COP-21 Adopts Big, New Paris Climate Treaty (But We’re Not Supposed To Call It a Treaty)

COP-21 (the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) concluded in Paris only one day late on Saturday, 12th December, with the adoption of a new climate treaty at 7:29 PM CET.  The new “Paris Agreement,” as it is being called in order to conceal the fact that it is a treaty, represents a significant victory for President Barack Obama and the European Union.  It is the result of several years of intensive negotiations that were initiated with the adoption of the Durban Platform at COP-21 in 2011.  This “successful” outcome, so different from the collapse of COP-15 in 2009 in Copenhagen, was at the end made possible by the skill of the French diplomats, particularly French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who ran the final negotiations.

Many commentators immediately opined that the new treaty is of little consequence and poses few dangers to the global or U. S. economies.  The most confident assertion (as well as detailed analysis) from conservative commentators that I have read that the Paris Agreement is a “welcome fizzle” was by Rich Lowry in National Review. I don’t agree with his analysis or conclusions.  Although many issues remain to be worked out in future negotiations and decided at future COPs, the treaty poses multiple threats to the economy, and which together constitute a big step on the road to a global energy-rationing regime.  I will write more about the treaty’s provisions in future articles in the Digest.  For now, I will only note that, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, it is a perpetual agreement that includes automatic reviews of greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets and timetables every five years.   

The Obama Administration claims that the new treaty is not a treaty in order to avoid certain defeat in a Senate ratification vote.  Nonetheless, as my CEI colleague Chris Horner has noted, it is just as much a treaty as the underlying UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.  No one disputed that they were treaties that required ratification.  In my view, a lot depends on whether the Senate and the American people let President Obama get away with claiming that it is not a treaty, but somehow binds his successors, future Congresses, and the federal courts.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, provides a comprehensive summary of COP-21 here. The UNFCCC’s official text of the Paris Climate Treaty can be found here