White House Floats Excuses to Break Trump’s Promise to Cancel Paris Climate Treaty

This week, White House senior advisers will meet to discuss the future of U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Treaty. During campaign speeches, President Trump repeatedly promised the American public that if elected, he would cancel U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments to United Nations global warming programs. Since the agreement was signed in December 2015, CEI has made the constitutional, political, economic, and moral case for why the United States should withdraw from it.

The Paris Climate Treaty casts a long shadow on America’s energy producers and job creators as it keeps in place a framework for promoting a regulatory assault on affordable energy and supporting the EPA as the nation’s unlawful climate legislator.

Withdrawing the United States from this treaty would put a stop to Obama’s attempted end-run around the constitutional treaty process, and ensure that elections, not U.N.-organized, political pressure campaigns, determine the direction of U.S. domestic economic and energy policy. If President Trump fails to do this, domestic and foreign opponents of Trump’s energy policies and possibly activist courts can continue to invoke this “international commitment,” and any future U.S. administration will have free rein to pick up where Obama left off. ​

President Obama negotiated the Paris Climate Agreement to confer a treaty-like status on his domestic climate policies—often called the “war on coal” but effectively a war on affordable energy—without actually going through the treaty process, an acknowledgement that all parties knew would doom such a pact. The ultimate aim of the agreement is to make coal, oil, and natural gas increasingly uneconomical to produce, export, and consume. Remaining a party to the Agreement thus endangers the energy price edge underpinning the U.S. manufacturing renaissance President Trump seeks to launch. 

Even when Democrats held the majority in Congress, President Obama knew any proposal to adopt new international climate commitments would be dead on arrival. To avoid the Senate’s constitutional role to “advise and consent” on treaties, Obama simply claimed the agreement was not a treaty. This end run around the constitutional treaty process is unlawful and reason enough to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Failure to reverse this move, as candidate Trump promised, will entrench a constitutionally damaging precedent, encouraging future executives to avoid constitutional review of unpopular treaties just by deeming them to be non-treaties.

Above and beyond the unconstitutional manner of its adoption, the Paris Climate Treaty is inherently toxic to American institutions of self-government. The agreement provides a framework for a global, political pressure machine to exist for decades. The agreement is designed to gin up diplomatic and political “blowback” not once—as would happen if Trump withdraws—but incessantly. The Agreement is designed to organize political protest and diplomatic pressure any time U.S. policymakers fail to keep Obama’s “commitments” to de-carbonize the U.S. economy, pony up billions in “climate aid” for developing countries, and make increasingly “ambitious” emission reduction promises every five years, in perpetuity.

Failure to withdraw also invites climate policy litigation, because joining the Paris Agreement tacitly affirms the preferred narrative that climate change is humanity’s greatest peril and “inaction” threatens millions of lives. A Dutch court in The Hague recently ruled that these so-called “non-binding” climate pacts are no such thing but instead affirm an obligation to impose regulations consistent with their assertions of responsibility to do so. It likely will not be the last to engage in such activism, from which we have no guarantee we are immune.

Three “arguments” have been reported in recent weeks as being preferred among White House and administration staff, none of which make any sense. Each argument represents no more than an effort to rationalize breaking President Trump’s campaign promise and stay in the Paris Climate Treaty:

  1. Avoid “diplomatic blowback” Except that the Paris agreement actually builds this in as its “naming and shaming” means of obtaining U.S. submission every five years.
  2. The Trump administration can just adjust our (first) promised emission reductions – This undermines the concurrent pro-Paris talking point that the United States can just ignore its promise because it’s “voluntary.” The Paris agreement is no more or less enforceable or voluntary than the Kyoto treaty. 
  3. Membership in the Paris treaty offers an opportunity to argue for more carbon capture and storage (CCS) funding – this suggests we should sign the death warrant for the U.S. treaty process in exchange for the prospect of seeking a new subsidy or special interest scheme. 

None of these new rhetorical inventions is an argument. Each is instead a tacit admission that there is no argument in support of breaking this very explicit campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Treaty.

The case against U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Treaty is further outlined in a forthcoming policy paper by CEI energy policy experts Christopher Horner, Esq. and Marlo Lewis, PhD.