On Sunday night, President Barack Obama will head to Paris for the COP21 global conference on climate change, a little over two weeks after terror attacks struck and scarred the city. His visit has the chance of making or breaking his own legacy on climate and environmental legislation in the United States.
Obama did not focus much on the environment during his first time, sponsoring a cap-and-trade bill that ended up failing to pass Congress in 2010 and including some $90 billion in green investments in the President’s 2009 stimulus bill.
In his second term, however, the President tried to make an impact in a big way, namely by enforcing Nixon-era emissions rules on coal companies that emit lots of carbon dioxide, as well as tightening fuel, vehicle and appliance efficiency standards through executive orders. Although Republicans deride these policies as anti-business, the President has put the U.S. on track to reduce carbon emissions by 17% in 2020 compared with levels in 2005.
President Obama, however, risks all of this being overturned by the next president, particularly if he/she is a Republican and bills themselves as “pro-energy”. Similarly, if the meeting at COP21 in Paris is undergirded by concerns about terror, it will be difficult for Obama to make his case for his environmental legislation in a way that’s likely to last far into the future. It’s make or break time for Obama’s climate agenda.