January 20, 2018: the day US could leave the Paris agreement

One year from his inauguration, Trump could take the US out of the Paris deal and into the climate wilderness

(Pic: Petit_Louis/Flickr)


Mark the day, January 20, 2018. It’s the earliest moment that Donald Trump could take the US out of the Paris climate agreement.

There has been a consistent media narrative over the past six months since Trump first said he would “cancel” the Paris agreement, which posited that it would take four years to extract the country from the deal.

That’s because of this clause:

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But that convenient, even smug, reading ignores a third element to the article:

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So what would that entail? Well the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is the overarching convention referred to, makes it clear that any country that decides to withdraw is free to do so at just one year’s notice.

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It seems fairly clean cut. But what about domestic processes back in the US? The US senate must approve the joining of any treaty by a two-thirds majority.

That’s one reason the Paris agreement was created as a deal under the convention was so it was not technically a treaty and thus would not have to be approved by the famously climate-leery US senate in order for the country to join.

So would Trump now have to go back to that body to pull the country out? Not really, according to the senate website:

“The Constitution is silent about how treaties might be terminated. The breaking off of two treaties during the Jimmy Carter administration stirred controversy. In 1978 the president terminated the US defence treaty with Taiwan… Also in 1978 the new Panama Canal treaties replaced three previous treaties with Panama. In one case, the president acted unilaterally; in the second, he terminated treaties in accordance with actions taken by Congress.”

So that apparently leaves Trump free to make the call as soon as he assumes power on January 20 next year and formally leave the agreement one year later.

Although such a move may be delayed by a court action, says Michael Burger executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

“Trump’s ability to simply withdraw from the UNFCCC altogether without Senate approval (which may or may not be forthcoming, depending on the politics and Ds appetite for filibustering) is an open constitutional question, and would likely be the subject of litigation. Technically a party may withdraw from the UNFCCC with one year’s notice,” he said.

On Wednesday evening the Moroccan head of the 2016 climate summit Salaheddine Mezouar said he hoped to work with the Trump administration on climate change, saying in a statement it “transcends politics”.

“We are convinced that all Parties will respect their commitments and stay the course in this collective effort,” he said.

Last year Trump’s pick to either lead or play a key role in dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, told Climate Home he hoped the next president would “not rip up” the Paris Agreement.

“I hope he or she will submit it to the US senate for its advice and consent,” he said.

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