The Obama Administration is pursuing a climate change agreement that does not require ratification by the Senate by combining new voluntary standards with a 1992 agreement. Because the plan would update a previous treaty it would not, in theory, require Senate approval and would be a mix of required domestic policies and voluntary pledges. The agreement is set to be signed at a United Nations summit in Paris in 2015.

News of this post-Congress policymaking comes as a draft from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was leaked to the media reports that climate change could be irreversible.

The language in the latest draft of a report – which is set to be published in its final version in October – is more “stark” than previous versions according to the Associated Press and claims that if current trends continue mid-century temperatures would increase by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress... American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

Given Congress’ approval rating right now, it is unlikely Obama is risking much of a public backlash for going around them. The real question is whether major carbon polluters such as China and India will sign on to reductions should the US follow through. Obviously if the US backs out of cutting carbon emissions other countries will likely refuse to make cuts and the agreement become worthless.

Without Congress’ approval the new agreement will certainly be weaker and could even be successfully challenged in court, but it is better than just giving up. Though if the IPCC’s more dire predictions turn out to be true reversing climate change may already be out of reach.

Image by Lesserland under Creative Commons license.