Path from Paris climate agreement

By H. Sterling Burnett / Heartland Institute

A short time ago The American Spectator ran an article I wrote explaining why President Donald Trump should withdraw post-haste from the Paris climate agreement. Without repeating all the arguments I gave then, the reasons boil down to these two: The agreement is a bad deal for America, and Trump promised to do so. While there may be a better deal to be had – the Obama administration could hardly have negotiated a worse deal for our country – no deal would be a good deal for the United States. Even Trump can’t put lipstick on this pig.

Under any treaty, any treaty whatsoever, the government would have to force the American people and American businesses to do with less energy and less reliable energy, and pay more for it. Capping our emissions at current levels locks us into the kind of tepid economic growth we experienced during the Obama years, accompanied by the further decline of the coal industry, both outcomes Trump rightly decried as a candidate for president. In addition, there is no deal without the United States chipping in to the political slush fund called the Green Climate Fund, yet Trump promised to halt such payments, so nothing is gained by staying in.

Having addressed why Trump should keep his word and withdraw from Paris, the question is how he ought to do so. There are three ways to get the United States out of the agreement.

The first way, the one that most directly satisfies Trump’s campaign commitment, is simply to withdraw the United States’ signature from the document. Any country can withdraw from the agreement by giving written notice of a decision to do so to the United Nations Secretary General. Unfortunately, under the terms of the agreement, Trump can’t give such notice until three years after the agreement came into force, which would be October 5, 2019, and the withdrawal does not become effective until a year later. Thus, even if Trump determines to withdraw from the Paris agreement, we are stuck with it for a minimum of nearly four years, during which time the United States remains a party to the agreement obligated to keep commitments made under it. Worse, because the four-year withdrawal period will not run out until after Trump’s first term of office is over, should he decide not to run for president again, or should he run for reelection and lose, the next president can recommit to the agreement with a simple signature.

The second way to scotch the country’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement would be for Trump to submit the agreement to the Senate for formal approval as a treaty. This is what Obama should have done in the first place. To become a binding treaty, the Senate would have to approve the Paris climate agreement by a supermajority of 2/3 of the Senate – 67 votes in favor. If the agreement were to lose the treaty vote, the agreement is canceled with regards to U.S. participation. The Senate having spoken, future presidents would be on notice not to put such a harmful agreement forward. However, nothing requires the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on the Paris climate agreement if Trump submits it to the Senate. Using the Senate filibuster rules, Senate Democrats could prevent the treaty from coming up for a vote, leaving it in limbo. That scenario is entirely likely, given that the vast majority of Democrats support the Paris agreement and do not want to see it die. Under this scenario, the treaty would remain pending, leaving a future Senate, perhaps made up of greater numbers of Senators favorable to the agreement, to decide its fate.

Finally, the easiest way for Trump to end the United States’ participation in Paris and all international climate agreements would be for him to remove the country’s signature from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Article 25 of the UNFCCC allows any state party to the convention to withdraw, without further obligation, upon giving one year’s notice. Withdrawing from the UNFCCC would cancel the United States’ obligations to all other U.N.-brokered climate agreements subsequent to it. In my opinion (and others’; see Donn Dears’ recent book, Clexit), this would be the cleanest and best way to get out of Paris and all the other climate agreement debacles.



H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.



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