The buzz word coming out of this week’s Group of Seven Summit (G7; formerly the G8, now sans Russia) in Germany was “decarbonisation.” (Yes, across the Pond they swap the “z” for an “s”.) In the first announcement of its type, leaders from the G7 nations agreed to a“decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.” Many have been quick to point out that this aspirational goal lacks legally binding authority, reduces carbon emissions at a rate slower than necessitated by the latest science and provides few details concerning how such an enormous shift in energy production and consumption would take place. While all of this may be true, the announcement nevertheless is still significant both to the international community and particularly to the fate of the Clean Air Act’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide under EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Here’s two reasons why:

  1. First, this pronouncement continues to build momentum for the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris, France in December of 2015. The Paris meeting is the culmination of years of negotiations and is the first real shot at a new global agreement on climate change since Copenhagen in 2009. Global leaders have been carefully ramping up climate-related discussions in an array of forums to ensure that countries arrive in Paris ready to finalize an agreement—not begin negotiating one. Prior to or shortly before Paris, each nation is expected to announce (and officially submit) an emission reduction target, or in UN-speak, an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). INDCs consist of domestic policies to reduce emission which will then be inscribed in the global accord as an exhibit or appendix. For the U.S., the beauty of this structure (and why U.S. negotiators have pushed so hard for so long to adopt this type of framework) is that formal Senate ratification is not necessary (unlike the Kyoto Protocol). In March of 2015, the U.S. announced its INDC and is now taking every opportunity to ratchet up pressure on other nations to do the same. Getting the G7 nations to submit INDCs is critical. The group is responsible for 59% of historical global carbon emissions and when they throw their collective weight in one direction, others tend to follow. And, of course, for an international agreement to congeal in Paris, China, India, and Brazil will need to be in the group following.
  2. The Obama Administration, including the EPA, needs a credible agreement in Paris. They need a credible agreement to provide an effective rebuttal for the argument that opponents of EPA’s Clean Power Plan often raise: climate change is a global problem and the U.S. should not voluntarily agree to reduce its carbon emissions unless the rest of the world agrees to reduce their emissions as well.  Although polling data indicates government action on climate change is a larger priority now than ever before, a new administration could dismantle or defund EPA’s Clean Energy Plan if they believe public sentiment against the Plan has reached a critical pitch. If a credible agreement is reached in Paris—containing all of the world’s major economies—it will be more difficult for opponents of the Clean Power Plan to argue the U.S. is better served by pulling out of the agreement thwarting any level of emissions-certainty the agreement would provide.

 Stay tuned, EPA sent the Clean Power Plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget last week for its final review and the Regulations cleared an initial hurdle in the D.C. Circuit just this week.