Over the past few days my in-box has been overflowing with hopeful news about theParis climate agreement. Today hope became promise. As of Wednesday evening, 72 nations accounting for 56.8 percent of global emissions, formally filed their ratification papers.
Major polluting polities China, the U.S. and India had ratified the agreement earlier. Recent ratifiers included EU member nations, Bolivia, Canada, Mexico, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates. The Paris Agreement enters into force on November 4th, four days before national elections in the U.S.
Concerns have been growing in recent months over the Donald’s possible occupancy of the Oval Office. Given that Trump has labelled climate change a hoax, perpetrated by Beijing to make U.S. manufacturing more competitive, there is reason to worry. The fact that no one—including the Donald himself—knows how the hell China would use climate change to ruin American manufacturing is of little solace. Trump has vowed to:
Donald’s version of a little R&R should send shivers down the backs of every clean energy and environmental supporter, as well as world leaders. If successful, that means trashing the Clean Power Plan and the Presidential directive upon which it stands.
National representatives meeting in New York during Climate Week were openly leery of a Donald administration. Not simply a matter of U.S. politics, anti-establishment victories in Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries have raised warning flags—possibly portending a reversal in the global march towards sustainability.
A failure to act on the current commitments of the Obama administration could not be contained. Retraction of its pledge to reduce GHG emissions by 26-28 percent could easily prompt other nations to do the same.
Victory by reactionary forces in the U.S. and Europe would virtually guarantee that developing nations would be denied needed assistance. For many nations climate change is already threatening their very existence. Rising sea waters, droughts an increase in the intensity and number of devastating climate occurrences means time is of the essence--both for developing and developed nations.
You’re probably asking about now what the title of this tale is all about? Accompanying the good news about the Paris Agreement entering into force are overly loud sighs of relief that enough countries played and won the game of beat the possibility of a Donald in the White House.
Anyone who has followed my public musings knows I’m not on the short list for the blue bird of happiness trophy. The reality of the situation is that the notion of an enforceable agreement is HORSE SHIT.
President Obama agrees with me. Standing in the Rose Garden with his new BFF Leonardo DiCaprio, Mr. Obama said:
If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies,
history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.
What? You didn’t see the words “unenforceable” or “horse shit” anywhere? Look again—only this time stop at the word “IF.” I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade—I really don’t. I share everyone’s enthusiasm about what just happened; yes--it was a great job—an historic day—whatever.
It just won’t do to believe the agreement can take a Trump bullet and not deflate. I can think of five nearly full proof ways that Donald can walk us back from our pledged nationally determined contributions (NDCs):
Executive orders are not laws, they are the whims of the White House. Just as President Obama has exercised his authority to put us on the right environmental path, a President Donald can take us back to where we started.
A slightly patient President can wait for the available windows of inopportunity to open up. Donald can give notice that the U.S. intends to withdraw from the climate treaty negotiated at the first UN climate conference in Rio. A year after notice is given the withdrawal is complete.
Cancelling the nation’s subscription to the 1992 treaty is really a twofer. According to the terms of the Paris agreement withdrawing from the first is tantamount to leaving the second that enters force on November 4th. The second wouldn’t occur for four years from the date of cancellation.
The power of a president to unilaterally cancel treaty commitments has been tested before. Both presidents Carter and G.W. Bush took the U.S. out of defense related treaties. SCOTUS refused to hear a Congress challenge to Carter’s withdrawal. If not a presumptive precedent,
it is sufficiently arguable to insure a long and drawn out battle.
There has been a lot written about whether the Paris agreement is enforceable as a matter of international law. Two of the most respected contributors to the debate are Dan Bodansky, a law professor at Arizona State and Michael Wara, an environmental law expert at Stanford.
Legal niceties aside, political maneuvering will work just as well for a Trump administration to make good on pledges made during the election. Donald may be the biggest mouth in deniers’ chorus, but he certainly is not the only one. Congressional pooh-poohers are a sufficient force to keep clean energy and environmental funding down and annual appropriations in limbo.
Unless there were a sufficiently large Democratic majority to meet override requirements, President Trump and allies like Senator Sessions (R-AL) and Representative Upton (R-MI) could keep pro-environmental dogs chasing their collective tails for the next four years.
A Trump victory would make moderate Republicans loathe to challenging the new president. It would equally make the Democrats more determined to oppose Donald and to keep him from making good on any of his pledges that might require Congressional inaction. We know what polarization does to the political system.
Holding hope that the private sector can and will do this on their own is misplaced. Inevitable though its movement towards sustainability may be, it is likely to be insufficient. Combatting climate change must occur on a massive scale; a scale that can only be achieved when the sectors combine forces. The loss or languor of one will be the failure of all.
My final dose of disappointing reality is this. Donald and the gang don’t even have to acquire their targets of less regulation, renegotiation of the Paris Accords or revocation of executive orders to win. Time is of the essence. The promise of Paris can be defeated simply by slowing things down.
The world is behind the curve in keeping temperatures from rising above 2°C, let alone meeting the need to lower the threshold to 1.5°C. We have seen Justice Delayed because of legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan. For it now to be denied, President Trump needs only do what he is good at—declaring bankruptcy and breaking contracts.
So please stop saying there’s light in the tunnel. It’s likely to be a train named Trump.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MS, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.