Paris Agreement: Donald Trump has 'no understanding' of deal, says former UN climate change chief

The President has withdrawn the US from the global climate deal

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 02 June 2017 18:19 BST
Trump pulls US out of Paris climate change deal

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The White House has "no understanding of the legal underpinning" of the Paris Agreement, the former head of the United Nations (UN) climate change body has said.

Christiana Figueres called Donald Trump’s fanfare over withdrawing the US from the agreement “a vacuous political melodrama."

Making his announcement, the President said the US would be out of the Paris accord “as of today.”

But this completely ignores the legal process of withdrawing, said Ms Figueres, who served as chief of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change between 2010 to 2016.

The US will not officially be ‘out’ of the agreement for four years from the date it went into effect: 4 November 2016. This means, the US will only exit the day after the 2020 election, in which Mr Trump will likely run for a second term.

"Apparently the White House has no idea how an international treaty works," Ms Figueres said.

The historic 2015 agreement signed by 195 countries and ratified by 147 aims to reduce carbon emissions and contain global warming.

But after Mr Trump withdrew US participation, it will no longer include the world's second largest polluter.

Mr Trump said that he wanted to renegotiate the deal, which took 20 years to get to the place where it could be signed by so many countries.

But his announcement for withdrawal was not really necessary, because he could change the US’ emissions reductions targets and funding commitments without disrupting the agreement, Sue Biniaz, former US State Department Deputy Legal Adviser on climate, told The Independent.

Every country that has signed has the right to do so, she said.

"There's no legal reason why it couldn't be amended, but I don't think it needs to be amended or "renegotiated" in order to address the concerns raised by the President," she added.

Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change during the Obama administration, told The Independent it was "extremely hard to imagine any country wanting to renegotiate [the agreement] because they felt the US got a bum deal."

France, Germany, and Italy have already issued a joint statement saying they will not be party to a renegotiation of any kind.

Former President Barack Obama actually circumvented the process to make the Paris Agreement a “treaty” in the legal sense for the US.

The US ‘joined’ the agreement and it went into effect for the US because of an executive order Mr Obama signed. It was done this way so the climate sceptics in Congress could be avoided.

The process does give Mr Trump legal authority to withdraw but he is still required to follow the four year process outlined in the agreement.

The agreement is legally binding in 147 countries since they ratified it as a treaty. Of note: Russia is the only country in the top ten polluters in the world not to ratify or join the agreement, though they did sign it.

The US now falls into the same category of Syria and Nicaragua, the only other two countries not in the Paris accord.

However, Nicaragua has not joined because they actually thought the agreement was not ambitious enough and does not punish countries who do not take necessary measures to combat global warming.

The Central American nation produces no oil and is on pace to have 80 per cent of their energy come from renewable sources like solar and wind.

The US is currently at 13 per cent. Mr Trump remained steadfast in his belief that stopping US participation in the deal will actually help the economy grow despite research suggesting otherwise and new money in the renewable energy sector outpacing new investments in oil and gas industry for the first time in 2015.

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