11/30/2015

He Needs a Legacy

WASHINGTON — At a joint news conference here Tuesday with President François Hollande of France, President Obama veered from his focus on the terrorist attacks in Paris to bring up the huge international gathering beginning in the French capital on Monday to hammer out a global response to climate change.

“What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” Mr. Obama said of the climate conference.

The segue brought mockery, even castigation, from the political right, but it was a reminder of the importance Mr. Obama places on climate change in shaping his legacy. 

During his 2012 re-election campaign, he barely mentioned global warming, but the issue has become a hallmark of his second term. 

And on Sunday night he arrives in Paris, hoping to make climate policy the signature environmental achievement of his, and perhaps any, presidency.

“He comes to Paris with a moral authority that no other president has had on the issue of climate change,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who noted that Mr. Obama’s domestic climate efforts already stand alone in American history. “No other president has had a climate change policy. It makes him unique.”

In Paris, Mr. Obama will join more than 120 world leaders to kick off two weeks of negotiations aimed at forging a new climate change accord that would, for the first time, commit almost every country on Earth to lowering its greenhouse gas pollution. 

All year, Mr. Obama’s negotiators have worked behind the scenes to fashion a Paris deal.

Crucial to Mr. Obama’s leverage has been the release of his domestic climate change regulations, which he then pushed other countries to emulate. So far, at least 170 countries have put forth emission reduction plans.

But even as Mr. Obama presses for a deal in Paris, it faces steep obstacles, not least the legal and legislative assault on his own regulations at home. 

During the course of the Paris talks, Republicans in Congress are planning a series of votes to fight Mr. Obama’s climate agenda. 

More than half the states are suing the administration on the legality of his climate plan. 

And all the Republican presidential candidates have said that they would undo the regulations if elected.       Read more
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