President Trump is reviewing whether the U.S. should remain in the Paris agreement, a multinational accord committing both U.S. efforts and finances to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But that decision should lie with the Senate, which is empowered by the Constitution to ratify treaties.
As a candidate, Trump routinely denounced the agreement and promised to abandon it upon taking office. There are several reasons why he should follow through on his campaign promise.
The Paris agreement needs Senate approval.
The Constitution says the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur."
The State Department defines a treaty as "a formal, written agreement between sovereign states or between states and international organizations." While the Supreme Court has ruled that some international agreements don't need Senate ratification, the Paris agreement should be considered a treaty and treated as such.
Senate ratification is a critical component of the Constitution's checks and balances among the three branches of government. The process is meant to ensure that wide support exists for international agreements committing the U.S. to take certain actions or expend financial resources.
President Obama ignored the ratification process for the Paris agreement (not to mention others) because he knew the treaty did not have the support of two-thirds of the Senate — nor even a majority, for that matter. So he decided to self-ratify the agreement instead.
Trump should do what Obama didn't: Send the Paris agreement to the Senate for ratification.
The accord will likely fail to win the required votes, and that failure will send an important signal to future presidents that building a political consensus is crucial for international compacts.
Paris isn't fair to us.
The agreement puts the carbon emissions reduction onus on wealthier countries. While developed countries are expected to meet set reduction standards, less developed countries are simply “encouraged” to reduce pollution as their capabilities mature.
Obama "pledged" to reduce emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — 10 years after signing the document. That means Obama was essentially binding future presidents to an unratified treaty.
Supporters defend Obama's unilateral action by stressing that carbon emission reduction goals are "voluntary." And yet defenders are hinting at possible legal action if the U.S. fails to live up to its commitments or decides to pull out.
The agreement is a redistribution scheme.
One reason so many countries support the Paris accord is because they hope to benefit financially from it. Wealthy-country signatories have pledged to provide financial support to smaller and developing countries to help them adapt to climate change. While the agreement doesn’t specify specific amounts, the wealthier countries have set a goal of providing $100 billion by 2020.
President Obama had pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which was created to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He handed over $500 million in March of last year and another $500 million in January, three days before he left office.
Even though the Constitution requires that Congress appropriate funds for all federal spending — another one of those pesky check-and-balance provisions — Obama self-approved taxpayer-provided handouts to other countries.
However, the U.S. may well achieve its pledged greenhouse emission reductions, regardless of the Paris agreement. According to the Energy Information Administration, energy-related carbon emissions have declined from about 6,000 million metric tons in 2005 (the agreement's baseline date) to 5,170 in 2016 — a 14 percent reduction in a decade.
Ironically, neither Obama nor any climate treaties are responsible for that reduction. It's largely a result of power plants transitioning from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, which is more affordable and abundant due to the fracking revolution.
The major problem with the Paris agreement isn't that countries want to reduce carbon emissions, it's that Obama committed the U.S. to a treaty without Senate ratification — although he surely would have turned to the Senate if he had had the votes.
Remaining in the agreement would encourage even more unconstitutional power grabs in the future.
Merrill Matthews (@MerrillMatthews) is a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. He is also vice chairman of the Texas Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
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