During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump talked big about pulling the U.S. out of the landmark global agreement to combat climate change, forged in Paris at the end of 2015 and since ratified or accepted by 121 countries. Since being elected, Trump has said he’d actually study the matter. And even Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO now in charge of the State Department, said at his confirmation hearing that he thought it important for the country to “maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response. No one country is going to solve that alone.”
A new report just released by the Congressional Research Service indicates why Tillerson may have softened the trumpeting tone. It’s true that President Obama used his executive authority to make the U.S. part of the treaty, rather than submit it to the Republican-controlled Senate for an attempt at approval. So it’s possible for Trump to terminate such an executive order. But Article 28 of the Paris Agreement stipulates that a signatory’s right to withdraw isn’t available for three years after it became effective, meaning a pull-out couldn’t happen until November 2019.
Also, because the agreement is a subsidiary to the 1991 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) that was approved by the Senate, this means Trump would have to withdraw from this treaty as well. And that might mean he’d need to receive congressional or senatorial approval. Should a disagreement arise, it’s unclear “whether the courts would resolve a dispute between the legislative and executive branches over termination” of the UNFCC.
We already know that Trump doesn’t care much for complicated scenarios, so this might preclude abandoning the treaty. However, because the emissions reduction targets aren’t binding beyond an obligation to make a plan, “it may be possible to repeal or revise the domestic regulations that the Obama administration sought to utilize to meet” those targets “without withdrawing from or violating a legal obligation in the Paris agreement.”
In other words, do exactly what the Trumpistas are planning – gut the EPA’s Clean Power Plan that puts a cap on carbon pollution from power plants. Even if we keep our seat at the global table, as Tillerson espoused, the damage can be done from the inside. Without the Clean Power Plan, forget about the American pledge to slash our emissions between 26 and 28 percent by the year 2025. And without the American commitment, also forget about China and India following through on their own initiatives.
All of which would make it impossible for the world to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) – which is the threshold above which numerous scientists believe catastrophic changes become inevitable.
So far, we’ve put a billion dollars into the Green Climate Fund, one-third of what Obama committed to. That fund is aimed at mobilizing international finance toward climate action in the poorest and most vulnerable developing countries. The intent is also to persuade those nations to emphasize renewable energy growth. But Trump and his Republican-dominated Congress have already announced they’ll be cutting (if not eliminating) global climate aid.
This is clearly something to shout about at the next People’s Climate March, scheduled for Washington, D.C. on Saturday, April 29, the culmination of Trump’s first hundred days. It’s being organized by a coalition that emerged from an earlier march in 2014, where 400,000 people converged on New York as the UN convened a climate change summit.
Mark your calendars.
To read the entire Congressional Research Service report on “Withdrawal From International Agreements,” go to: