My Thoughts on Bucking the Paris Agreement

For what it is worth, it seems to me that most opposition to the Paris Agreement is predicated on mere ignorance to its contents and a visceral, categorical rejection of anything multilateral or international in nature, regardless of the details and benefits. (And given the considerable support for it by a broad range of stakeholders – from national security figures to big corporations, including major energy companies – the usual argument that such policies are inherently anti-business, or favor only idealistic environmentalists, simply do not wash.) It is anti-globalism for anti-globalism’s sake.

If folks actually read the Agreement – which most people had never heard of or had forgotten about until recently – they would find that it is explicitly nonbinding and hands-off with regards to how nations can go about mitigating climate change. In fact, it stipulates “nationally determined contributions” whereby every nation individually sets their own goals and how to reach them, whether through the free market, government programs, etc. Unlike its predecessors, the Paris Agreement furthermore places emphasis on “bottom up” solutions that favor working with private sector and civil society groups, something that opponents ostensibly favor. Ironically, these provisions were included in part to win over skeptics like the U.S. who criticized the binding nature of prior agreements such as the Kyoto Protocols.

Among the few explicitly enumerated requirements of the Agreement is that parties check in with the U.N. periodically to offer a progress report on their goals, which of course is nothing more than basic accountability to a neutral third party. There is nothing binding nations to a particular actions or policies; no penalties for falling short of their goals; and no requirement (nor even a recommendation) for big government approaches. There is an arrangement whereby wealthier countries should provide some resources to help poor countries fulfill their goals, but this pre-existed the Agreement and was merely reaffirmed.

All that said, however, the U.S. can very well still do what it can to address climate change on its own terms. No agreement is needed to come to these solutions. But backing out of the principal framework towards that end signals a wholesale rejection of addressing the issue overall. Time will tell where it all goes, but we are already seeing American civil society — from cities and states to companies and nonprofits — doing its part to carry on with our commitments to the environment.

I invite everyone to read the letter of the text itself here, and find anything that definitively encroaches on U.S. sovereignty or stipulated binding and coercive statist measures.

What are your thoughts?

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