As President Trump announced that the United States would end its participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change, pundits and journalists seized on a claim that the U.S. cannot withdraw until November 2020. This tut-tutting, which often took the form of a chiding "actually, no" or "technically, he cannot," is rules-lawyering nonsense. Although true in the most hypertechnical sense, the claim has no bearing on whether the U.S. will be participating in the Paris Agreement during the next three-and-a-half years.
The November 2020 timeline seized on by troubled Democrats comes from Article 28 of the Paris Agreement itself, which provided that a party cannot withdraw from the agreement until three years after it came into effect, and not without an additional one year of notice. Since the agreement came into effect in November 2016, they therefore reason that the U.S. cannot withdraw until November 2020 at the earliest.This reasoning is fine, so far as it goes, but overlooks the fatal flaw in the Paris Agreement: It is not binding on the United States and lacks any enforcement mechanism.
The agreement is non-binding because there was no other way to get so many nations to agree to notionally reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For its part, the U.S. committed to voluntarily reduce emissions under former President Barack Obama. Importantly, Obama never sought to have his emissions targets enacted in law. There was no chance that Congress would approve such a commitment while Obama already had one foot outside the White House door. Nor did Obama seek to have the Paris Agreement itself ratified by the Senate.
As a result, the Paris Agreement places no legal obligation on the Trump administration to abide by climate promises made by Obama. The Trump administration can simply disregard Obama's Paris Accord-related emissions targets and enact its own or even none at all.
Of course, the Trump administration remains bound by other laws and international treaties related to climate change, and administration figures say Trump plans to abide by the Article 28 withdrawal procedure. But the bottom line is that, regardless of any withdrawal rules in the agreement itself, Trump's determination that the U.S. will not abide by Obama's emissions targets carries no legal ramifications.
Pundits and journalists can protest all they like, saying "but November 2020!" The reality of the situation is that Trump has fulfilled his campaign promise to get out of the Paris agreement right here in June 2017.
Gabriel Malor (@GabrielMalor) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an attorney and writer in Washington, D.C.
Gabriel Malor is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. [BIO] If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.