January 25, 2016
Premised on a heavy dose of international peer pressure, the final Paris Agreement reached last December includes a combination of both binding and non-binding provisions. The agreement is meant to shame countries into complying with self-proscribed greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. While the Obama administration continues to insist that this time around, the climate agreement really is historic, the reality is that the final Paris agreement will be no more significant to the United States than was the Kyoto Protocol.
Despite the administration's best efforts, the Paris agreement has no means of enforcement, sustainability or legal significance without approval from the U.S. Senate. And so, with no democratic legitimacy, this agreement should not be viewed as the policy of the United States, but rather a perpetuation of the president's climate legacy that Congress and the American people consistently reject. International representatives have been duly warned that promises made through sole-executive agreements only last as long as the president who made them.
President Obama can sign the Paris Agreement if he pleases — and he likely will on April 22, which is not only Paris Ratification Day, but also Earth Day. However, he knows as well as anyone that his signature is a moot point without the Senate's consideration. President Clinton made the same attempt in 1998 by signing the Kyoto Protocol. Clinton then failed to submit it to the Senate for advice and consent, and so his signature was set aside in 2001, solidifying the United States' official rejection of the agreement.
And yet, despite what is ultimately a meaningless signature on behalf of Obama, COP-21 attendees will spare no expense to ensure that the signing ceremony is a high-profile spectacle befitting such a self-proclaimed momentous agreement. But regardless of the anticipated "historic" headlines, the agreement provides nothing "historic" from other countries; in fact, it ensures the status quo.
Just looking at the effective outcome of the Kyoto Protocol reveals as much. The most recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report on compliance acknowledges that of the 37 counties that became legally bound to the Kyoto Protocol's greenhouse gas reduction targets, nearly half failed to meet them. Even the host country, Japan, has substantially increased its emissions since signing onto the Protocol. To date, not a single sanction has been administrated against any country for noncompliance.
With casual disregard for legally binding targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol and no resulting sanctions, it is disingenuous to suggest that this year's agreement — contingent on voluntary actions from 196 countries — will be any more successful.
Some countries are already hedging against the Paris agreement. Two days after the COP-21 negotiations wrapped up, Greenland announced a plan for opting out, because "a deal that accommodated the interests and positions of indigenous peoples ... wasn't achieved in full."
Three days after, India announced its plan to more than double coal output to 1.5 billion tons through 2020 because "coal provides the cheapest energy for rapid industrialization that would lift millions out of poverty.
Then there is China, the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter and a key climate ally of the Obama administration. China's concurrence to the Paris agreement solidifies its plans to avoid taking emission reduction actions for at least the next 15 years. There is no doubt that additional countries will find ways to circumvent the voluntary compliance mechanism set up by the Paris agreement and brush off the consequences of whatever international peer pressure may result.
Still, Obama marches onward, heralding his EPA's so-called Clean Power Plan as the climate savior for which we've been waiting. But the truth is that even with the Clean Power Plan, the president won't be able to meet his current climate pledge to reduce emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, much less make promises about any future commitments.
More alarming, however, is the president's willingness to gamble away the United States' economic security. The Clean Power Plan will increase the price of electricity, reduce investment and ship U.S. jobs overseas — not to mention that the plan is afflicted by acute legal vulnerabilities. Close to 150 entities, including 27 of the 47 states covered by the plan, are challenging the rule in court.
Congress too has rejected the president's unauthorized regulatory approach. In December, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed two Congressional Review Act resolutions formally disproving Obama's climate regulations, reaffirming the lawlessness of the rules and once again illustrating that there is no appetite for federally mandated carbon controls in this country.
It makes sense that in the face of clear domestic opposition to his climate agenda, President Obama has turned to unelected international bureaucrats for support. But the rhetorical praise will be short-lived.
When it comes to the Paris agreement, the Senate's role in this matter does not exist at President Obama's prerogative; it is derived from the Constitution. If President Obama is truly looking for a historic achievement, he would be seeking out Senate involvement instead of attempting to find ways around it.