Whatever Maine residents felt about the recent election results, there was little to cheer about where action on climate change is concerned. Maine people are deeply concerned about and already experiencing climate change’s ecological and economic impacts (consider the Gulf of Maine’s threatened shrimp fishery, the insect invasions that are ruining our forests and the ticks that are taking down our moose). Yet, as of Election Day, a global climate policy solution was nowhere in sight.
But last Wednesday we were given something to cheer about. The nation woke up to a surprise announcement that President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping had reached an agreement obligating their respective nations to reduce carbon emissions. The agreement—involving the world’s two biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions— has the potential to catalyze global efforts to combat climate change. It also could help protect Maine wildlife (and people) from the worst impacts of climate change. But the agreement will do neither of these things if Congress scuttles the Obama administration’s plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The United States and China have argued for years over which nation should take initiative on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. What had been a largely unproductive discussion changed course last spring, after President Obama proposed carbon emissions standards for power plants and gave states broad flexibility in meeting them. The Obama plan—to reduce carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels (already about 10% higher than they are today)—has been met with strong opposition along partisan lines.
Now some of the same objectors are claiming that the international agreement (which does not require congressional approval) doesn’t require enough sacrifice on China’s part. This is a curious position, given that the US and other highly developed nations grew their economies by filling the atmosphere with carbon much of the twentieth century, while the Chinese economy remained largely undeveloped.
The president’s agreement with China has significantly upped the ante. By leveraging his emissions plan to secure a commitment from China to reduce their own carbon emissions, he has ramped up the plan’s environmental benefits and opened the way for even further-reaching international action on climate change. But by tying his climate change plan to the agreement with China, he has also increased the possibility that partisan elements in Congress will succeed in undercutting or eliminating Obama’s emissions plan. It’s now double-or-nothing.
In a high stakes situation like this, every vote will count, especially in the US Senate. Maine Senator Angus King has already voiced strong support for the Obama Clean Power Plan. Senator Susan Collins, who has been a leader on climate issues, has taken a wait-and-see position on the Clean Power rules, pending the end of the public comment period. That occurred a month ago, and now it’s time for Senator Collins to lead on climate change once again by building bipartisan support for the rule and the international agreement that will greatly magnify its benefits.
Charles Gauvin started at Maine Audubon in 2014. Gauvin brings more than 25 years of experience in conservation leadership, much of it as the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading river and fish conservation organization.Gauvin most recently served as Chief Development Officer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. He collaborated with Carnegie scholars worldwide to develop program strategies and support in the United States, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and South Asia.