Joe Romm is fond (well, maybe "fond" isn’t the right word) of saying that there’s no way a substantial international climate treaty could get to 67 votes in the U.S. Senate, which is the constitutional requirement for such treaties. And he’s right. This is an enormous barrier not only to ratifying but to developing such a treaty — why should the 150+ countries involved in international climate negotiations deal with us in good faith when they know there’s no way we can follow through?
Last week, William J. Antholis and Nigel Purvis of the Brookings Institution offered some intriguing thoughts about how to get around this dilemma.
They propose a "Climate Protection Authority" that would work like so:
First, in consultation with Congress, the president would decide that future climate and energy agreements are to be approved by the United States by statute rather than as treaties. Statutes require a majority in both houses of Congress, whereas treaties require two-thirds of only the Senate. Federal courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of bicameral statutory approval of international pacts. In fact, the United States enters into more international agreements this way than by treaty, including some arms control agreements and environmental pacts and almost all trade deals.
Second, Congress should spell out in cap-and-trade legislation the conditions necessary for U.S. participation in new climate and energy agreements. For example, it should describe the role we envision for China, India and other major developing countries.
Third, cap-and-trade legislation should preapprove new climate and energy agreements that meet these congressional preconditions. Agreements that do should come into effect for the United States either without further congressional review or pursuant to the streamlined approval process Congress has used for most trade agreements.
No. 2 sounds a bit high-handed to me. Perhaps India and China might like to have some say in the role the play, no?
But the basic idea — lowering the barrier to treaty approval and integrating international negotiations into the domestic policy process — seems well-worth pursuing.