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Climate deal faces wrath of GOP senators

President Obama discussed the climate talks in France, at the White House.Doug Mills/New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the climate change agreement passed by world leaders as a major achievement that could curb global warming, but they got a quick reminder that Republicans will fight it.

Obama said the climate agreement made Saturday night by almost 200 nations ‘‘can be a turning point for the world’’ and credited his administration for playing a key role.

He and Kerry predicted it would prompt widespread spending on clean energy and help stem carbon pollution blamed for global warming.

‘‘We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge,’’ Obama said from the White House Saturday. He said the agreement ‘‘offers the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.’’


‘‘In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investments,’’ Obama said.

The immediate reaction of leading Republican critics was a stark reminder of the conflict that lies ahead.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama is ‘‘making promises he can’t keep’’ and should remember that the agreement ‘‘is subject to being shredded in 13 months,’’ referring to the upcoming presidential election.

And Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said that Americans can expect the administration to cite the agreement as an excuse for establishing emission targets for every sector of the US economy.

Kerry said from Paris: ‘‘I have news for Senator Inhofe. The United States of America has already reduced its emissions more than any other country in the world.

“This has to happen,’’ Kerry said of the agreement, predicting that voters would reject any candidate that doesn’t believe that. “I don’t think they’re going to accept as a genuine leader someone who doesn’t understand the science of climate change and isn’t willing to do something about it.”


Through careful legal wording, the Paris agreement will not be considered to be a separate treaty under US law but rather as an extension of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the Senate ratified in 1992.

In an interview taped for CBS’s ‘‘Face the Nation,’’ Kerry called the climate pact ‘‘a breakaway agreement’’ that will change how countries make decisions and ‘‘spur massive investment.’’

He acknowledged that a Republican president could undo the agreement but said there is already plenty of evidence that climate change is having a damaging and expensive impact with more intense storms, wildfires, and melting glaciers.

Several Democratic lawmakers applauded Obama’s efforts to help bring about the Paris agreement.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi hailed it as a ‘‘monumental moment’’ and praised Obama for his leadership on the issue.

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, said that climate change poses one of the greatest threats the world has known and that no country acting alone can stem the tide. ‘‘The time to act is now,’’ the Nevada lawmaker said.

Leaders at the global talks in Paris agreed that while legislation and regulation are essential to set the ground rules for the marketplace, the ultimate goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy will require accelerated research, investment, and technological breakthroughs.

Kerry said the US government had helped catalyze the agreement by toughening fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, cracking down on emissions from coal-fired power plants, and reaching a deal with China, the only country that emits even more greenhouse gases.


Obama has endorsed the idea of a price on carbon — in the form of a tax, or a cap-and-trade system like California’s — and leaders of Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, France, Germany, and Mexico endorsed the idea at the Paris conference, but there was not nearly enough support to incorporate it into the agreement.

Although the pact was adopted “by consensus,” no nation has signed it. Countries will be invited to do so in a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York on April 22. The agreement officially will take effect after at least 55 countries, representing at least 55 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, have officially signed on.

In Paris, world leaders warned that momentum for the historic accord must not dissipate.

“Today, we celebrate,” Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s energy commissioner and top climate negotiator, said on Saturday night. “Tomorrow, we have to act.”

With nearly every nation having now pledged to gradually reduce emissions, much of the burden for maintaining the momentum shifts back to the countries to deliver on their pledges.

The task may prove to be most challenging for India, which is struggling to lift more than half of its population of 1.25 billion out of poverty and to provide basic electricity to 300 million of them.

During negotiations, India insisted that it would not be able to make the transition without assistance.


China, meanwhile, is investing so heavily in clean energy that some observers think its carbon emissions might have hit a peak — a milestone that China had only promised to reach by 2030.

Its top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said Saturday that “China will actively implement its nationally determined contributions so as to reach a peak as soon as possible.”