The second week of November has been no less than a rollercoaster ride for global climate change action. The month kicked off on a high note with the Paris Agreement coming into force last Friday, just two days prior to the 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, setting the floor for “enhanced pre-2020 action” to build a well-founded strategy for post-2020 climate actions to pursue efforts to limit global temperature rise beyond 1.5C.
This year’s COP is anticipated to be a significant one in the history of UN Climate Talks in terms of “implementation” -- serving as the first session of meetings among the parties to the conference under the UNFCCC. The elevated expectation among climate negotiators and experts met with a “tremor” when the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter and the biggest democracy, the US, voted a “climate change denier” as their president for the next four years.
According to The Guardian, international environmental groups at UN Negotiations in Morocco have cited Trump’s presidency as an indication of a “catastrophe,” given Trump acts on his campaign pledges to withdraw US from the Paris Agreement. This fear of a possible derailment from the momentum that started in Paris last year has put the climate envoys in Marrakech into a tight spot.
CBC News reports that under President Obama, climate change has been given much priority, followed by playing a major role in “crafting” the Paris Agreement.
This September, the US fast-track ratification of the Paris Agreement has been welcomed by the world climate envoys. Nevertheless, the victory of Donald Trump has shaken the hope built by President Obama in the last one year to make Paris deal a success.
The anxiety brewing in COP22 and across the civil society group cannot be ruled out completely, given Trump’s tweets and campaigning slogans that have been surrounding the media for last few months, calling global warming an “expensive hoax, created by and for China.”
Trump even said: “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs.”
The burning question at the moment is whether Trump’s presidency will thwart the most widely adopted agreement or not. The future of the Paris Agreement if a Republican president is elected after Obama was well-thought. The fact that the Paris Agreement is called an “agreement” and not a “treaty” is one of the reasons why the Trump presidency cannot just “cancel” the deal right after taking position in the White House next January.
Josh Busby in his report “The Paris Agreement: When is a treaty not a treaty?” reveals that the Paris Agreement is not a treaty under Article II of US constitution which allowed the Obama administration to submit a presidential statement or executive order while signing the agreement rather than going through the Senate for advice and consent to ratify the Paris Agreement as required for treaties falling under Article II of the constitution.
The burning question at the moment is whether Trump’s presidency will thwart the most widely adopted agreement or not
Considering the article, we could say that, in order to cancel the agreement, Trump has to “actively repudiate” Obama’s signature. Luckily, the agreement’s coming into force earlier this month will stop this from happening soon.
According to Article 28 of the agreement, an official withdrawal from Paris Agreement cannot be made for three years as soon as it goes into effect and once the “withdrawal notification” is submitted to the depositary (the secretary general of the UN), the cancellation takes one more year to be effective.
Daniel Bodansky, a scholar of international environmental law at Arizona State University and a former attorney at the State Department, said that if the agreement goes into force under Obama presidency, “then the next president could not withdraw until sometime in 2019, and the withdrawal would not be effective until sometime in 2020.”
In case the Republican president wants to disavow the agreement sooner, he has to withdraw the US from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted in 1992 as mentioned under Paragraph 3 of Article 28.
The cancellation will then be active in a year at some time in 2018. Now, what happens if Trump persists in his election slogans and takes the belligerent route to cut ties with the Paris Agreement?
In a report by Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the non-profit and non-partisan Center for Climate and Energy Solutions said: “Ditching the Paris accord would almost certainly trigger a major diplomatic backlash.”
George W Bush abolished the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which was signed by the US in 1998, right after becoming president in 2001. The Bush presidency thus endured massive disgrace for taking a negative role in sinking an international climate treaty. If Trump pursues the trail Bush left behind, this time around the consequences will be much worse than before.
A Huffington Post article stated that there is a “major difference” between the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. While the Paris Agreement is a concerted effort to cut emissions with support from developed nations for the least developed and developing nations, the Kyoto Protocol asked for the developed countries to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases.
Moreover, the Kyoto Protocol had an exemption on 100 polluting countries comprising India and China, the two big greenhouse gas emitters. The silver lining to the ongoing tension regarding the Paris Agreement is that all the giant emitters including China, India, and the European Union are part of this movement towards a renewable world.
Abandoning the agreement is also unfeasible for the president-elect in terms of international trade between the US and rest of the world. A business magnate like him would definitely give much thought before jeopardising trade relationships with its major trade partners who are actively supporting the global goal of reducing temperature rise through more investment in renewable energy.
It will not be a smart move for Trump to violate global climate efforts and build walls from the rest of the world.
In any case, we should not let it shift our attention from how we can make COP22 a success to get the momentum achieved in Paris last year going. The universal agreement that is binding us altogether is less likely to be blown off because of one man’s stand against a global need.
Thus, it is rightly said by Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s international climate lead spokesman in The Guardian: “The global transition to a zero-carbon economy will not be held up by one man. The rest of the world will not risk a global climate catastrophe because of one man’s opposition.”
Shaila Mahmud works in the field of climate change and development.