An Agenda for Change in U.S. Climate Policies? Presidential Ambitions and Congressional Powers

International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Vol 9, No 3, 2009, pp. 263-280

U.S. membership in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP) constituted an important element in the Bush administration’s voluntary and non-committing ‘soft-law’ approach to climate change. With the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. has embarked on a shift in its climate policy towards a legislative, ‘hard-law’ strategy. Obama’s approach implies that the distribution of interests in Congress becomes more significant. In this article, we assess the rules and procedures governing the relationship between the president and the Congress embedded in the U.S. Constitution and explore implications of a stronger congressional involvement in U.S. climate policies for President Obama’s ability to realise his climate policy ambitions at both the domestic and the international levels. We argue that the strong relationship between natural resource dependence (coal and oil) and opposition to climate policies is a constant feature of the U.S. climate policy debate. To succeed, Obama must break the enduring gridlock characterising congressional debate in this policy area by designing policies that, through compromise and compensation, can mobilise the support of oil- and coal-state representatives in Congress. The acceptability of an international climate treaty in Congress, moreover, depends inter alia on the resolution of the difficult issue of developing country participation. Success may be enhanced by using the APP and the Major Economies Initiative as informal arenas for negotiation and sector-based cooperation, thus providing a much-needed supplement to the UN-based negotiation process.




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