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Obama’s Biggest Problem in Paris: India or Republicans?

On Day 2 of the climate conference, two big wildcards came into focus.

Jim Watson / Getty

World leaders have made their speeches and announcements and are starting to head home from the Paris climate conference. Before he left for Washington, President Barack Obama was optimistic about the chances for success. “I actually think we’re going to solve this problem,” he said.

Now the real hard work begins, and two big wildcards have come into focus: India and U.S. Republicans. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the fault for climate change falls to “the prosperity and progress of an industrial age powered by fossil fuel.” Which is not wrong, but comments like these have made India’s negotiating position hard to define. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have made clear they will try to obstruct a Paris deal, and GOP presidential candidates have piled on. Ted Cruz said Obama “apparently thinks having an SUV in your driveway is more dangerous than a bunch of terrorists trying to blow up the world,” while Donald Trump called Obama’s speech “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, or perhaps most naive.”

Check out our scorecard below for a progress report on COP21. Blue bars indicate progress toward the goals, compared to yesterdaywhile red bars indicate backward momentum:

Progress Report   December 1, 2015

Commit to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.

One thing you won’t hear a lot about at COP21: implementing a carbon budget (a good primer here). In theory, it would help frame the carbon crisis in immediate terms, but big polluters are hesitant to throw into “stark relief the global inequities at the heart of the climate crisis,” says the New York Times.

Establish reporting and transparency requirements.

Obama endorsed the idea of a partially binding agreement, one that doesn’t enforce the emissions goals themselves. “The process, the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding,” Obama said. But he also can’t send anything to Congress, so it’s unclear where that leaves the deal.

Create a payment system to finance climate adaptation.

More countries are coming forward with pledges to help developing ones. EU countries have pledged a few billion dollars to fund renewables and forest protection in Africa. The U.S. announced $30 million to help countries most at risk, like islands in the Pacific, Central America, and Africa. Still, a few billion dollars here and there doesn’t come close to the price tag needed to help poorer nations attain their climate goals: One study says there’s a trillion-dollar gap.

Put past disagreements aside.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reminded his counterparts of the differences between developed and developing countries again and again at COP21—not a great sign India has the appetite for an enforceable deal. “The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities must remain the bedrock of our collective enterprise across all areas,” he said.

Agree to return to the negotiating table regularly.

China is on-board with implementing a five-year review process to ratchet up national targets. Many others, including Australia, France, and the U.S., are all strong backers. India, not so much.

Rethink the 2-degree target.

Low-lying islands, whose very existence is in question because of sea level rise, are pushing for a lower global target at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial averages, when the world isn’t even on track for 2 degrees.

While Obama was in Paris talking up the potential for a historic agreement, the House Science committee held a hearing Tuesday to tear into the president’s plans, with the chairman accusing Obama of a plan that “ignores good science and only seeks to advance a partisan political agenda,” according to the Washington Examiner.

Obama is telling Republicans to get on board with the rest of the world. Hopefully, Paris can overcome India’s resistance, as well.

Here’s a roundup of the biggest news from around the conference:

  • Jonathan M. Katz, reporting from the conference, writes that the Paris talks are starting to get real, and the long slog is only just beginning. He says to watch out for India’s reluctance to cut emissions and small, poorer countries demanding stronger action. (New Republic)
  • Obama said he’s “an island boy” and stands in solidarity with countries at the front lines of flooding and other climate change-related disasters (New Republic)
  • Paris as the “anti-Copenhagen.” (The Guardian)
  • Prime Minister Modi is betting big on solar with the launch of its International Solar Alliance. (New Republic)
  • New leaders of Canada and Australia signal an environmental turnaround. (New Republic)
  • China has no plants to adjust its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution after data shows the country’s coal consumption has been 17 percent higher than reported. (Carbon Pulse)
  • U.S. measures its expectations for Paris, emphasizing an agreement with long-term goals over immediate action. (Politico)
  • Six important points from the conference’s opening; Obama is the symbolic leader, developing nations look for an agreement that will protect them from extreme weather, and more. (Grist)
  • Donald Trump says it’s ridiculous that Obama is worrying about global warming while other threats, like ISIS, loom. (Mother Jones)