What Trump’s Election Means for the Paris Agreement

by Laurent Crépeau

Now that Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, energy and environmental policy could take a drastically different turn in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Trump has denied the existence of man-made climate change and has stated that if elected, he would either withdraw from the Paris Agreement or “renegotiate” it. This has serious implications. The accord, which the United States ratified in early September, constitutes a never-before seen diplomatic achievement of states taking concrete measures to fight climate change. With Trump heading the United States for the next four years, and with a Republican-controlled Congress in addition to this, it is relevant to ponder what this means for the Paris Agreement going forward.

Attribution: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump, during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Attribution: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump, during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

First, it might reassure some to know that renegotiation by itself would already be complicated. Normally, renegotiating an international agreement demands that the parties come together and agree on the new terms of a treaty. In this case, 195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement. Consent to be bound by the new set of obligations would be required from each of them in order for a new treaty to come into force.

Seeing how complicated it might be to renegotiate the deal, a more probable alternative would be withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The procedure for this is set out in Article 28 of the Agreement:

“1. At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary.
2. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.
3. Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement.”

Given that the United States has just ratified the Paris Agreement, it would take almost four years before it could shed its obligations. It would remain bound until at least September 2020. By that time, it is hard to predict the importance an issue such as environmental protection might take in American politics. Further, withdrawing so close to the next presidential election might be politically costly and therefore would require apt political calculus before undertaking.

Negotiators gather for COP 21 in Paris, December 2015. Image courtesy of the UNFCCC, via Flickr.

Negotiators gather for COP 21 in Paris, December 2015. Image courtesy of the UNFCCC, via Flickr.

A quicker approach exists, but its consequences are greater: withdrawing from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (hereafter, “UNFCCC”) signed in 1992, which encompasses subsequent international agreements on climate change, including the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal procedure in the UNFCCC mirrors the one in the Paris Agreement. As such, it would take only a year to withdraw from it. The consequences, however, would be much more significant. Withdrawing from the UNFCCC would entail withdrawal from any protocol or convention signed under it. It would take the United States twenty-five years back in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, the United States has a major role to play in any international climate convention. It is all the more important that it upholds its commitments in international climate agreements, as other world powers’ commitment is contingent on the United States’. Trump’s unreliability with regards to such agreements can negatively affect his country’s credibility and impede further cooperation with other world powers.

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