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Paris Agreement Clarification: Developing Countries Need Not Make ANY Emission Reductions

By Tom Harris -- October 24, 2017

“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.


  1. David James  

    Tom Harris’s claim that the Paris Agreement betrays America because it was not submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent is false. The Paris Agreement was not a treaty but executive agreement. Under the American system of laws executive agreements do not require Senate approval.

    According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has concluded more than 18,500 executive agreements since 1789. However, the majority of those covenants—17,300—occurred after World War II, when presidents’ use of executive agreements increased substantially.

    The Presidents who signed the 18,500 executive agreements did not betray their country. Mr. Harris is confused.


    • Tom Harris  

      BTW, note that Dave James is employing the straw man logical fallacy. I NEVER ACTUALLY WROTE, “that the Paris Agreement betrays America because it was not submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent.”

      This Disqus profile – https://disqus.com/by/disqus_JzQ88MTX2I/following/ – shows that since March 31, 2016, Mr. James has made 1221 comments. Here is a sample of some of his many, many posts apparently trying to discredit me in online article comment sections: https://www.google.ca/search?site=&source=hp&q=%22Tom+Harris%22+%22Dave+James%22&gws_rd=cr&ei=nyGDWefuDavcjwSb-oK4DA . I already explained to Mr. James that many of his points are either wrong or misleading but he seems to just go to other Web sites and make the same assertions again. I will not waste any more time explaining this to him, unless sensible people bring up the same or similar questions.


    • Jon Boone  

      This particular executive “order” (not “agreement”) did indeed betray this country, at a number of levels, as Mr. Harris has shown. An executive order does in general have the force of law, unless the Supreme Court stipulates it constitutes legal overreach, as is the case with the stupendously stupid executive order on the EPA Endangerment Finding.

      There is nothing sacred about an executive order; it can countermanded with another executive order, as I hope happens here.


      • David James  

        Mr. Boone mistakes an executive order for an executive agreement. They are not the same thing.

        Executive Orders are presidential directives issued by United States Presidents directed towards officers and agencies of the U.S. federal government. An executive agreement is an agreement between the heads of government of two or more nations that has not been ratified by the legislature as treaties are ratified. The Supreme Court in U.S. v. Pink (1942) held that international executive agreements validly made have the same legal status as treaties and did not require Senate approval.

        EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt quote 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” was rated “False” by Factcheck.org.

        In a Daily Caller article title “Killing The Paris Agreement Is Not Enough” dated 5/8/2017, Tom Harris provided a different rational for abrogating both the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]. Mr. Harris wrote that Donald Trump should withdraw from both because: A) “Trump needs to Democrat-proof his agenda.” B) “Actions that significantly reduce CO2 emissions would entail dramatically cutting back on the use of coal…”


        • Jon Boone  

          And Mr. James continues his charge down the rabbit hole of legal niceties that now permeate our cultural landscape, where the usage of words and phrases devolve into either meaningless language a la Lewis Carroll’s Through a Looking Glass or, more malevolently, Orwellian blackwhite doublespeak. As Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty once said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.” Dumpty also said, “When I make a word do a lot of work… I always pay it extra.”

          Just so in the case of this Jesuitical slide between executive orders and executive agreements. There are many examples of both, often made as reasonable, legally defensible lubricants for rational action when existing conventions or laws don’t provide clear guidance in the consideration of future action. Regarding the US v Pink case at the dawn of World War II on offer here, the Supreme Court did Not base its ruling on an affirmation of any “executive agreement.” Rather, the Court’s decision affirmed the supremacy of the power of the national government over that of the individual states in matters of external affairs. Such power, the Court ruled, is vested exclusively in the national government (something that some–uh–federal judges seem to have lately “forgotten” when the issue is border protection and immigration policy).

          It is quite a stretch of both language and meaning to apply this long standing legal precept to justify Mr. Obama’s lame attempt at an end run around Congress’s express Constitutional authority/obligation to ratify an agreement by the conventional process of a treaty, particularly since such an agreement would forfeit so much US treasure and create a great deal of economic hardship for so many. The specter of Congress’s Kyoto KO was precisely the kind of messy outcome the Constitution was written and ratified to achieve. In the context of the Kyoto fiasco, the nabobs of legal jabberwocking attempted to hoist the ramshackle Paris Accord (these very words themselves should be subject to derision) upon the slimy petard of slippery language. Notice how that words “executive agreement” and “executive order” coalesce as one, as if by magic. Or am I missing something? Did Mr. Obama believe his agreement was not an order to be obeyed? Even more cogently, why would any future president ever consider treaty ratification when all the folderol could be avoided with a stroke of her Humpty Dumpty pen?

          In many ways, this discussion is redolent of the creepy way civility has been deployed to sanction perfidy. And it’s why so many people are fed up with erudite con men bending the law so badly that it’s now almost completely broken. It means just what authority chooses it to mean. Neither more nor less.


