Administration Doesn’t Expect Election Outcome to Have Big Impact on Paris Climate Accord

Patrick Goodenough | November 4, 2016 | 4:22am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at the U.N. climate conference in the French capital that produced the Paris accord in December 2015. (AP Photo, File)

( – A day after Donald Trump pledged to “cancel billions in global warming payments to the United Nations,” top administration climate officials said Thursday that the outcome of next week’s election would not likely have a major impact on the international momentum driving the Paris climate accord, despite the fact that “the candidates have very different views on climate.”

The Paris agreement, the most ambitious climate pact yet negotiated by the U.N., enters into force on Friday.

Despite Trump’s threats to walk away from the agreement as president, one of the officials said that although the accord allows for countries to withdraw, he did not think that would be a likely development.

“There’s an article 28 in the agreement that provides for procedures for countries that would seek to withdraw,” deputy special envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing said in a teleconference call. “But at the moment, I don’t think that’s very likely.”

Pershing said it was his sense that “there are going to be huge domestic advantages to staying in this agreement,” citing the potential of investments in green energy.

“So I expect us to want to stay in the discussion.”

Also taking part in the briefing, John Morton, the National Security Council’s director for energy and climate change, acknowledged a questioner’s point that Trump and Hillary Clinton “have very different views on climate.”

But he suggested that, internationally, the move to a “low-carbon economy” is increasingly being seen as inevitable.

“We will see countries continuing to move forward [in implementing the Paris agreement] at a fast clip, irrespective of what happens next Tuesday,” Morton said.

“I think the question may be what role and how quickly the U.S. moves. But the international community is moving forward.”

“I think the question of commitment to action is no longer one which is being debated,” Morton added. “It’s a question of how quickly it will move forward and, frankly, who will lead and who will benefit most from this transition to a lower-carbon economy.”

Pershing also said that, unlike the situation with the Kyoto Accord – where President George W. Bush’s 2001 withdrawal was seen to have weakened some other countries’ commitments – the Paris agreement was not the result of a top-down process but has strong support in individual countries which put forward their own plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“And so my take is, that won’t change; it doesn’t matter who is [president] in the United States, it matters what countries have decided to do.”

The aim of the Paris agreement is to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, through carbon emission reduction and other measures.

The accord also incorporates and reinforces (in clause 115) existing commitments for $100 billion each year in climate finance for developing countries, from public and private sources, by the year 2020.

President Obama has pledged $3 billion over four years to the Green Climate Fund, and last March the administration paid the first $500,000 instalment.

At a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida on Wednesday, Trump said that if he becomes president he will “cancel billions in global warming payments to the United Nations. And we will use that money for American – and it’s so important – for American environmental infrastructure.”

In an energy policy speech in North Dakota last May, Trump vowed to “cancel” the Paris agreement, which he said “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America.”

According to article 28 of the Paris agreement, even if a President Trump wanted to withdraw from the accord, he would not be able to set the process in motion for three years from the date of entry into force – that is, November 4, 2019 – and even then withdrawal would only take effect 12 months later.

However, article 28 also adds what could amount to a loophole, saying that any party which withdraws from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “shall be considered as also having withdrawn from” the Paris agreement.

Withdrawal from the UNFCCC would only be a one-year process (because unlike the Paris agreement, it is not a brand new accord but entered into force years ago.)

The UNFCCC is the 1992 treaty that forms the framework for all subsequent U.N. climate change negotiations and agreements. It did itself include greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and the U.S. Senate ratified it in 1992.

The Obama administration argued, controversially, that the Paris agreement has not required Senate advice and consent because it merely builds on existing commitments in the already-ratified UNFCCC.

In line with that argument, Obama therefore joined the Paris accord by executive order.

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