What Does the Rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline Mean for the Climate Movement?
Last Friday, after a seven-year battle between fossil fuel interests and climate activists, President Obama formally denied permission for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S. The move was largely symbolic, as the pipeline would not have created many permanent jobs or contributed greatly to climate change in and of itself. But Obama’s move was important nonetheless, because it helped show the world that the U.S. is serious about climate change. This Washington Post article explains the strategic advantages of the rejection.
It shows leadership from the U.S. in advance of the Paris climate conference. As Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, put it, “This is the last but also the biggest card that the president could play to compel other world leaders to take strong action in Paris next month.”
It shows an understanding of the need to leave some fossil fuel reserves unburned. In Obama’s words, “Ultimately if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.”
Obama wasn’t only thinking of the direct effects of the pipeline – he was thinking of how its approval might undermine the climate negotiations, which could have a substantial impact on the climate in the long term. Rejecting Keystone XL made a powerful statement to world leaders at just the right time.
By Chris Mooney, contributor to The Washington Post
Timing is everything.
There have long been suspicions that President Obama and his administration were preparing to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. However, the announcement on Friday, less than a month before the president travels to Paris to kick off the U.N.’s much anticipated climate conference, can hardly be coincidental.
In fact, say environmentalists and those closely watching the run-up to the meeting, it’s likely to give those talks major momentum — especially at their opening. (Granted, what happens near the end of the two-week negotiations — when tough and technical issues like climate financing and redress for the most vulnerable countries get dealt with — is another matter.)
There’s no doubt that President Obama is trying to shape a climate legacy and that showing leadership on all things climate related is his way of doing so. Accordingly, the President had already made a groundbreaking climate deal with Chinese premier Xi Jinping. Coming roughly a year ago, it neutralized what might otherwise have been the biggest issue in global climate talks — that is, what China will do.
Image credit: AP