Iran and Climate Change – Two Global Issues on Obama’s Bucket List

Iran and Climate Change – Two Global Issues on Obama’s Bucket List

The Iran nuclear accord and the White House’s new plan to cut power-plant emissions , to be unveiled Monday, have but one thing in common. It’s a question, and it’s the biggest now facing this nation: Do Americans want the U.S. to remain a global leader in the 21st century, or are we on a slow fade because our leaders can’t answer the call to change in the face of evolving circumstances? 

The Iran deal President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cut July 14 is already tangled in a web of partisan politics. The final version of the Clean Power Plan, more ambitious than two previous drafts, will be as soon as it’s published. 

Related: Did Iran Negotiate in Bad Faith? That’s the Big Question 

This is inevitable given we all wear our political stripes, but we have to see without them now. Repudiate the pact with Iran and we’ll stand alone—putting ourselves at a significant international disadvantage. Nobody’s going to follow us if we refuse to adjust to the climate crisis—easily the most serious challenge facing the community of nations this century. 

Stay ahead, keep pace, fall behind: One may not welcome the choice, but denying there’s a choice in front of us will amount to making the wrong one. 

Opponents of the Iran accord are right that the terms Kerry agreed to in Vienna deserve close scrutiny in the weeks before the September deadline, when Congress must vote its approval or rejection. But two weeks have passed already, and that’s not what we’ve had so far. 

What we’ve had is a lot of political posing and grandstanding, and it simply won’t do. The reality beyond our shores is now emerging: Block this pact and the rest of the world will more or less ignore us. 

Related: Obama’s Clean Power Plan Faces Tough Legal Scrutiny 

Russia and China, as members of the P5 + 1 negotiating group, went along with sanctions against Iran and worked with the Americans and Europeans to get the deal done. It’s sheer illusion to think the world’s two largest non-Western powers will continue to cooperate if Washington insists sanctions remain in place. 

The same point now applies to the Europeans. 

A delegation of German officials flew to Tehran to pave the path for German businesses all of five days after the July 14 signing. Last week French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius followed. Fabius, don’t forget, bargained hard for Iranian concessions and was several times willing to call the whole negotiation a scratch. 

Italian cabinet ministers head to Tehran this Tuesday. And after them, the deluge. Some 70-odd execs from leading French companies, along with others from E.U. members, will start heading to Tehran in September. 

Two truths here. One, American companies are already losing out on what Europeans describe as the Iranian “bonanza.” Two, the momentum in business and political circles alike is such that Europeans are no more likely than the Russians or Chinese to go along if Washington scotches the P5 + 1 accord. 

Related: The Pros and Cons of Obama’s New Carbon Rule

Upsum: Those opposed to this pact are wasting valuable time turning this pact into a phony litmus test of patriotism, and they risk the very leadership role they claim most vigorously to stand for. 

Want to know where the Europeans stand on climate change? A year ago the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s governing body, ordered the editorial department to stop giving equal time to climate deniers, whose views it termed “marginal.” Miles ahead is the answer. 

Germany’s Energiewende, or energy transition policy, is among the world’s most aggressive. By 2020 it wants a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas production from 1990 levels. After the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, Chancellor Merkel announced that Germany’s power grid is to be nuclear-free by 2022. 

For the European Union, the target is to derive 20 percent of energy needs from renewable sources—hydro, wind, solar, and biomass—by the end of this decade. In Germany, renewables already account for nearly a third of generated power. 

Related: Obama’s Global Warming Warning: It Can Make You Sick 

Certainly there are transition problems—excellent as a sign that things are getting done. Americans face fewer such problems for the simple reason we’re not nearly as serious about transitioning out of fossil fuels.   

Once again, we can lead or lag. 

Late last year Obama signed an agreement with China committing the two nations to reduce carbon emissions. This column judged that modest at the time; what he’ll put on the table Monday marks a much more serious commitment.   

The final version of the Clean Air Plan, which follows drafts issued in 2012 and 2014, calls for power plants to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It freezes construction of new coal plants and sets a target of 28 percent for renewables. 

“This is the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change,” the president said in a Facebook post at midnight Saturday. It is, even as it’s still far short of what others are doing. 

Look at this from a global perspective and ask: Is this the moment to strand this policy in courts by filing dozens of lawsuits contesting it, as states, corporations, and industry associations intend? To put the point mildly, the world’s not hanging on the judicial rulings in these cases. 

Many commentators have observed that Obama in his final year is the president he always intended to be. I agree. And it’s now obvious that his intent from the first was to force difficult questions upon us. 

We’ve had two in the past two weeks.