December 2019 /// Vol 204 No. 12

Columns

Oil and gas in the capitals

Au revoir Paris

Dr. Roger Bezdek, Contributing Editor

On Nov. 4, 2019, the Trump Administration formally notified the United Nations that it would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This came on the first day possible under the accord’s withdrawal rules and begins a year-long countdown to the U.S. exit, which will be official on Nov. 4, 2020, and is one of the administration’s most significant energy policy initiatives, thus far.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo noted, “Today, the United States began the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. President Trump made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because of the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement. The U.S. has reduced all types of emissions even as we grow our economy and ensure our citizens’ access to affordable energy. Our results speak for themselves: U.S. emissions of criteria air pollutants that impact human health and the environment declined by 74% between 1970 and 2018. U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions dropped 13% from 2005–2017, even as our economy grew over 19%. We will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model—backed by a record of real-world results—showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions, and more secure sources of energy.”

The Paris Agreement took effect in the U.S. and 89 other countries on Nov. 4, 2016, after satisfying a requirement that at least 55 countries, responsible for at least 55% of the world’s GHG emissions, formally join. It was designed to make it difficult for nations to leave, once it was ratified; no country could leave the Agreement for three years, after which there is a one-year waiting period for the withdrawal to take effect. The earliest that the U.S. could leave is Nov. 4, 2020, contingent upon the UN receiving formal notice of withdrawal 365 days earlier—which it has now received. Any signatory that withdraws can apply for re-admission and can be readmitted within 30 days. It requires four years to leave, but only 30 days to rejoin!

In the U.S., the reaction was predictable. The environmental/global warming establishment went apoplectic and issued dire warnings of impending Armageddon. For example: former Presidential candidate and Secretary of State John Kerry stated that it was “a dark day” for America, and demanded a “WW II-style mass mobilization before it’s too late.” The World Resources Institute stated that “By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the Trump Administration is showing that it cares neither about science nor economics.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the move as a “disastrous decision that sells out our children’s future.” Democrat Presidential candidates denounced the action, doubled down on their respective “climate crisis” plans, and pledged that, if elected, the U.S. would rejoin.

However, even if a Democrat wins the 2020 election, which is Nov. 3, 2020, re-entry will not be easy. The Paris Agreement is the second climate pact that the U.S. joined under a Democrat and abandoned under a Republican; don’t forget that George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. A Democrat rejoining the Paris Agreement would have to provide specific policies committing the U.S. to abandon fossil fuels. Even then, other nations will be wary that support for the Agreement could change after another election. Thus, the U.S. “may be written off as a partner and cannot be counted on.”

This is not necessarily bad, since serious questions remain unresolved. First, President Obama did not submit the Agreement to the Senate for ratification, and for good reason: the Senate would not have ratified it. Rather, the Obama Administration argued the Agreement did not require Senate ratification. However, the Agreement meets the State Department’s criteria for a treaty by virtue of its costs and risks; ambition compared to predecessor climate treaties; dependence on subsequent congressional legislation; intent to affect state laws; and U.S. historical practice concerning multilateral environmental agreements. Further, it empowers one administration to make legislative commitments for decades to come, without congressional authorization, regardless of future elections.

The Obama administration also argued that the emissions targets were voluntary, relying solely on domestic policies, and pledged to reduce GHGs 26% to 28% by 2025. However, policies that Obama put in place to comply with the Agreement would only achieve 50% of that goal. This implies that more legislation and regulations would be needed—another reason the Agreement qualifies as a treaty. Obama wanted to use Paris to make his domestic energy policies immune to legal challenges and thus essentially reorganize the U.S. energy economy for the next 35 years. This simply was not going to happen, irrespective of any agreement.

Finally, the Agreement is a failure. Since it was signed in 2015, global CO2 emissions have increased 1.6 billion metric tons, with all of that growth from developing nations, while U.S. emissions changed little (and remain well below the U.S. 2007 peak), and EU emissions declined slightly. In comparison, China’s and India’s CO2 emissions increased over 770 million metric tons during 2015 through 2018, as was the case for nearly all of the world’s developing nations. Further, EIA forecasts that global emissions will increase an additional 8 billion metric tons by 2050, with all the increase coming from developing nations, while emissions from developed nations decrease.

Thus, the Paris Agreement will not be missed.

The Authors ///

Dr. Roger Bezdek is an internationally recognized energy analyst and president of MISI, in Washington, D.C. He has 30 years’ experience in the energy, utility, environmental, and regulatory areas, serving in private industry, academia, and government. He has served as senior adviser in the U.S. Treasury Department, as U.S. energy delegate to the EU and NATO, and as a consultant to the White House, governmental agencies, and various corporations and organizations. His most recent book is The Impending World Energy Mess.

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