Is it better for the US to be out of the Paris Agreement than to stay in?

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Even though Trump’s withdrawal decision cannot be acted on until November 2019 (after the three year waiting period required under article 28 has run, starting from November 4, 2016), the rest of the world is apparently prepared to move forward without the U.S.  A commentary in Nature Climate Change (published before the Trump announcement) even made the argument that it could be in the best interest of global climate cooperation if the U.S. left the Paris Accord rather than stay in (given the policies of the Trump Administration).  The commentary does make some important points.  And while I am not going to repeat what’s already been said more generally about the damage that the withdrawal decision will do, there are a few other observations worth sharing here.

1.  The commentary seems to imply that once the US is out of Paris, American officials will simply stand idly by while the Paris parties will go on their business.  That is extremely unlikely.  The best likely outcome (for the Paris Accord), given Trump’s in-your-face foreign policy approach, would be for the US government to take only the actions necessary to protect the U.S. and its economy from any adverse effects of the Paris Accord.  At worst, the US could attempt to actively undermine the Paris system entirely.  I shudder to think what that might mean, but there is precedence for countries doing such things.

There is also the Kyoto Protocol precedent that provides a glimpse of what the climate change treaty system can accomplish without the US as a participant.  In 2001, George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would never join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which led to the U.S. sitting out the establishment of the international carbon trading system.  To this day, the U.S. has not participated in any of those carbon mechanisms.  It’s not clear to me who ended up worse off  — the U.S. or the rest of the world.  But clearly, having the U.S. be part of these systems would have been preferable.

Of course, there is a potential game-changer with the Paris Agreement – China has affirmed its continued commitment to it.  If China really follows through, continues to do more (as will be necessary) to address climate change, and works with the EU, India, and Russia, the US could truly be sidelined.  That would be great for the world and the global environment, but likely bad news for US in ways that may not become clear for some time to come.

2.  U.S. climate policy is not only advanced by the Trump Administration but also in Congress and in state capitols.  Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will make it that much more difficult for these other entities to be engaged, for example, in the event that the Democrats win back both Houses of Congress in 2018. Non-membership essentially imposes an additional barrier for engagement and will make it more difficult to pressure the White House to take positive action.

On the other had, one could also envision a scenario where the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement does not become effective until November 2020 (three years wait + one year notice for effectiveness of withdrawal).  If a Democrat then defeats Trump in his reelection bid, the new President could then sign and deposit a new instrument of acceptance with the Paris Agreement on January 20, 2021, leaving just a few months gap in membership.

3.  Arrangements like the Paris Climate Agreement are not only mechanisms for governmental leaders and diplomats to “do” things but also to “talk” and engage in efforts to find consensus about common goals and interest.  It would be a shame if the US lost all stake to work on fixing our climate problem, as it did to a large extent when the U.S. sat out the Kyoto Protocol.  For everybody’s sake, if Trump goes through with ditching the Paris Accord, I sure hope that it won’t take another 1-2 decades for the U.S. to join another climate agreement.

Paris Agreement adieu

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Wow (not in a good way) . . . Earlier, I watched (online) Trump’s Rose Garden speech announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  Todd Stern, the former chief climate negotiator for the US and person in the lead for the US of creating the Climate Agreement, already posted an op-ed piece about the withdrawal announcement in the Washington Post, which probably expresses the sentiment of many, including myself.

As on other occasions, Trump’s speech was internally contradictory — according to the speech, the Paris Agreement requires draconian measures, but at the same time also requires nothing (of course – it’s non-binding in regard to its key emission reduction commitments).  He also said that the Agreement does little to cut emissions, but then at the end he railed against it because it is just a starting point (which is accurate) and that later emission reduction commitments will get more stringent.  All of this can only be described as incoherence and contradiction in action.  Yet, it is probably consistent for an individual who believes that climate change science is a hoax and that none of the international efforts really matter.  And it is also consistent with Trump’s campaign promises.

