Ignore the critics: If Trump withdraws from Paris Climate Agreement, he will demonstrate US leadership

In December, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. That signature did not come cheap. To satisfy its Paris commitments, the Obama Administration announced plans to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions anywhere from 26 to 28 per cent below what they were in 2005—plans that would steeply raise energy costs on American households and businesses and impede job growth.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, made opposition to the Paris Agreement crystal clear during his Presidential campaign: “We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”

Now some supporters of the Paris Agreement are urging President Trump to break this promise. But they can’t really argue that the Agreement is an effective way to address climate change; MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change projects that, even if every country followed through with its promises, the Paris agreement would reduce warming by only 0.2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Instead, the argument is that honoring the Paris Agreement is all about U.S. leadership.  As Timmons Roberts and Caroline Jones wrote in a recent Brookings Institution paper : “To renege on our commitments … in support of the Paris Agreement would weaken America’s ability to muster enthusiastic support on important international policies we might care about.“

This is fantasy. Gratitude is a rare commodity in international affairs – just look at the vast majority of U.S. foreign assistance recipients. They routinely vote against the U.S. most of the time in the U.N.

Those arguing for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement are less interested in bolstering U.S. leadership than in ensuring that they have means to criticize Trump when he fails to follow Obama’s other ineffectual climate policies.

Repudiating the Paris Agreement would be akin to ripping off a Band-Aid – a small pain in the form of anger from the U.N. and other governments committed to the agreement, but after that, nothing.

How do we know this? Because President George W. Bush lived through discarding the Paris Agreement’s predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The Clinton Administration signed the Protocol in 1998, despite unanimous Senate resistance. President Bush correctly concluded the Protocol would be ineffective in addressing the problem and impose heavy economic costs on the U.S economy, particularly to the manufacturing sector.

Despite strong pressure from the U.N. and European governments, Bush held firm by announcing that he would not ratify or implement the agreement.

What was the impact of Bush’s actions on American leadership role? Foreign governments criticized the decisions, but continued to cooperate and work with the U.S. More importantly, they learned that the U.S. was willing and able to resist diplomatic pressure in order to protect American interests.

Having other countries know that the U.S. President is resolute is valuable diplomatic currency, not fecklessness.

There are broader U.S. constitutional and security interests to consider too. The Paris Agreement is a supplementary agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). President Obama misused the UNFCCC framework to avoid seeking Senate advice and consent for the Paris Agreement under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

Conservatives should insist that the President repudiate the Paris Agreement to correct that action alone.

But in addition, the Palestinian Authority is a party to the UNFCCC. As was the case when the Palestinians joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011, this event should trigger a U.S. law prohibiting any future U.S. funding to the UNFCCC.

The Obama administration continued funding the UNFCCC based on the absurd argument that the UNFCCC is a treaty, not an international organization. In fact, the UNFCCC is a treaty-based international organization, just like UNESCO –and the United Nations.

So, in addition to the issues surrounding the Paris Agreement, if the Trump administration does not end funding for the UNFCCC in accordance to the law, it would signal to U.N. organizations that there will be no consequences if they grant membership to the Palestinians prior to a negotiated peace with Israel.

In fact, to prevent the accrual of financial arrears, it makes sense for the U.S. to withdraw from the UNFCCC, which would also lead to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

U.S. presidents rarely face easy choices, but this one comes close.

Other governments will carp, but withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC would fulfill a campaign promise and send a welcome signal that, unlike the previous Administration, President Trump respects the treaty process outlined in the U.S. Constitution and will stand firmly with Israel.