The Paris agreement was a triumph of global governance — one that represents humanity’s last, best hope for averting ecological ruin. But the climate change deal has a major flaw: Its only enforcement mechanism is our collective fear of the disaster it was designed to prevent.
At the time it was signed, there was reason to think this might be enough to keep everyone honest. After all, only one major political party on planet Earth denies the reality of climate change — and the GOP was well on its way to nominating a sure loser as its standard-bearer in April 2016.
But, of course, the sure loser won. And now, President Trump can kill off every climate-related program at the E.P.A.; tear up the Obama administration’s emissions reduction plans; or, heck, pass subsidies that encourage diesel drivers to “roll coal” — all without violating the terms of the Paris agreement.
In fact, there’s only one legally binding burden that the deal imposes on Trump: His government must publish an emissions reduction target, and draft reports explaining how it is meeting those targets. But the target, itself, is up to Trump. Obama pledged to cut America’s carbon pollution 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Trump could pledge to cut them by a sum that would require no significant government intervention. Market forces alone are already phasing out coal and propelling the growth of wind and solar power.
All of which is to say: The Trump administration has little to gain from initiating the arduous, four-year legal process required to exit the Paris agreement.
It does, however, have much to lose — including America’s credibility as a world leader and an upholder of its international commitments. The Paris agreement binds together 194 of the world’s nations, on an issue of existential importance. It’s hard to imagine a better way for the U.S. to marginalize itself than forfeiting its seat at that table.
But Steve Bannon wants America to push back its chair, anyway.
Bannon’s apparent rationale, per the New York Times, is that Trump’s commitments to his supporters take precedence over America’s commitments to other countries (especially when those commitments concern the globalist hoax that rootless cosmopolitans call “climate change”). Trump repeatedly promised to “cancel” the Paris agreement on the campaign trail.
But some in Trump’s inner circle think it would be a bad idea to sabotage America’s standing in the world for the sake of avoiding Breitbart’s disapproval. Among them is former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and former Nordstrom business partner Ivanka Trump.
Tillerson’s old company may have played a leading role in the despoliation of the planet — and in the obstruction of public awareness of climate change. But Exxon now publicly acknowledges the hazards of fossil fuels and (officially) supports taxing carbon dioxide pollution. It’s possible that the secretary of State shares this position. But even if he doesn’t, there are plenty of other reasons why America’s top diplomat might oppose needlessly souring America’s diplomatic relationship with (virtually) every other nation in the world.
Ivanka has previously leaked word that she intends to make climate change one of her “signature issues.” Whether this interest derives from concern for her lifestyle brand — or for the planet she’d be leaving her grandchildren — is unclear. Regardless, she has been the point person for celebrities looking to beg the president to take mercy on the environment.
This puts Trump in a difficult position: He must choose between his favorite child and the demon he made a deal with to become president. And he’s supposed to decide in the next week — the administration wants to announce its stance the same day Trump signs an executive order rolling back Obama’s climate regulations.
But the president may have already found a way out of his conundrum.
According to the Times, Trump is considering declaring the Paris deal a treaty that must be ratified by the Senate. The primary reason why world leaders left an enforcement mechanism out of the climate pact was to keep the deal safe from the Capitol Hill’s upper chamber — which was, and is, controlled by the only major political organization committed to bringing about the collapse of human civilization as quickly as possible.
By throwing the decision to the Senate, Trump would essentially be asking Mitch McConnell to take the deal behind the barn for him. It’s a move akin to Obama’s decision to let Congress prevent him from upholding his “red line” in Syria. Only this time, instead of stopping America from bombing a Middle Eastern country, the president’s decision to defer to Congress would allow the U.S. to blow up humanity’s best chance to save the only home it’s ever known.