Punditry on Paris Agreement

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Wow, I just watched tonight’s segment on PBS News Hour about Trump’s deliberations on the Paris Climate Agreement, featuring Michael Oppenheimer and Phil Kerpen (of the conservative group American Commitment).  I was rather surprised by the inaccuracies and distortions that came from Kerpen, ranging from his statement that the Paris Agreement “climate benefits are illusory” (of course not) to the falsity that the “agreement locks in … EPA regulations” such as the Clean Power Plan.  Kerpen seems to have missed the boat on the fact that the Paris Agreement’s emission reduction commitments are non-binding and so would not mandate any domestic EPA regulations.  Later on he also talks about how the agreement “imposes draconian cuts on the United States,” again false since the commitments are non-binding.   He really needs to get his facts and understanding of the Paris Agreement straight before he goes on a show like the PBS News Hour.   The non-binding nature of the emission reduction commitments was a central issue in the Paris negotiation, designed to help the U.S. but also strongly opposed by many other countries. Fortunately, Kerpen at least got it right that natural gas substitution for other fossil fuels has already helped drive down US emissions in recent years, meaning that some parts of the US emission reduction promises for Paris will be achieved regardless of any EPA regulations.

Whew – we can only wait with bated breath for Trump’s decision whether to pull out or stay in.

Student Scholarships for 2017 California State Bar Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite (Deadline: July 13, 2017)

http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/2017_scholarship-application-form.pdf

The annual Yosemite conference for the section is scheduled for October 19-22, 2017.

http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/Sections/Environmental-Law/Education/Yosemite

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The Environmental Law Section of The State Bar of California is pleased to offer at least 25 tuition scholarships AND five (5) Michael H. Remy Scholarships which include tuition, transportation, and hotel accommodations, courtesy of Remy Moose Manley LLP.

Criteria:

Students, practitioners and other environmental law professionals are invited to apply. The Scholarship Committee will review all applications received by the deadline. Scholarships will be awarded based on the following considerations:

1. Financial Need

2. Environmental Law Interest (for Students)

3. Environmental Law Practice (for Practitioners and other Environmental Law professionals)

4. Environmental Law Section Membership & Support (for Practitioners and other Environmental Law professionals)

Applications:

To apply for a 2017 Scholarship, complete the Scholarship Application Form [see link at top], attach resume only, and return both by mail or email. Application and resume must be received by July 13, 2017. Note: we cannot confirm receipt of scholarship applications, and recommend that you include the “read receipt requested” option with an email filing.

Mail: Environmental Law Section Yosemite Scholarship The State Bar of California 180 Howard Street, San Francisco CA 94105

Email: enviroyosemite@calbar.ca.gov

Successful applicants will be notified by email after August 21, 2017.

For additional information please contact State Bar staff at (415) 538-2582.

In early August, the 2017 Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite brochure will be posted on the Section’s website: http://environmental.calbar.ca.gov.

Did you know that North Korea has a general environmental protection law?

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220px-Flag_of_North_Korea.svgAs well as a full-blown environmental impact assessment law?  If you are not surprised, you should be.  After all, the “hermit kingdom” is not generally associated with the rule of law.  But it is true.  North Korea’s general environmental protection law dates to 1998 and its environmental impact assessment law to 2005.  Anyone dying to look this up can see it on the Kimchi Law Blog at https://kimchilaw.wordpress.com/north-korean-laws-2/ (scroll down to see item 45).  [Apparently, the author of the Kimchi Law Blog got his hands on a bound volume of North Korean laws and was kind enough to scan and upload it.]

For those unfamiliar with environmental impact assessment law, such laws generally create a duty for government agencies to study potential significant adverse environmental impact of a project proposal or other development activity before a license or some other government permission is granted.  The concept and legal duty is the bedrock of modern environmental law and was first created in the United States through the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.  It was thus also the first of the modern environmental laws, both in the U.S. and across the world.  Since then, the EIA duty and processes have been widely adopted across the world to such an extent that they are now nearly universal.

Of course, these laws don’t mean a heck of a lot when they are not implemented or enforced.  And that varies immensely across countries.  One can only guess as to how effective environmental laws are in North Korea.  One indication is that the requirements contained in the law appear to be quite general and generic.

 

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court Rules in Favor of Same-sex Marriage

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In a rather remarkable, progressive, and individually rights-minded decision, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that its Constitution guarantees the right of same-sex couples of get married and ordered the legislature to change its laws within the next couple of years.  Here’s a link to the Court’s official English-language press release, and general webpage which has a link to Chinese-language full opinion.  In the first footnote of the Chinese language opinion, the Court cites the 2015 US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell.

That makes Taiwan the first place in Asia to allow gay marriage and shows how different from mainland China it is now as a society, in terms of its values, commitment to individual rights, and the rule of law.   I’ll be in Taiwan in a few weeks to speak at a water pollution conference, and I’ll be really interested to see this plays out there.