For Paris Agreement junkies

The Paris Agreement will be signed today by a record 170 countries.

If you like watching diplomatic paint dry, the UN has a live webcast of 170 delegates (at the latest count) signing the Paris Agreement today in New York. They will also be making speeches, presumably much the same ones they made in Paris.

To my surprise, it looks as if Obama isn’t going. He is good at letting subordinates get the glory, as with Gina McCarthy and the Clean Power Plan. It will be John Kerry, who played a key part in Paris, signing for the USA.

An excuse for an open thread on the Paris Agreement.

The Grauniad makes an intriguing claim that a 2020 date for entry into force was dropped from the negotiating text in Paris by mistake, so allowing an earlier one triggered only by a minimum of ratifications. A likely story. Cockups do happen, sometimes on important things. But do Laurent Fabius, his team of 60 aides presumably not picked from the bottom half of the ENA graduating class, and Christina Figueres look accident-prone Trey Gowdys to you? I think somebody realized that a date condition is unnecessary and unusual, and decided to drop it to see if anybody complained. Nobody did.

A marvellous photo of John Kerry signing the agreement on behalf of the USA – and his granddaughter. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images, via the Guardian. If Getty sues we’ll take it down ..

Kerry signing

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

5 thoughts on “For Paris Agreement junkies”

  1. It seems to me this event deserved better marketing. It needed some zhoosh. At least it made my local paper though. (I don't know that it made the telly news.)

    1. I tend to agree – if the general public was the intended audience. Was it? Christina Figueres' strategy seems to have been to interlard hard-boiled and high-friction negotiating sessions with feelgood events without practical consequences. With a bandwagon beginning to roll (largely because of the falling costs of a transition), this allowed politicians to convince each other that this time, something had to be done. The speeches in New York may have played to empty auditoria there – but for many they must have been prime-time TV at home. Objectively, India failed to get what it wanted in Paris. At home, Modi has spun the agreement as a victory for "climate justice", the sharing-it-out approach Paris pretty comprehensively abandoned.

      After the Copenhagen near-fiasco and the Kyoto false start, it was definitely time to try something else. We don't know for sure how much of the credit is due to Figueres' decisions. But we have to judge by results. Her win.

  2. Isn't there a certain unreality about talking about this as though we didn't know the treaty wasn't going to be ratified, and so is a complete legal nullity so far as the US is concerned?

    1. As you I think know very well, the agreement was handcrafted to allow President Obama to accept it as an executive agreement under US law, in pursuance of the Rio Treaty of 1992 (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This was ratified by the USA following unanimous consent of the Senate (98-0). The objective of the treaty (Article 2) is "to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". The Paris Agreement specifies this level as the concentration corresponding to 2 degrees C warming, and if possible 1.5 degrees C. It also refines the reporting and monitoring mechanism. It is not a fiddle to treat it as an implementing text of the UNFCC, to which it refers on every page.

      Conservative analysts naturally dispute this reading, insisting that the Paris Agreement is a new treaty in the sense of the US Constitution. The GOP may challenge the executive agreement through the courts, though it's a stretch considering the long history of deference to the executive on foreign policy. SFIK the Iran nuclear agreement, defined by the State Department as a political understanding not a treaty, has not led to a lawsuit challenge. Meanwhile, after acceptance, the Paris Agreement will be in force for the USA.

      Obama could delay the acceptance paperwork to the autumn, so that any challenge will only reach SCOTUS after Scalia's seat is filled, probably by Garland – an environmental hawk – or another judge of similar philosophy. The GOP may well be so discouraged by then, facing near-certain defeat in the November election, that it may not have the energy.

      Isabel is winning. You are losing.

      1. If the agreement is an executive agreement, then it changes the law not a bit, because all it can legally involve are actions the Executive is already legally entitled to take, and the next Executive will be legally entitled to refrain from. (That's why executive agreements don't require the legislature's concurrence.) That's the only sense in which it will be "in force".

        If it is treated as statutory law, it doesn't get through the House or Senate. If as a treaty, it doesn't get past the Senate.

        So, I think it's fair to call it a legal nullity.

        Indeed, the reason for calling it an executive agreement is exactly because it IS DOA when it hits the legislature. And, isn't that a point that was worth mention?

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