Communist China’s Legislative Body Mulls Paris Climate Accord, As Obama Takes the Executive Route

Patrick Goodenough | August 30, 2016 | 4:22am EDT
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Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, March 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

( – The Standing Committee of China’s rubberstamp parliament is meeting to discuss formally acceding to a far-reaching climate change agreement negotiated in Paris last year, amid signs that President Obama is preparing to take the same step – but without Senate ratification – possibly within days.

The White House maintains that the climate accord is an executive agreement, not a treaty, and therefore does not require the Senate’s advice and consent.

Obama travels to China this week for a G20 summit in Hangzhou, and climate change is high on the agenda both for the summit and for his bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China earlier indicated its intention to ratify the Paris accord ahead of the G20 summit. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, in a recent report citing unnamed “sources familiar with the issue,” said Obama and Xi may jointly announce the countries’ formal joining of the accord as soon as Friday.

In Washington, a senior White House advisor told reporters that Obama plans to join the Paris agreement formally “as soon as possible” – but stopped short of saying he would do so during this trip.

“We’ve made the commitment that we will join [the agreement] in 2016,” said Brian Deese. “And we’ve made the commitment to do that as soon as possible this year.”

“With respect to exactly when, I don’t have any announcements on that front,” he added. “But we have committed, and we’ve been working on that issue.”

Some Republican lawmakers oppose what they view as the administration’s attempts to circumvent Congress, and have sought to link Paris agreement ratification to U.S. funding for international climate programs.

Deese reiterated the administration’s stance on there being no need for Senate ratification.

“The Paris agreement is an executive agreement, and so the president will use his authority, that has been used in dozens of executive agreements in the past, to join and formally deposit our instrument of acceptance and therefore put our country as a party to the Paris agreement,” he said.

While treaties require Senate ratification, he said, “there’s a broad category of executive agreements where the executive can enter into those agreements without that advice and consent.”

Deese, who visited Beijing last week for climate-related talks, added that a legal analysis and review of the Paris agreement has been underway since it was struck in Paris late last year.

Later in Monday’s briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the way the Paris agreement was structured allows Obama to implement it, using authority that he has already been given by Congress.

He did not elaborate, but was likely referring to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty which the Senate ratified in 1992.

Earnest was also asked whether the administration had any concerns that a future president could undermine whatever progress may take place now regarding the Paris accord.

After describing U.S. successes in getting China onboard, he said that “any effort to roll this back is going to isolate the United States of America, on an issue that we’ve been leading on for decades.”

Earnest expressed the view that, because of Obama’s leadership and successful diplomatic strategy, “even a president in a different party would be reluctant to unravel that progress.”

Last May, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pledged to cancel the Paris climate accord.

“We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement, and stop – unbelievable – and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs,” he said in an energy policy speech in North Dakota.

President Obama and U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon at the Paris climate conference in November 2015. French President Francois Hollande looks on. (UN Photo, File)

Race to ratify

Obama is due to leave Washington on Wednesday morning, with stops in Nevada, Hawaii and Midway atoll before arriving in China on Friday.

As he makes his way across the Pacific, in Beijing the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will be meeting to deliberate on several matters including “the proposal to review and ratify the Paris agreement on climate change,” state media reported.

The committee, the communist government’s top legislative body, began its five-and-a-half day session on Monday.

Should it take place, a joint announcement in China on formally acceding to the Paris deal would be significant, as the U.S. and China together account for almost 40 percent of the emissions of “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) blamed for global warming.

An earlier joint Obama-Xi climate announcement, in late 2014, set emission reduction targets for their respective countries, a move seen as laying the groundwork for the agreement reached at a U.N. megaconference in the French capital a year later.

The Paris agreement comes into effect only once 55 nations, responsible for at least 55 percent of global GHG emissions, have formally joined (through ratification or whatever legal processes are required in the individual countries.) Currently, 23 nations accounting for just 1.1 percent of emissions, have done so.

Deese said Monday a move by the U.S. and China to formally join the agreement – “as and when that happens” – would push that process closer to the goal.

Some climate activists forecast that the 55 nation/55 percent threshold could be reached before the end of the year. An even more ambitious prediction: that the goal could be achieved by the time the U.N. hosts a high-level ceremony in New York on September 21

U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who has made climate change a top priority and leaves his post at the end of this year, on Monday encouraged all G20 countries to move quickly to join the agreement.

Ban told China’s Communist Party-affiliated Global Times that “the commitment by the world’s two largest emitters to formally join the Paris agreement this year is taking the world one step closer to a historic threshold: the entry into force, this year, of an agreement that will bring gains for all humankind and usher in the much-needed transition to a safer, more sustainable future.”

The Paris accord aims to keep average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in a bid to avoid what advocates claim could be potentially catastrophic effects on the planet.

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