U.S. Will Join Paris Climate Deal Despite Court Rule, Envoy Says

  • Todd Stern says U.S. will not back off 2025 carbon targets
  • Some countries raised concerns over U.S. Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. will join the Paris deal on climate change this year and stick to its carbon-cutting goals even though the U.S. Supreme Court froze President Barack Obama’s program to cut pollution from the power industry.

“We anticipate that the Clean Power Plan is going to be upheld,” Todd Stern, the administration’s chief envoy on climate, told reporters in London on Thursday. “If for whatever reason it’s not, we will have to use other means to get to our target, but we’re not backing off our target.”

The Supreme Court decided Feb. 9 to halt enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan after it was challenged by utilities, coal miners and more than two dozen states. The high court is allowing time for lower bodies to determine whether the agency overstepped its authority with the program.

Obama has adopted a goal to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, and Stern said the U.S. would stick with that target “come what may.” By 2025, the goal is to cut pollution by as much as 28 percent.

Signing Ceremony

“Independent of what the Supreme Court does, either which way, we are going ahead and signing on April 22, and we will join the agreement this year,” Stern said, referring to a ceremony planned at the United Nations in New York. Countries have been invited by the UN to sign on that day the deal that was adopted in Paris in December envisioning measures to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the decade.

“A range of the big players” raised concerns the Supreme Court ruling would stop the U.S. from joining the Paris deal, said Stern. He has reassured counterparts in other countries that the U.S. won’t back out of the agreement regardless of what the court ultimately rules. “Everybody who I talked to at least reacted with a lot of appreciation for our reassurance and a lot more confidence,” he said.

“Everybody take a deep breath, this is not that serious,” he said.

Stern said he had “a lot of confidence in the case” after justices voted 5-4 on the order to halt the EPA’s effort. Justice Antonin Scalia died days later, removing from the panel one of the fiercest critics of the Clean Power Plan. 

Some analysts predicted his death would improve the outlook for the pollution plan, opening the possibility that a 4-4 split on the issue at the Supreme Court could leave in place a lower-court ruling in favor of Obama’s effort.

Stern said “we are very far from knowing” how the case will end.”

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