Diplomats will descend on Paris at the end of November for United Nations climate talks that could prove pivotal in the fight against global warming. President Obama has labored to show that the U.S. is serious about taking action to stave off the worst impacts of rising temperatures. But Republican critics, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are warning the world that the president’s environmental promises are built on shaky ground—and could easily crumble.
Republican opponents lack the votes to block the central pillars of the president’s climate agenda. Still, the clash over the Paris talks stands as a sharp reminder that congressional opposition forced the White House to abandon ambitions for comprehensive climate legislation. Policy experts warn that governments must do everything in their power to reckon with the reality of global warming as an environmental, economic, humanitarian, and national security threat. Instead, the president has been compelled to advance a climate agenda in bits and pieces.
The dispute in Congress highlights how polarized the U.S. climate debate has become. Democrats and Republicans struggle to agree on the nature of the threat, much less what should be done to confront it. Despite the fact that the U.S. military considers climate change a “threat multiplier,” both conservative commentators and Republican White House contenders like Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee decry the idea that climate change should be viewed as a major threat to national security. Some House Republicans have publicly expressed concern over the security risks of a warming planet, but that falls far short of a bipartisan consensus. Meanwhile, experts warn that it would be shortsighted to allow partisan disputes to create a blind spot in American foreign policy.