President Obama will likely “join” the Paris Climate Agreement during his upcoming trip to China. What does this mean? In reality, not much. That’s because the administration knew that a binding climate treaty would need to be voted on in the Senate. Instead, they worked hard to create a non-binding agreement, which they argue would not need to be ratified by the Senate (despite President Obama’s recent attempt to portray the agreement as a treaty). However, non-binding agreements by their very nature are non-binding for future administrations.
As of now, only 23 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have ratified the agreement/treaty, representing a mere 1 percent of total global CO2 emissions. For the agreement/treaty to go into effect, 55 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, representing 55 percent of total global emissions, must ratify.
The problems with the Paris agreement are legion (as noted here, here, here, and here). These problems aside, whatever President Obama agrees to in China (or elsewhere during his Pacific Rim trip) won’t be binding for the United States. Here’s how legal expert David Wirth has explained the agreement:
The Executive Branch has indicated its intention to cement President Obama’s climate legacy by submitting its instrument of acceptance for the Paris Agreement by the end of this year. As of this writing, that has not occurred. But even if it does, the U.S.’s crucial emissions reduction undertaking is still only a non-binding aspiration not governed by international law.
As far as this and other non-binding goals articulated under the Paris Agreement, President Donald Trump, who has voiced scepticism about anthropogenic climate change, need not go through a formal withdrawal process, as required by the Agreement and international law. Instead, he need only say, “The United States changed its mind.” [Emphasis added.]
The bottom line is, for the agreement to actually have any force, it must be a treaty. Treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate (Article II, Section 2, U.S. Constitution). Any sort of legal or linguistic gymnastics have failed to assuage criticism and confusion both at home and abroad.
The Paris agreement is non-binding, carries no legal requirements for the United States, and should not be taken seriously.