Analyst: US Senate Should Unilaterally Refuse to Ratify Paris Climate Treaty

By Barbara Hollingsworth | December 23, 2015 | 12:35pm EST
Christopher Horner (Competitive Enterprise Insititute)

( -- “The Senate leadership does not want an institutional fight,” but after ceding its institutional prerogative to President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, it can and should reclaim its constitutional role by unilaterally refusing to ratify the Paris climate change treaty, says Christopher Horner, an attorney and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

“Although the Senate’s treaty function has been greatly diminished, refusing to ratify sends a statement to the world that this agreement should be regarded as a promise, not a commitment. But not doing anything is, in fact, a commitment,” Horner told

“The ball really is in the Senate’s court,” he continued. “Obama knows that if the Senate says something, his signed pledge will be under a cloud. But if the Senate lets this go, there is no middle ground.”

All signatory nations have between April 22, 2016 and April 21, 2017 to “deposit their respective instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession” to their “voluntary participation” in the United Nations' attempt to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement will not go into effect until 55 nations, accounting for 55 percent of total global greenhouse emissions, ratify it.

There is historical precedent for the Senate refusing to ratify an international agreement signed by the president, Horner said.

The “Kyoto [Protocol] was signed, but never ratified,” he pointed out. “The Senate was a necessary part of the process, and until it gave its consent, no one could view it as a binding treaty.”

However, he added that there’s no historical precedent for the president to sign a treaty and then bypass Congress by refusing to send it to the Senate for ratification.

“We have no precedent, and the only reason we don’t is that we’ve never had a chief executive saying that our constitutional system is such a problem that I’m going around it, and I dare the Senate and the courts to do anything about it,” Horner told

In 1992, the Senate ratified the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty signed by the U.S. in Rio de Janeiro with an explicit pledge from then President George H.W. Bush that any future agreements involving “targets and timetables” would be sent to the Senate for ratification.

“The fact that [Senators] George Mitchell (D-ME) and Clayborne Pell (D-RI) said that any future agreements involving targets and timetables needed to be sent to the Senate for ratification means nothing to this crowd if it stands in their way,” Horner said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows during a news conference held at the COP21 Climate Conference north of Paris. (AP photo)

In 1997, then Sen. John Kerry voted for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which passed the Democratic-controlled Senate 95-0, requiring that the U.S. refrain from signing any international agreement that would “result in serious harm to the U.S. economy” or exempt developing nations from “new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

However, the Paris agreement does both. The U.S. is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent by 2025 and make a $3 billion contribution to the UN’s $100 billion Green Climate Fund while developing nations like China, the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, are not required to make any “new specific scheduled commitments”.

Horner noted that no matter what President Obama calls it, the Paris agreement is a treaty and under the Constitution, it must be ratified by the Senate before it goes into effect.

“This is a treaty, given the mandatory language, level of financial commitment, level of detail, and of course by practice and precedent in this realm,” he wrote in a recent oped. “It resembles the 1992 Rio treaty, which no one dared insist wasn’t a treaty.

“Indeed, that document, which Paris amends, was ratified with the support of the George H.W. Bush administration and a Democrat-run Senate. Both left no doubt that: “a decision by the Conference of the Parties to adopt targets and timetables would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement.” 

“Any pressure on the US to restrict its economy and transfer massive sums of taxpayer money because of the Paris treaty is too much, and the Senate should drive a stake in this folly. Paris is a treaty, and the Senate must now treat it like one.”

“All that matters now is that the Senate do its job,” Horner told

Related: White House: Spending Deal Allows Obama to Shift Money to Green Climate Fund

Related: Plans to Turn 'Politically Binding' UN Climate Change Accord Into Federal Law

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