Recent media reports suggest a conflict within the Trump White House over whether to keep the president’s campaign promise “to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement,” the successor to the rejected Kyoto Protocol. President Trump also promised to roll Barack Obama’s controversial and harmful climate agenda back, yet the Paris agreement, signed in September 2016 just before the presidential election, is the capstone of that agenda, committing us to keep the agenda in place, and forever tighten it.
Rescinding the policies but promising to continue them are irreconcilable. Such baby-splitting would create not just a glaring policy conflict in the Trump White House, but would have lasting repercussions.
The pro-Paris camp seems unaware that the agreement promised much more than the Obama climate rules that Mr. Trump is rescinding. Its signature, cynical hook was also a promise to make such American laws ever more stringent, every five years, in perpetuity.
Clearly, the Paris agreement is a treaty not just by custom and practice but by its own terms. It thereby requires Senate ratification, which Mr. Trump can seek — and should — if he does not simply renounce the purported commitment.
For the same reason the Paris treaty is the sort of long-term commitment requiring Senate approval, the principal threat against Mr. Trump if he follows through on his promise — diplomatic blowback — makes absolutely no sense. With its escalator clause requiring promises of more stringent cuts every five years the Paris treaty deliberately engineered a recurring threat of diplomatic repercussions unless we adopt devastating policies. If we do not abandon the Paris treaty now, but simply claim we will not abide by it, both Mr. Trump and his successors will face the same threat not once, but every five years, until we relent.
Breaking his campaign promise by giving in cannot be an option. Candidate Trump articulated specific problems with the Paris treaty in explaining his vow to rescind it: The agreement is “bad for U.S. business” and allows “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use.”
Nothing about the Paris treaty has changed. The only change is the reported effort by certain White House influences to keep telling the world we will remain committed to the treaty while the president begins formally undoing related climate policies. Clearly, this conflict must be resolved, preferably during this week’s anticipated announcement rescinding the Obama climate agenda, but certainly before the post-Paris negotiations kick off in May.
One potential move Mr. Trump could make is treating the Paris pact as a legitimate executive agreement and initiating its four-year withdrawal provision, leaving future U.S. participation up to whomever wins the 2020 presidential race.
Better, Mr. Trump could send the Paris treaty to the Senate for ratification. Far from dignifying the treaty, as some inaccurately fret, this would have the benefit of freezing U.S. commitment as pending. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could give those 10 red-state Democrats up for re-election the opportunity to show voters where they really stand on this issue. The Paris treaty most likely would end up as one of more than 400 treaties the United States signed but for which it never obtained Senate approval.
Finally, Mr. Trump could resolve the Paris conflict most effectively by withdrawing from the voluntary 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was ratified by the Senate as a treaty. This pact expressly covered emissions until the end of the 1990s, and the Senate expressly asserted at the time that it was not open-ended. The Paris treaty now seeks, implausibly, to extend the UNFCCC with mandatory promises of more stringent cuts, every five years forever, never with Senate advice and consent.
With the parties to the UNFCCC having walked away from the understanding struck 25 years ago, the United States should formalize this abandonment by withdrawing.
President Trump must keep his campaign promises to rescind the Obama climate agenda. To do so requires nullifying Mr. Obama’s illegitimate claim to have bound the United States to the Paris climate treaty. Withdrawing from the UNFCCC makes the most, lasting sense. At a minimum, he must declare that the Paris agreement is a treaty and restore the Senate’s role in the treaty-making power before it is lost.
Originally posted to The Washington Times.