What does the Paris climate pullout mean for US, and why do Republicans insist it's a treaty?

What does the Paris climate pullout mean for US, and why do Republicans insist it's a treaty?
Posted at 3:39 PM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 22:47:10-04

DENVER – When President Donald Trump announced Thursday he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords, his plan was widely met with blowback from most business owners, Democrats, America’s closest allies, and even energy company executives.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, including some from Colorado, said little of the ramifications of Trump’s decision, instead deriding the previous administration for not taking the accord—an executive agreement—to the U.S. Senate for approval.

Colorado Republicans stump for treaty status, input

Both Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman explicitly said Obama should have brought the accord before the Senate as a treaty. Rep. Ken Buck only called the president’s decision a “win for Colorado,” saying the deal “disproportionately hurts the U.S.”

Reps. Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn said nothing about the president’s decision on the accords.

Under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has to approve a presidential ratification of a treaty with a two-thirds majority vote.

Coffman urged Trump to “do what his predecessor failed to do” and classify the agreement as a treaty, then bring it to the Senate—something Gardner also said that the Senate should “debate.”

Coffman added that he hopes the U.S. “can be part of a renegotiated climate treaty.” It's a sentiment shared by many on the right.

However, the Republican talking points on the pull-out are leaving many people, including international relations and legal scholars, scratching their heads.

International community questions reasoning

Trump said the U.S. was withdrawing from the accord, but would “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

The words “negotiate” had barely come out of Trump’s mouth at the White House rose garden announcement Thursday before European leaders were scoffing at the idea.

Shortly after Trump’s announcement, a joint statement from France, Germany and Italy dismissed the idea of a re-negotiation altogether.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the statement said.

French President Emmanuel Macron trolled Trump in a speech and on Twitter with a “make our planet great again” post and called Trump’s decision a “mistake, both for the U.S. and for our planet.”

What are US pledges under Paris?

The nonbinding accord was negotiated by 195 UN members and has so far been ratified by 148, including the U.S. It aims to keep global average temperatures less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 by encouraging signee nations to limit greenhouse gasses and increase green energy initiatives.

But the agreement was specifically structured to have few legally-binding clauses, according to one of its U.S. authors interviewed by the New York Times.

While supporters of the U.S. pull-out have decried the nationally determined contributions required under the agreement, those contributions are set by each country and “are not binding as a matter of international law,” according to the agreement. They are only required to be “ambitious,” and required to be reviewed every five years to become more progressive.

Obama made the initial U.S. pledge under Paris in the failed Kyoto Protocol, vowing to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. He also pledged $3 billion in U.S. aid for countries with small GDPs by 2020 in the Green Climate Fund, of which the U.S. has already delivered $1 billion.

When Trump criticized the fund as a “giveaway” to developing nations on Thursday, he failed to note that the funding must be used for climate-related projects, and that more than half of the entire fund, as well as half the U.S.-contributed portion, comes from private donors.

The U.S. has only pledged to contribute a maximum of 30 percent of the entire fund at any given time—a number that experts say will decrease as more nations are able to contribute. 

But even if the U.S. were to give its full share of the $3 billion, it would amount to $9.41 per American -- 11th in per capita spending, according to the Times.

And other countries are coming close to matching the $1 billion the U.S. has contributed so far: Japan has given nearly $700 million; the U.K. has contributed $515 million; Sweden has contributed $460 million and Germany has sent $420 million, according to the UN.

Still other critics have decried China and India’s pledges as being unfair when compared to the U.S., though China has said it is already ahead of schedule in capping its emissions, which it originally estimated would peak in 2030.

Climate, policy experts explain why Paris isn’t a treaty

Todd Stern, Obama’s chief climate negotiator, told the Times that the down-up strategy implemented in the Paris agreement, which allows states to set their own goals and take them back to the table every five years, were put in place specifically to deal with different leadership taking hold in the various signee countries.

“We dealt with this specific question when designing the deal,” Stern told the Times. “We didn’t want a situation where if something came up and a country couldn’t meet its target, they’d have no choice but to leave.”

But Stern added that Congress and the president would be able to change the U.S. pledges anyway without pulling out of the agreement, since it would only face possible penalties for failing to report its progress or make “progressive” actions to work toward the global emissions goal.

The changes in the Paris agreement came after the Kyoto Protocol fell apart because the international body set the rules and goals, which were passed down to participating nations who could not meet them--especially Japan following the Fukushima reactor meltdown that came after a massive earthquake.

Trump’s move comes as he tries to revive the dying coal industry in the U.S., which has been decimated by rising natural gas usage and a large increase in renewable energy growth and use among U.S. companies and the government.

And the argument about whether the accord should have been considered a treaty and brought before the Senate to finalize its ratification comes as executive agreements are used more in U.S. foreign policy than ever before.

Research published in 2009 by two University of Michigan political scientists notes that “[a]s a result of historic changes in the wake of World War II, executive agreements became the normal method in completing most international agreements.”

Their research notes that from 1939-1989, 94.3 percent of all international agreements came as executive agreements. That was a marked increase from the 63.6 percent that were from 1889-1939

And as we go back in American history, the researchers’ data show executive agreements were used even less frequently: They made up 52.5 percent of international agreements from 1839-1889, and just 31 percent of international agreements between 1789 and 1839.

Perhaps one of the most famous executive agreements was the one that ended the Iran hostage crisis, ratified by President Ronald Reagan. 

And in March 2015, 47 Republican senators—including Gardner—warned Iranian leaders that the executive agreement between the U.S. and Iran to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program had little binding effect because it was not a treaty approved by Congress.

But Gardner, Coffman and Buck seem to believe the Paris accord did have the teeth in regards to the U.S. commitments, despite it being the same type of agreement.

What comes next for U.S. fight against climate change?

To formally withdraw from Paris would take four years, setting the final withdrawal measures up to be an election-year subject.

Even Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly did not want to pull out of the accord, was already saying that the U.S. would continue to cut its greenhouse emissions and hinted at little to no coming changes.

“I don’t think we’re going to change our effort to reduce our emission in the future either,” Tillerson said. “So hopefully, people can keep it in perspective.”

But the perspective on U.S. actions internationally was fairly clear. Though Russia, which has yet to ratify the Paris accord, praised the U.S. decision, saying more-conservative talks on global climate change should take place, few others applauded Trump’s choice.

A former special envoy to the UN called America’s actions those of “a rogue state on the international stage,” while the European Union and African Federation said they stood in “strong solidarity with those most vulnerable to climate change.”

“A single political decision will not derail this unparalleled effort,” UN Environment head Erik Solheim said.

China and Europe also pledged to one another Friday to continue to work toward their goals under Paris.

And Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined nearly a dozen other states in pledging their commitment to fighting climate change, saying the pull-out was “like ripping off your parachute when you should be pulling the ripcord.”

“Colorado’s commitment to clean air and clean energy will continue. Clean energy is abundant, home-grown, and creates 21st century jobs for our modern workforce across every part of our state,” Hickenlooper said. “We renew our commitment to pursue cleaner energy at a lower cost. To do otherwise would be governmental malpractice.”

Several Colorado mayors, including those from Denver, Boulder and Aspen, among others, signed onto an agreement with more than 50 U.S. mayors pledging their support to battling climate change.

Trump, in the meantime, retorted to those disparaging his decision with his classic line, delivered via his favorite soapbox as a half-dozen officials balked to reporters Thursday and Friday when asked whether or not he believed climate change was real.

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” the president tweeted.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.