Architect Of Paris Agreement Undercuts Arguments In Favor Of The Climate Deal

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A key architect of the Paris climate agreement says countries are not allowed to scale back their pledges, which undercuts arguments made by supporters of the global warming accords.

One of the arguments for staying party to the Paris agreement is the deal allows countries to weaken their pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This argument has been advanced by pro-Paris Republicans and former Obama administration officials with an interest in keeping the U.S. in the agreement. But Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate diplomat in 2015, said the Paris agreement does not allow countries to weaken their pledges, despite what Paris supporters argue.

“The text is very clear,” Tubiana told E&E News. “The sense of the direction is really progress; it’s not going backwards.”

She cited Article 4.11 of the Paris agreement: “A party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.”

Tubiana was backed up by former Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

“The absence of clear legal language precluding downward adjustment cannot mean that downward adjustment is possible,” he told E&E News. “This will defeat the soul and spirit of the Paris Agreement.”

But former Obama administration officials argue the U.S. can weaken its pledge, despite the language being ambiguous at best on that issue.

Todd Stern, Obama’s former climate envoy, said U.S. diplomats “painstakingly negotiated language in advance of Paris to allow countries to modify their commitments in either direction” to ensure it survived in the long-run, E&E News reported.

Sue Biniaz, a former State Department official involved in crafting of Article 4.11, said “a party can change its target even after it has been submitted.” Other sources familiar with the 2015 climate talks in Paris, France told E&E News a similar story.

“While Parties are encouraged to make changes in the more ambitious direction, there is no prohibition on changing in the other direction,” Biniaz said.

Pro-Paris White House officials and Republican officials are telling Trump he can remain party to the Paris agreement, but change the U.S. commitment to fighting global warming. President Barack Obama joined the Paris accords in 2016, pledging to cut U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025.

But Paris critics say the Stern-Biniaz legal argument makes no sense. It would make no sense for Trump to be allowed to submit a weaker pledge to rapidly expand coal, oil and gas production.

“That interpretation is bizarre,” wrote Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Lewis wrote “the Agreement is set up to encourage each party’s reach to exceed its grasp, with the expectation that many or most may fail to deliver on all components of their [pledges].”

“But authorizing parties to revoke their promises to ensure compliance regardless of their level of effort or ambition would undermine the Agreement’s intended political dynamic,” Lewis wrote. “Besides, a retractable promise is an oxymoron. When you break a promise, you can’t claim you are actually keeping a different promise than the one you have broken. Only children believe promises are not really promises if you keep your fingers crossed.”

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