It seems at first glance that President-elect Donald Trump will have to wait until 2020 to pull the United States out of the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change. According to the treaty’s withdrawal clause, any country that wishes to quit the agreement will have to wait three years from the date on which it came into force, November 4, 2016, to officially notify the U.N. The withdrawal would then take effect one year later.
But there is a quicker and more effective opt-out mechanism. Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states:
“Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement.”
The “Convention” refers to U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which is the foundation of all U.N. climate agreements. It was signed by President George H. W. Bush and other world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In it, signatory countries were given the option of quitting the FCCC provided they wait three years from the date on which the Convention came into force, March 21, 1994, with the withdrawal to take effect one year later.
This means that the U.S. could be out of the FCCC one year after officially notifying the U.N., which they can do any time now. American participation in the Convention, and so the Paris Agreement as well, could then end as soon as a year from the day Trump takes office.
Besides the dubious science underlying the treaty, Trump has good justification for withdrawing from the FCCC. In 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against accepting agreements in which developing countries are not held to similar standards as America. Led by the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), congressional representatives from across the aisle agreed in the Byrd-Hagel Resolution that:
“the United States should not be a signatory to any…agreement regarding the UNFCCC of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions…unless the …agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.”
Everyone recognized that the Kyoto Protocol, then under development, would not satisfy Byrd-Hagel since emission limits only applied to developed countries. That is why the Clinton administration never submitted Kyoto to the Senate for approval, a step required by the Constitution for international treaties.
But few people understand that no treaty based on the FCCC, including the Paris Agreement, is likely to satisfy Byrd-Hagel’s requirements. FCCC Article 4 states:
“Economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”
This stipulation does not apply to developed nations. Actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions would entail dramatically cutting back on the use of coal, the source of most of the developing world’s electricity. As coal is usually the least expensive source of power, reducing GHG output by restricting coal use would undoubtedly interfere with development priorities. So, developing countries almost certainly won’t do it, citing FCCC Article 4 as their excuse. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines gave us a preview of what to expect when he said in July:
“You are trying to stymie [our growth] with an agreement … That’s stupid. I will not honor that.”
Some commentators have speculated that the inclusion of a new phrase added to U.N. climate agreements in 2014 that countries’ responsibilities will be decided “in light of different national circumstances,” will impose tougher requirements on poor nations as they develop. This is very unlikely. Article 4 has been the cornerstone of all U.N. climate negotiations and developing countries will almost certainly not let this change. Chinese negotiator Su Wei implied as much when he explained his government’s position that the purpose of the Paris Agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the FCCC, not redraft it.
The Senate’s unanimous support of Byrd-Hagel and the unequal treatment of developing and developed countries in the FCCC is undoubtedly one of the reasons President Barrack Obama has not submitted the Paris Agreement to the Senate for approval.
It has been suggested that Trump could use other mechanisms to take the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. That is not good enough. As long as America remains an active participant in the FCCC, future administrations will be under pressure to ratify new Convention agreements, and billions of dollars will continue to be wasted. The President-elect must put a final and definite end to America’s involvement in the U.N. climate scare by formally withdrawing from the root cause of the problem – the hopelessly flawed Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.