the President and the Democratic Party have steadily worked to build an international framework to combat climate change. We will seek to implement agreements and build on the progress made during climate talks in Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban, working to ensure a response to climate change policy that draws upon decisive action by all nations. Our goal is an effective, international effort in which all major economies commit to reduce their emissions, nations meet their commitments in a transparent manner, and the necessary financing is mobilized so that developing countries can mitigate the effects of climate change and invest in clean energy technologies. That is why the Obama administration has taken a leadership role in ongoing climate negotiations, working to ensure that other major economies like China and India commit to taking meaningful action. It is also why we have worked regionally to build clean energy partnerships in Asia, the Americas, and Africa.

If the President wins re-election, we should expect his administration to continue its current approach to international climate negotiations, which emphasizes, among other things, all major economies taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transparent systems for reporting and measuring those actions. The Obama negotiating team has always said they won’t sign onto an agreement that won’t pass Congress, and activists constantly accuse them of being a barrier to progress as a result. They do think the process matters, though, and the US is currently a willing and constructive participant in negotiations, something that could change under a Romney administration.