Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Justice Scalia may have saved the Paris Agreement - by dying

Photo by Stephen Masker - wikicommons
World leaders celebrated in Paris last December when 190 nations signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

That euphoria was not shared by the tens of thousand of us on the other side of the security cordon. To us there were several fairly fundamental problems with the agreement, the most serious of which was the lack of any sort of power to actually force changes.

The voluntary nature of the agreement is why the death last week of US Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia was such good news.

Scalia was a nasty piece of work. Appointed by Ronald "trees cause more pollution than automobiles do" Reagan, he believed the US constitution allowed gender discrimination and that there were "intelligent reasons to treat women differently". He claimed the type of anti-abortion campaigners picket clinics to call pregnant women murderers were only there to "comfort" them. He compared gay sex to incest or bestiality and believed homophobia was no different to disapproving of cruelty to animals. He believed black Americans should not go to university as they did better in "less advanced schools".

You can tell I'm going to miss him, can't you? But anyway, on to climate change.

Those of us who have been around a while remember the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the world's first attempt at a global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. That failed when Bill Clinton, who signed it, failed to get it through Congress. If the world's biggest polluter, as the USA was then, was going to thumb its nose at reducing emissions, why should anyone else bother?

The Paris Agreement is currently heading the same way, but this time it's the courts, not the Congress, who are the problem.

Under Obama's administration, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Clean Power Plan last year, which tasked individual states to limit carbon dioxide emissions by increasing the efficiency of their power stations, replacing coal with gas and fossil fuels with renewables. It's not enough, but it's a start.

However the plan immediately ran into massive opposition from the well funded climate changed denial industry led, by arch producer Peabody Coal. On 9 February this year the challenge came to the Supreme Court, who ruled 5/4 to halt enforcing the plan until the lower courts hear the case against the EPA.

The Supreme Court split, as it always does, along conservative/liberal lines with Scalia voting against the EPA. If the world's biggest historical and per capita polluter was to once again refuse to act then the Paris Agreement would be as dead as Kyoto.

And then Scalia became only the second Supreme Court Judge in sixty years to die on the job.

Image by Arnold Paul wikicommons
The lower courts are expected to eventually support the government, as is the more liberal Appeals Court, and so ultimately it will be back to the Supreme Court that decides the fate of the plan. Scalia's death leaves the court split 4/4 on the issue.

It is the job of President Obama, a black American who never-the-less went to Harvard, to appoint Scalia's replacement and he has a year left to do it. There will be controversy, there will be bickering, but it would be almost unbelievable if Obama appoints judge who will torpedo his flagship climate change legislation.

Even that may not be enough to save the Clean Power Act, let alone the Paris Agreement, but at least the prospect of the deal dying before the ink was dry has receded for now.

Antonio Scalia, you may have been of service to the human race after all.