Climate Change Deal Is a Threat to U.S. Sovereignty

John Kerry at climate change talks (Francois Mori / Associated Press)
Francois Mori / Associated Press

The UN climate change deal reached last week between nearly 200 countries is a direct attack on U.S. sovereignty. It was crafted explicitly to evade the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate to take effect.

The Obama administration intends to implement the treaty as an “executive agreement” rather than a treaty, along the lines of the Iran deal, which never even passed a final congressional vote.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Negotiators sealed the deal after changing provisions that would have triggered a requirement that the agreement be approved by the U.S. Congress.” The Guardian (UK) elaborates further that “final approval was held up for an hour over typos and a dispute over a single verb–shall or should.” In legal terms, “shall” is binding on states that are parties to an agreement, and “should” is merely strongly urged, i.e. non-binding.

That affects key paragraphs of the agreement, which in theory requires signatories to reduce emissions such that global temperature rises by less than 2 ºC, and requires developed countries to pay $100 billion per year to developing countries to offset the effects of climate change.

For example: “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” (emphasis added).

Other part of the agreement, however, use the word “shall” and are binding. Even if the treaty is never ratified by the Senate–and the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated by Vice President Al Gore in 1997, lost 95-0 in a symbolic vote–the deal will create intense global pressure on the U.S. to agree to its provisions.

It is therefore against the interests of the United States–and, in attempting to undermine the Senate’s constitutional role, is an attack on U.S. sovereignty.


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