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Despite Trump Repudiation, Paris Climate Treaty Still Needs a Senate Vote

This week will mark the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s speech announcing that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, which President Obama originally signed, to great international attention, on September 3, 2016. Unfortunately, despite the strong language of Trump’s statement (and the healthy amount of media criticism it generated), the U.S. is not actually “out of Paris.” To make a clean break that doesn’t drag the uncertainty out over multiple years, the White House should submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification—as President Obama should have done in the first place—where it will almost certainly meet its deserved fate and be rejected.

Last June, the president emphasized the economic costs the U.S. would incur if we were to implement the Paris agreement:

…as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.

Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025 according to the National Economic Research Associates. This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs…

Given this verdict, Americans could be forgiven for assuming that that was the end of the issue. But the treaty’s own terms call for countries to wait for three years after it went into effect in November 2016 to begin the process of withdrawing and then wait another year after notifying the United Nations of its intent to withdraw before actually being considered no longer a party to the agreement. That means that the U.S. won’t actually be free from treaty entanglements until November 2020—right around the time of the next presidential election. In recognition of this, the State Department has so far pledged to continue participating in meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, through with the Paris treaty was negotiated, until that time.

The quicker and more constitutionally sound route, as my colleague Marlo Lewis has written about extensively, would be for the Senate to take up the Paris agreement and hold a ratification vote, as should be done with any treaty. The Obama team that negotiated it originally was careful to always refer to is as an “accord” or “executive agreement,” to avoid the expectation that it would need to be submitted to the Senate. But as CEI’s Marlo Lewis and Chris Horner pointed out in a study published last May:

The Paris Climate Agreement is a treaty by virtue of its costs and risks, ambition compared to predecessor climate treaties, dependence on subsequent legislation by Congress, intent to affect state laws, U.S. historic practice with regard to multilateral environmental agreements, and other common-sense criteria.

In America’s constitutional system, treaties must obtain the advice and consent of the Senate before the United States may lawfully join them. President Obama deemed the Paris Agreement to not be a treaty in order to evade constitutional review, which the Agreement almost certainly would not have survived.

The decision not to consider the Paris agreement to be a treaty is akin to much of the Obama administration’s “pen and phone” strategy, by which the previous administration attempted to accomplish policy changes by unilateral executive action that would normally require approval of one or both houses of Congress. This includes major regulatory actions connected to the goals of the Paris treaty like the Clean Power Plan. Trump, of course, has already followed that example to a certain extent by issuing a record number or executive orders, and through his own unilateral decision to step away from Paris. But for the moment he has not tried to move the treaty approval process back onto the constitutionally sound heading that the Obama White House derailed it from.  But he should—and the sooner the better.  

Resources on the Paris Climate Agreement