The Paris Climate Accord Is Superficial. That’s Why Trump Wants to Kill It.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The Paris climate accord is not legally binding. At any time, the United States can simply announce that its goals have changed and release a new, less ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a “Nationally Determined Contribution” in Paris-speak). Since everything is entirely voluntary and there’s no legal enforcement mechanism for any of it, David Roberts says there’s no reason to consider pulling out:

Trump can weaken the US NDC, without penalty. He can roll back all of Obama’s carbon regulations, without penalty. He can simply fail to meet the targets of the NDC, without penalty. All he has to do is explain himself at the five-year review, and the explanation can be as minimal as he likes.

Paris’s only constraint on Trump comes through intangibles like reputation and influence. It imposes absolutely no practical or legal constraint on his actions—not on trade policy, not on domestic energy policy, nothing.

That means all talk of Paris being a “bad deal” for the US, or hurting US trade, or affecting the US coal industry in any way, is nonsense. Paris does not and cannot do any of those things. The US voluntarily offered up an NDC and can voluntarily offer up a different or weaker NDC any time it wants.

This is an awkward fact for the nationalist contingent. They need Paris to be a boogey man. So they’ve ginned up a novel legal argument.

This novel legal argument is even more comical than these kinds of paper-thin justifications usually are, and you can read all about it at the link. But I think Roberts misses the point. Since Paris is voluntary, there’s no concrete reason for Trump to pull out or to stay in. The United States can do whatever it wants either way. The whole thing is about signaling, and that’s something that rules Trump’s world. Barack Obama considered it important to signal that America was committed to addressing climate change. Trump is committed to a worldview in which climate change is a hoax. He wants a dramatic way to signal this, and pulling out of Paris would be just the ticket.

Needless to say, you can decide for yourself if climate change is a hoax. The data is very clear and easily obtainable.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest