India Stops Short of Committing to “Join” Paris Treaty in 2016

President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi met on Wednesday to discuss energy-related issues including the Paris Climate Treaty. In contrast to the United States, India did not commit to “join” the Paris Treaty this year. From the carefully-worded White House Fact Sheet:

“In recognition of the urgent threat of climate change, the United States and India . . . are therefore committed to bringing the Paris Agreement into force as quickly as possible. The United States reaffirms its commitment to join the Paris Agreement as soon as possible this year. India similarly has begun its processes to work toward this shared goal.”

That is potentially significant because if India does not join the agreement in 2016, the next U.S. president may be able to opt out it as soon as Inauguration Day 2017. Here’s why.

The Paris Treaty enters into force when at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions deposit their “instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession.” By the terms of the agreement, once it enters into force, a party must wait three years before giving notice of its intent to withdraw, and must then wait another year before withdrawal takes effect. Obama hopes that if the agreement enters into force on his watch, a future GOP president will be stuck with it for another four years.

To date, 17 states accounting for only 0.04 percent of global emissions have ratified the Treaty. China and the United States are expected to join this year, as are many if not all European Union members. However, those nations account for 48.7 percent of global emissions—not enough to bring the agreement into force. Ratification by India, which accounts for 4.1 percent of global emissions, would bring combined emissions close to the magic 55 percent.

If the Paris Treaty fails to enter into force this year, the next president could keep America out of it just by repudiating Secretary of State John Kerry’s signature on the document.

However, even if the agreement does enter into force in 2016, the next president could still keep America out of it. He would need to do two things. First, make the case that the Paris Treaty is a treaty requiring Senate approval before it can become binding on the United States. Then, submit the agreement to the Senate for a debate and vote on ratification, where it would almost certainly fail to obtain the approval of “two thirds of the Senators present.” For further discussion, see The Paris Climate Agreement Is a Treaty Requiring Senate Review.