“President Trump was right to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. When withdrawing the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt should make it clear that, independent of its other problems, the Paris Agreement violates the will of Congress and is a betrayal of the American people.”
In explaining why he is withdrawing the Clean Power Plan (CPP), Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on October 17 that, under the Paris climate change agreement, “China and India don’t have to take any steps with CO2 [carbon dioxide] reductions until the year 2030.”
In fact, developing countries never have to make emission cuts.
What the climate treaty really says
The Paris Agreement starts:
“The Parties to this Agreement,
Being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]…
In pursuit of the objective of the [UNFCCC] Convention, and being guided by its principles….”
The UNFCCC, signed by President George H.W. Bush and other world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is the foundation upon which all UN climate agreements, including that reached in Paris, are based.
Article 4 of the UNFCCC states:
The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.
This means that, under treaties based on the UNFCCC (such as Paris), developing nations will keep their emission reduction commitments provided we pay them enough and give them enough of our technology. Pruitt gave an example of this last week when he said to Cavuto, “India conditioned all of the responsibilities on receiving $2.5 trillion of aid.”
But even if we deliver everything we promise, developing countries clearly may still ignore their emission targets if they interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” of “economic and social development and poverty eradication.”
Developed nations must keep their emission commitments regardless of how it impacts their economies.
Paris Flaw Obvious
UNFCCC bureaucrats have not hidden this imbalance. They have told us repeatedly that “development and poverty eradication,” not emission reduction, takes top billing for developing countries.
Actions to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in developing countries would involve dramatically cutting back the use of coal, the source of 71% of India’s electricity and 81% of China’s. Since coal is the cheapest source of power in most of the world, reducing CO2 emissions by restricting coal use would unquestionably interfere with development priorities. So, no matter what they promise with respect to emissions reduction, developing countries almost certainly won’t do it, citing the UNFCCC in support of their decisions.
It has been suggested that the statement in the Paris Agreement that countries’ responsibilities will be decided “in light of different national circumstances” will impose tougher requirements on poor nations as they further develop. That is naïve. The UNFCCC treaty, especially Article 4 that addresses the preferential treatment given to developing countries, has been the foundation of all U.N. climate negotiations.
Developing nations are very unlikely to allow this to change. Chinese negotiator Su Wei stated point blank at the U.N. 2014 climate conference in Peru that the purpose of the Paris Agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the 1992 convention, not rewrite it.
Paris Agreement Betrays America
On July 25, 1997, the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, asserted that America should not enter into any UNFCCC agreement unless it “also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.” (82% of U.S. GHG emissions in 2015 were CO2).
At the time, the Senate was examining the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty in which the gross imbalance between developed and developing countries’ responsibilities was clear. It is not so clear in the Paris Agreement, but it is there none-the-less, hidden in the convoluted language of U.N.-speak.
When the Senate ratified the UNFCCC, the Foreign Relations Committee reported that future emissions targets agreed to under the Convention “would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent.” Obama never did this.
President Trump was right to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. When withdrawing the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt should make it clear that, independent of its other problems, the Paris Agreement violates the will of Congress and is a betrayal of the American people.
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.