Secretary John Kerry was at the United Nations today to sign one of the most sweeping environmental accords ever penned. Kerry brought his young granddaughter to the dais in the chamber of the world body to official sign the Paris climate agreement that came about as part of the December 2015 U.N. Conference on Climate Change. Today, a record 175 nations signed the agreement, setting a record for the most to sign a U.N. agreement on an opening day.
The so-called U.N. Messenger of Peace, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, also took the stage to tout the agreement. He said, “More countries have come here to sign this agreement today than any other time in human history, and that is cause for hope.” Calling for fossil fuels to remain in the ground, DiCaprio called climate change the “defining crisis of our time.”
There is still work to be done to put the agreement into effect. For the treaty to “enter into force” and thus put key binding provisions into effect. For the treaty to go into effect, at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must both sign the Paris climate agreement and get approval at home.
Unlike Mexico, for instance, where legislative approval is required before the treaty can be ratified, in the United States, however, it will likely mean entering into an executive agreement that does not require approval of Congress. President Barack Obama could thus enact some of the provisions of the treaty.
Republicans remain chary of the treaty, Recently, Republicans on the Senate on the Environment and Public Works Committee released a 30-page study that argues that the treaty will lead to no more emissions reductions than the Kyoto Protocol, which is largely viewed as a failure. Also, earlier this week, 28 Senators sent a letter to Secretary Kerry saying that American U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund -- a fund meant to help pay for developing countries to invest in green technology and infrastructure -- illegal.
A nonprofit organization, affiliated with several large corporations and foundations, released a paper last year that set out the legal basis for resorting to executive agreement to advance the Paris agreement, thus circumventing the will of Congress.
In a white paper written in 2015 by Daniel Bodansky of the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law of Arizona State University for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, it noted that the coming agreement “may or may not require legislative approval, depending on its specific contents.”
This is in spite of the fact that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty with 195 parties, was ratified by the U.S. in 1992 with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.
Entitled "Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of New Climate Change Agreement” for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Bodansky wrote that under U.S. law there are several routes by which international agreements can be made. The most commonly known can be made according to the Second Article of the Constitution, which requires advice and consent by two-thirds of the Senate. “In practice, however, the United States has accepted the vast majority of the international agreements to which it is a party through other procedures,” wrote Bodansky. “These include congressional-executive agreements, which are approved by both houses of Congress, and presidential-executive agreements, which are approved solely by the president.”
Bodansky goes on to say in his executive agreement that the President would be on “relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force, without submitting it to the Senate or Congress for approval, to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC.”
However, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits or new legally binding financial commitments, seeking Senate or congressional approval would be favorable. “However, the exact scope of the President’s legal authority to conclude international agreements is uncertain, and the President’s decision will likely rest also on political and prudential considerations.”
President Obama is expected to ratify the Paris Agreement before leaving office. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, also supports the Paris Agreement.
"This time, you (would) have to blow off the whole rest of the world," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a senior adviser to the U.N. "And I don't think (the United States would) find another partner to do that. You'd have to just be the renegade state." Sachs is a consultant to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
All of the Republican candidates currently running, as well as those who have stepped out, have expressed opposition to the Paris Agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that a Republican presidential can simply tear it up.
While the agreement is not legally binding, which is something the U.S. insisted on, it could have a considerable impact on decision-making on the part of agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency as they seek to reduce emissions generated by coal-fired electric plants.
A summary of the provisions of the Paris agreement is as follows:
* Reaffirm the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees;
* Establish binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them;
* Commit all countries to report regularly on their emissions and “progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs, and to undergo international review;
* Commit all countries to submit new NDCs every five years, with the clear expectation that they will “represent a progression” beyond previous ones;
* Reaffirm the binding obligations of developed countries under the UNFCCC to support the efforts of developing countries, while for the first time encouraging voluntary contributions by developing countries too;
* Extend the current goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in support by 2020 through 2025, with a new, higher goal to be set for the period after 2025;
* Extend a mechanism to address “loss and damage” resulting from climate change, which explicitly will not “involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation;”
Require parties engaging in international emissions trading to avoid “double counting;” and
* Call for a new mechanism, similar to the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, enabling emission reductions in one country to be counted toward another country’s NDC.
President Barack Obama's Earth Day message:
Today is Earth Day -- the last one I'll celebrate as President. Looking back over the past seven years, I'm hopeful that the work we've done will allow my daughters and all of our children to inherit a cleaner, healthier, and safer planet. But I know there is still work to do.
That's why, today, the United States will join about 170 other countries in signing the Paris Agreement, a historic deal to reduce carbon emissions across the globe.
When Secretary of State John Kerry stands with other countries to support this agreement, we’ll advance a plan that prioritizes the health of our planet and our people. And we’ll come within striking distance of enacting the Paris Agreement years earlier than anyone expected.
This is important because the impact of climate change is real. Last summer, I visited Alaska and stood at the foot of a disappearing glacier. I saw how the rising sea is eating away at shorelines and swallowing small towns. I saw how changes in temperature mean permafrost is thawing and the tundra is burning. So we’ve got to do something about it before it’s too late.
As the world's second-largest source of climate pollution, America has a responsibility to act. The stakes are enormous -- our planet, our children, our future. That's true not just here in America, but all over the world. No one is immune.
That's why, when I ran for this office, I promised I'd work with anyone — across the aisle or on the other side of the planet — to combat this threat. It's why I brought together scientists, entrepreneurs, businesses, and religious organizations to set the first-ever national fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, made the biggest investment in clean energy in U.S. history, and put forward a plan to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. And it's why we rallied more than 190 nations in Paris to establish a long-term framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions -- the first time so many countries had committed to ambitious, nationally determined climate targets.
Now, we're building on that momentum. When all is said and done, today will be the largest one-day signing event in the history of the UN.
Thanks to this agreement, we can be more confident that we'll leave our children a planet worthy of their promise.
That's what this is all about. And that's why today, America is leading the fight against climate change.
President Barack Obama



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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