The Paris Climate Conference has barely started, but obstructionists in the U.S. Congress are already taking the opportunity to make mischief for President Obama. According to an article in the NY Times, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolutions to void U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA) rules that would significantly cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from existing and future coal-fired power plants. These rules or the Clean Power Plan, announced by the president and the EPA only three and a half months ago, are a signature element of the president's commitment to take action on climate change despite heels-in-the-ground, head-in-the-sand opposition from elements in the Congress determined to ignore, obfuscate, or invalidate any discussion of, or action on, this issue of planetary and existential importance.
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I have been working on climate change since when people thought it meant that I was the person to call if the office got too warm or cold. So as the United Nations' 21st climate conference (COP21) begins en Paris, I cannot help get a little nostalgic and take a trip down memory lane …. In 1992, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened for signature at the Rio “Earth Summit” in 1992, Steffi Graf won Wimbledon. I wonder how many of the delegates attending COP21 in Paris know who she is. There have been Conferences of the Parties (which sounds considerably more entertaining that the long hours spent poring over minuscule differences in texts actually are) since 1995, when a youthful 41-year-old German environment minister named Angela Merkel presided over the first one. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. It required modest emissions targets (5 to 8% lower than 1990 level by 2008 to 2012) to the “Kyoto basket” of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). These cuts applied essentially to the OECD countries which mirrors countries with highest historical emissions since the Industrial Revolution. In 2005, a sufficient number of countries representing the needed threshold of total emissions ratified the Kyoto Protocol and it entered into force. The U.S. significantly did not ratify it. President Clinton knowing it would never pass did not submit it to Congress. Canada withdrew in 2011, but the recent political change there should make for a strong Canadian position on climate.