Donald Trump pulls out of Paris climate deal: Timing may thwart his plans

The earliest possible date for America's official withdrawal from the climate-rescue Paris Agreement is just a day after the country's next presidential election.

Could the timing thwart Donald Trump's plans to quit the 196-nation deal?

US President Donald Trump. AP

File image of Donald Trump. AP

The rules of engagement

In the hard-fought pact's own wording, a party may withdraw by giving written notification "any time after three years" of its entry into force – which was on 4 November, 2016.

This means 4 November, 2019 at the earliest if Trump, who announced Thursday that the United States was "getting out" of the deal, were to use this option.

The withdrawal would take effect only a year later – on 4 November, 2020 – the day after America's next presidential election – potentially leaving a very small window for intervention if there is a new leader friendly to the Paris Agreement.

Trump's term ends officially on 20 January, 2021.

"Despite Trump’s announcement, the US cannot immediately withdraw from the Paris Agreement," stressed Richard Klein, of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

In the meantime, Washington may opt to withdraw from all climate negotiations and simply flout the commitments made under the previous administration.

Other options?

A different route would be for America to withdraw from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices the pact was negotiated. This would take effect a year after notification, which can be done at any time.

America's ratification of the convention was approved by the senate after being signed by President HW Bush.

Trump has given no indication that he intends going this route, even saying he wanted negotiations for a new or better agreement – implying he intends staying in the convention. Only parties can negotiate.

As for reopening negotiations for a different deal, this is not explicitly ruled out by the convention's statute.

But Trump would have to convince nearly 200 other partners with whom the United States had fought and bartered for over two decades to get the 2015 Paris deal.

"The US can propose anything it wants, but no other country will join them at the negotiating table, said veteran climate talks observer Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"It’s a non-starter, and they know it – the point is to make it sound like they’re more reasonable than they really are."


Trump has said the US would "cease all implementation" of the agreement.

The deal itself, which sets out the goal of limiting emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, is binding under international law. However, at America's insistence, countries' carbon-cutting pledges in support of the goal, are not.

Trump said Washington would not honour its carbon-cutting contribution, nor international climate finance commitments made under his predecessor Barack Obama.

For Arnaud Gossement, a French environmental lawyer, Washington's flouting of the agreement amounts to "a violation of international law".

International agreements of this type symbolically commit signatories to their undertakings, "even if there are no sanctions," he said.

Updated Date: Jun 02, 2017 16:10 PM

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