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Expert Commentary: Supreme Court Puts U.S. Climate Promises on Shaky Ground

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to halt enforcement of the administration's plan to address carbon emissions until it issues a ruling on the case.

Dr. Jackson Ewing, Director of Asian Sustainability at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), weighs in on what the decision may mean for the Paris Climate Accord and the promises the Obama administration made to China, India and other international partners:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary halting of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP) has wide-ranging implications. The CPP is the main component of the Obama administration's energy reform agenda, and forms the foundation of U.S. commitments to address climate change. The Court ruling halts the enactment of the CPP until legal challenges have been decided; a process likely to extend through the remainder of Obama’s presidency and possibly beyond. Domestically, this uncertainty undermines the regulatory stability long called for by energy investors, and impedes U.S. efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Further afield, it erodes the basis of upon which the U.S. made international commitments.

The progressive stance of the U.S. and the burgeoning partnership that it formed with China emboldened the United Nations climate summit in Paris late last year. Longtime climate adversaries, these two countries agreed to move towards cleaner energy futures in tandem and reached bilateral agreements on how to do so. The Obama administration likewise lobbied the Modi government to get on board with the Paris Agreement in the face of stiff opposition in India. These U.S. efforts were legitimized in part by the CPP. Climate leaders in Beijing, Delhi and other capitals which followed suit are left questioning whether the U.S. will live up to its pledges.

The difficulty of meshing international commitments with domestic constrictions has always muddied American climate policy. With legislative options at home exhausted or dead on arrival, the Obama administration opted to regulate its way to energy sector reform. It based promises to its international partners on confidence that these regulations would take shape, and hasten the US transition to a post-fossil fuel based economy. These promises appear shakier in the wake of recent Supreme Court action. 

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