          • David James  

            —-Mr. Boone, your problem is with the definition of terms “executive order” and “executive agreement” not with me.
            —-The are multiple reasons past Presidents of the United States have concluded 18,500 executive agreements with foreign leaders. Pretending executive agreements are illegal or deceitful ignores the fact that since the 1940’s the vast majority of international agreements that have been completed by American Presidents have been as executive agreements rather than as treaties.

  2. Tom Harris  

    There is lots of debate about that. Can you name any other country which does not regard Paris as a treaty. http://www.heritage.org/environment/report/the-paris-agreement-treaty-and-should-be-submitted-the-senate is a sample of one argument for it being a treaty. Here is another: https://cei.org/content/paris-climate-agreement-treaty-requiring-senate-review.

    Regardless, that is not the point of my article. My point is that developing countries have a opt out option that we do not.


  3. Jon Boone  

    No one said executive agreements in general are illegal. However, I did state rather clearly that the agreement in question here is deceitful (while recognizing that not all are). Beyond the palpable evidence of deceit (not to mention the questionable science involved), it is immoral, promising nothing but requiring much from the USA while returning not even sweet nothings–and doing nothing about any climate endangerment, as if one could. In a saner world, it would be the epitome of bunco. All nice and legal, of course….

    Let’s all hope for an executive agreement, followed by Congressional accord, to put an end to it.


  4. David James  

    Mr. Boone, you’re hoping for an executive agreement – Why? Congressional accord would put an end to what?


    • Jon Boone  

      What I’d like to see is an executive order directing all agencies within the executive branch to stand down on any participation with foreign policies that attempt to extract US dollars for the purpose of mitigating perceived long range climate behavior (we don’t know enough about the phenomenon to base any policy on it). At the very least, what should follow that order is a sense of the Senate resolution in support. This is not to say the federal government should not invest in short term weather forecasting or withdraw from creative programs that would mitigate suffering from weather related events, although we should have a serious national discussion about the wisdom of continuing to subvent with tax dollars demonstrably stupid–and ongoing–land use decisions.


      • David James  

        —-Mr. Boone, You are still unable to understand the difference between an executive agreement and an executive order.
        —-Tom Harris is for abrogating our international agreements in order to protect coal and achieve partisan political goal. You on the other hand lack a basic understanding of climate science.


  5. Jon Boone  

    I have a keen understanding of Climate “Science,” such as it is. Accurately accounting for the value of climate sensitivity due to increases in CO2 levels is at best a controversial enterprise, for many reasons. After a review of the various statistical models, I’ve concluded that the sensitivity value is in the 1.0C range, with a margin of error that could well put that value at such minuscule levels that it’s not worth any concern. It is extremely remote that the planet will see irreversible deleterious climate behavior within the lifetime of anyone living today due to CO2 emissions. Or in the next 500 years.

    And I’m very clear about the difference between executive orders and agreements, although the distinction has been blurred over much of the last century. As I stated earlier, both grew out of a desire to adjust relatively small policy details that emerged from changing conditions in order to provide better guidance in the conduct of larger policy initiatives. They were never meant to substitute for the real business of government, which is to pass laws and establish treaties in accordance with the informed will of the people. If the American people knew what I’ve learned about the partisan science of Climate Change, the utter nonsense behind its avatar, Renewable Energy, and the cant behind the partisan rant against fossil fuels, they’d have nothing but contempt for the partisan galoots responsible.

    As for your take on Tom Harris, I’ll let him respond. From my perspective, his main argument is spot on.


  6. David James  

    —Mr. Boone, the distinction between an executive order and an executive agreement is not blurry but clear.
    —Your conclusions regarding the climate sensitivity due to increases in CO2 is contradicted by peer review scientific studies.
    —Your conspiracy theories regarding the science of climate change and renewable energy are far-fetched.


    • Jon Boone  

      And you, Mr. James, proffer cartoon versions of both reality and my commentary here, all of which are untrue. The silliest being the connection of science with the slogan “climate change” and to the functionality of renewables; there is nothing conspiratorial about the relationship of the former to the latter: they are existentially linked, much like the wizard and that green curtain. Or that fashionable emperor and his closest full of invisible clothes. But you likely accomplished your goal of distracting readers from the larger truths contained in this column….

      Fare thee well.


  7. David James  

    —Mr. Boone, like your comments, this column has no larger truths. Both are deeply misleading.
    —You misstate the climate science. Tom Harris endorses false statements by Scott Pruitt. Both you and Mr. Harris make false claim regarding executive agreements.


  8. David James  

    —-During my discussion with Jon Boone, I did not see Tom Harris’s reply to me on 10/24/2017.
    —-Mr. Harris claimed he never argued that the Paris Agreement betrays America because it was not submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent. Mr. Harris own words show he is being less than sincere.
    —-Mr. Harris wrote, “Paris Agreement Betrays America.” Mr. Harris sole rationale for this extraordinary conclusion was: “…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.”
    —-No only does Mr. Harris misunderstand American law regarding international agreements but he also attempts to end discussion of his column with vague and unsupported assertions and a personal insult.


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