Paris Climate Agreement architect: This was a 'vacuous political melodrama'

Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement was a political message, according to Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who led the talks that created the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015. But it wasn’t a decision with any legal implications.

“[T]here isn’t any legal basis for what we heard [today], it is fundamentally a political message, period — actually I would call it a vacuous political melodrama,” Figueres said on a press call organised by the World Resources Institute.

Trump said today that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement and that he might be open to the possibility of renegotiating things in the future. But there’s no legal basis for the US to just step out of the agreement in this way, Figueres explained.

Technically under the terms of the Paris agreement, the US can formally announce its intention to withdraw from the agreement three years after it went into effect. That would be November 5, 2019, according to Figueres. But even then, the agreement requires that the US give one year’s notice, meaning that the US departure couldn’t go into effect until November of 2020.

It’s also entirely possible the US wouldn’t meet emissions reductions standards that it committed to in the first place — even if it had stayed in the agreement. Those were voluntary, and the effort by the Trump administration to roll back environmental regulation could make it hard to hit those goals. But under the terms of the agreement, it’s not possible to simply announce that the nation is leaving, at least not without leaving other senate-approved treaties, which would also take time.

As for “renegotiating” the deal, that doesn’t look like it’s likely to happen either. If the US were to withdraw officially in 2020, it could then announce intentions to re-enter the agreement, said Figueres, but it wouldn’t be a simple negotiation. The world would need to agree.

“This is in essence a multilateral agreement, and no one country can unilaterally change the conditions,” said Figueres. Already, France, Germany, and Italy have announced that the Paris accord could not be renegotiated.

The US might eventually see the international growth in clean energy markets and want to catch up in 2020 or 2025, but that might not be easy to do, and other countries might impose trade penalties in the meantime.

International treaties don’t work the same way as some of other deals Trump has been involved in previously, said Mindy Lubber, President and CEO of the nonprofit Ceres, on the same call.

“This is not a real estate deal,” she said.

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