For President Obama, the battle over climate change has grown into a two-front war. Internationally, he is poised for a breakthrough at the next global conference on climate change, which will convene in Paris in November. Domestically, his initiatives are facing unrelenting resistance from Republicans and some red-state Democrats that will extend beyond his presidency.
These diverging dynamics have re-framed the political struggle over the leading environmental debate of our time. For years, the principal barrier to international action was resistance to carbon-emission reductions from industrializing countries, particularly China and India. Now, the center of opposition has shifted to politically conservative states in the United States, which are fiercely contesting Obama’s climate plans in Congress and the courts. The central question has become: Will the international progress undermine the conservative domestic opposition—or vice versa?
Although many hurdles remain, a path to international agreement on climate action in Paris has emerged. The breakthrough came in June 2014, when Obama proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. That commitment helped break a stalemate with China, now the world’s largest carbon emitter, over which country would act first. Last November, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that China would “peak” its carbon emissions by 2030, while the United States would reduce its overall carbon emissions by about one-fourth by 2025. At the White House this September, Xi pushed further by announcing that China would impose a nationwide “cap and trade” system in 2017 to limit carbon emissions. With the United States and China committed, other key nations—notably, India—have followed with their own reduction plans.