Jeff Sachs says "America has acted irresponsibly since signing the climate treaty in 1992":
King coal's climate policy: Will the US prove to be the world's last holdout?, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The United Nations Climate Change Treaty, signed in 1992, committed the world to “avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.” Yet, since that time, greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar.
The United States has proved to be the biggest laggard in the world, refusing to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or to adopt any effective domestic emissions controls. ... There are several reasons for US inaction – including ideology and scientific ignorance – but a lot comes down to one word: coal. No fewer than 25 states produce coal, which not only generates income, jobs, and tax revenue, but also provides a disproportionately large share of their energy. ...
Since addressing climate change is first and foremost directed at reduced emissions from coal – the most carbon-intensive of all fuels – America’s coal states are especially fearful about the economic implications of any controls (though the oil and automobile industries are not far behind). ...
Under the US Constitution, domestic legislation ... requires a simple majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate... Getting 50 votes for a climate-change bill (with a tie vote broken by the vice president) is almost certain.
But opponents of legislation can threaten to filibuster..., which can be ended only if 60 senators support bringing the legislation to a vote. ... Securing 60 votes is a steep hill to climb. ...[O]ne analysis counts 50 likely Democratic “Yes” votes and 34 Republican “No” votes, leaving 16 votes still in play. Ten of the swing votes are Democrats, mainly from coal states; the other six are Republicans who conceivably could vote with the president and the Democratic majority.
Until recently, many believed that China and India would be the real holdouts in the global climate-change negotiations. Yet China has announced a set of major initiatives – in solar, wind, nuclear, and carbon-capture technologies – to reduce its economy’s greenhouse-gas intensity.
India, long feared to be a spoiler, has said that it is ready to adopt a significant national action plan... These actions put the US under growing pressure to act. With developing countries displaying their readiness to reach a global deal, could the US Senate really prove to be the world’s last great holdout?
Obama has tools at his command to bring the US into the global mainstream on climate change. First, he is negotiating side deals with holdout senators to cushion the economic impact on coal states and to increase US investments in the research and development, and eventually adoption, of clean-coal technologies.
Second, he can command the Environmental Protection Agency to impose administrative controls on coal plants and automobile producers... The administrative route might turn out to be even more important than the legislative route.
The politics of the US Senate should not obscure the larger point: America has acted irresponsibly since signing the climate treaty in 1992. It is the world’s largest and most powerful country, and the one most responsible for the climate change to this point, it has behaved without any sense of duty – to its own citizens, to the world, and to future generations.
Even coal-state senators should be ashamed. Sure, their states need some extra help, but narrow interests should not be permitted to endanger our planet’s future. It is time for the US to rejoin the global family.