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What Scalia's Death Means for Climate Change

Just days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling clouded the future of a new United Nations climate pact, the passing of one of its justices has boosted the pact's chances of succeeding.

Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died at a resort in Texas on Saturday. Scalia, 79, was the court’s conservative leader and his death means it is now more likely that key EPA rules that aim to curb climate pollution from the power industry will be upheld.

Here’s how the sudden shakeup of the court could affect global efforts to combat climate change.

What Does the Supreme Court Have to do with the U.N.?

Following decades of failed efforts to meaningfully regulate greenhouse gas pollution through the U.N., a new approach to tackling climate change was agreed to by international negotiators during December’s landmark meetings in Paris.

The cornerstone of the Obama administration’s pledge in Paris was the Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Importantly, the sweeping set of rules that the EPA finalized last year bypassed Congress, which is opposed to passing laws regulating greenhouse gas pollution.

But coal companies and some two dozen states have sued, arguing that the plan violates federal law. Their legal challenge is expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

The outcome of the lawsuit could affect the entire planet. The U.S. (along with China) is one of the two biggest greenhouse gas polluters, and American and Chinese commitments in Paris to reduce climate pollution in the years ahead — largely by reducing the use of heavily polluting coal — were critical to convincing other nations to do likewise.

The Paris agreement was struck during the hottest year on record. Rising levels of climate pollution have pushed temperatures up by about 1°C (nearly 2°F) on average and raised sea levels 8 inches since the 1800s.

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