Withdrawing From the Paris Climate Agreement Is the Right Call

by | May 31, 2017

The Paris Agreement surrenders our political independence and stifles global energy development that benefits people across the planet.

Politico is reporting this morning that President Donald Trump will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Mainstream political commentators have reacted with their customary fearmongering, but Trump’s repudiation of this deal should be welcomed news to anyone genuinely concerned with American political processes, American political independence, and the fortunes of the world’s poorest people.

The first test that the Paris Agreement failed was procedural. Upon its adoption in 2015, Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry refrained from designating the international pact as a treaty and instead deemed it an executive agreement. This designation prevented the Paris Agreement from requiring Senate ratification. The executive agreement designation is not uncommon; in fact, its use has far surpassed that of the treaty since World War II. The designation is suitable for the many instances of diplomatic minutiae that need not concern the American public, but considering the Paris Agreement’s potential economic ramifications, Obama and Kerry should have sought the advice and consent of the Senate. Fearing a Senate rejection, however, they opted for the simpler option. As a result, Donald Trump now has the power to rescind our commitment with one stroke of a pen.

That is precisely what he should do.

The Paris Agreement not only fails on procedural grounds, it also fails on substance. Though the agreement does not specify the regulations any particular country must adopt, it nevertheless sacrifices America’s political independence and jeopardizes our energy future.

References to “climate justice” in the preamble and “climate finance” in Article 9 elucidate that temperature-rise attenuation is not the agreement’s lone impetus. Concepts such as “climate justice” and “climate finance” reveal a deeply retributive impulse that motivates the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—the body responsible for the pact. In this intellectual framework, countries that have led the world’s ascent out of pre-industrial squalor are now held in contempt, as global economic gains have been accompanied by an escalation in our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration. This agreement undermines American independence by implying a moral responsibility to directly finance the developing world’s game of catch-up. Furthermore, it suggests that the United States and its peers have reached a level of economic development that should leave them satisfied. This idea is anathema not only to the experiences of millions of American families already struggling to pay the bills without climate measures driving up energy prices, but also to our founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Americans have the right to pursue the energy options that best suit them regardless of any international convention.

Article 7 of the document contains another inversion. It advocates for the “urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.” Developing countries—and the world’s poorest people more generally—do indeed need advocates. They face the greatest threat from weather events as they lack the resources to prepare and recover. It is not a warming planet, however, that presents the greatest threat to their well-being: it is an absence of the energy-dependent infrastructure that keeps us comparatively safe in the developed world. Whether they live in southeast Asia or southeast Louisiana, the world’s poor do not need global climate agreements to improve their lives and their ability to withstand weather events—they need affordable energy.

Some Paris proponents, such as the executives from ExxonMobil[1], argue that by remaining a party to the deal we retain a proverbial seat-at-the-table to influence global decision-making. This approach, however, ignores that committing to the agreement offers an explicit endorsement of the problematic elements catalogued above and that as the world’s largest, most innovative economy the United States retains global influence regardless of this agreement. By resolutely standing opposed to the agreement, the United States will indicate that we prioritize the promise of global economic development, food security, and poverty eradication that come with economic freedom and energy development over the promise marginal temperature-rise attenuation. Furthermore, the agreement itself has a provision that would preserve our interest in influencing future developments while withholding our complete supports. Article 16 states: “Parties to the Convention [the UNFCCC, of which we are a member] that are not Parties to this Agreement may participate as observers in the proceedings of any session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement.” Additionally, if we stay in the agreement our 46th president, whoever that may be, could use the agreement’s calls for ever-intensifying national plans to justify something along the lines of Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.”

Proponents of the Paris Agreement cower before the risks associated with rising global temperatures, but it is the economic and political risk of remaining a party to the agreement that should truly concern us—especially when we consider that market forces already reduced American greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10 percent from 2005 to 2014 according to the EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.

President Trump has an opportunity to become a champion of energy development and economic progress for both the American people and the world’s poorest populations. Regardless of economic circumstances—and especially when facing adverse weather conditions—affordable, reliable energy is a guarantor of human flourishing. The Paris Agreement surrenders our political independence and stifles global energy development that benefits people across the planet. Rumors that Trump will reject this deal and rescind the commitment of the previous administration signal brighter days ahead.


[1] On Sunday, Financial Times reported that ExxonMobil chief executive Darren Woods recently penned a personal letter to President Trump urging him to keep the United States within the Paris Agreement. Though some observers have reacted with surprise, this is not a new position for the world’s largest publicly-traded oil and gas company. In fact, in a March 22 letter to the White House, another ExxonMobil executive, Peter Trelenberg, lobbied for continued American commitment to the agreement as well. Trelenberg’s letter—and presumably Woods’—portrays the agreement as a prudent, fair framework for addressing the risks associated with a warming planet.

Jordan McGillis serves as the Deputy Director of Policy for the Institute for Energy Research.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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