The Paris Agreement: what can we expect from the US?

On June 13th, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) welcomed Sue Biniaz, adjunct professor at Columbia Law School and the US State Department’s former lead climate attorney, to Sciences Po. Having played a key role in international climate negotiations, such as COP21 and the Paris Agreement, she delivered her analysis on what we can expect today from the US following the announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Below are some of the highlights from Sue Biniaz’ presentation:

A Political & Ideological Decision

After many years of international tension regarding climate action, the Paris Agreement was considered a landmark, according to Sue Biniaz, that fixed the key issues that the US had with the Kyoto Protocol. This time, targets are neither negotiated nor legally binding, and all Parties, developed as well as developing, have common obligations.
 
The US government was faced with multiple options and eventually chose to withdraw from the Paris Agreement for reasons both political and ideological, stated Biniaz. President Trump sought to respect the pledge that he had made during his campaign to ‘cancel’ the agreement, which had been ‘negotiated by Obama,’ in a context of profound distrust for multilateral institutions.  
 
Those in favor of remaining in the deal, on the other hand, argued that from an economic perspective, withdrawal was not wise. Biniaz noted the fact that many American businesses, including oil and gas companies, lobbied fiercely for the US to remain a part of the Agreement. Moreover, Biniaz noted the argument evoked by Secretary of State Tillerson, which asserted that protecting American interests abroad would be significantly harder without “a seat at the table.”

Withdrawing is Still an Open Question

The decision to withdraw was not reflective of a majority view, stated Biniaz, given that 60-70% of US public opinion was in favour of staying in the Paris Agreement. This is further demonstrated by the increased initiative and action that many states and cities in the US are taking in response to the President’s announcement. Despite the legal constraints, they are currently thinking of ways to reflect their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Biniaz noted, however, that it is unclear whether the increased fervor with which states and cities are approaching the issue of climate change, such as committing to maintain the targets under President Obama, will continue in the long-term.
 
In addition, Biniaz noted that during his announcement, President Trump left “a little bit of a door open” for the US to remain a part of the deal. With his references to ‘renegotiating’ and ‘re-entering,’ there is some uncertainty about future US participation. The term ‘renegotiation,’ for instance, suggests that the US could revise their emissions target. ‘Renegotiation’ in the sense that the US could amend the text of the Paris Agreement, on the other hand, is a “non starter,” stated Biniaz, citing the general perception of the deal as a “balanced package.”
 
Regarding negotiations in the years to come, Biniaz stated that the US should have a constructive role and actively participate, despite the announcement to withdraw. Should the US government choose to rejoin the Paris Agreement at a later time or take part in future agreements, having participated in the development of the rules and guidelines would provide more favorable opportunities to pursue its national interests.
 
By David Levaï and Delphine Donger (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, IDDRI)
 
Related Links

Meet the youngest president of a charitable organisation in Europe

Meet the youngest president of a charitable organisation in Europe

When Léa Moukanas found she had been admitted to the London School of Economics and to Sciences Po, she chose to remain in France so she could continue her non-profit work here. We talked to Léa, the youngest president of a charitable organisation in Europe, about her commitment. This interview is the fourth in our 2017 #FirstYearsScPo series.

More
Alumna Rula Ghani, Afghanistan's First Lady

Alumna Rula Ghani, Afghanistan's First Lady

Imagine being a well-behaved young foreign woman far from her family in Paris in May '68. Imagine being any young woman at Sciences Po in the late 1960s, where the 25 percent of female students had to struggle to achieve more than the graduate destination expected of them: marriage. That was Rula Ghani 47 years ago. Today, she is the first First Lady of Afghanistan to have a public profile; an example and source of hope for Afghan women. “I learned to adapt”, she modestly comments. We looked back on the student years of this exceptional alumna, who gave a guest lecture at Sciences Po on Friday, October 13.

More
So it begins

So it begins

Sciences Po undergraduates have just started their academic year at the Sciences Po Undergraduate College. These students come from many different backgrounds and they each have their own story to tell about their journey to our university. Why did they choose Sciences Po? What are their ambitions? Take a tour of our undergraduate campuses in France and meet the students.

More
Sciences Po in the world's top 50 for social sciences

Sciences Po in the world's top 50 for social sciences

The 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by subject places Sciences Po in 50th position worldwide for social sciences. Sciences Po ranks first among French universities in the subject.

This result attests to Sciences Po’s excellence in teaching and research in sociology, geography, political & international studies, and communication & media studies.

More
In search of lost cities

In search of lost cities

Thomas Chaney, a researcher in Sciences Po’s Department of Economics, specialises in international trade and finance and their underlying networks. His research mixes theoretical models with unexpected fields like... archeology. Find out how an economist set out to find lost cities armed with equations.

More
Visit our Undergraduate College campuses

Visit our Undergraduate College campuses

Are you a high school student wanting to apply to Sciences Po? Open Days are being held on the six Undergraduate College campuses. Come and find answers to all your questions about the Sciences Po Bachelor of Arts programme and learn more about life on campus. Make the most of this unique opportunity to talk to students, faculty and academic advisors.
Follow the events on twitter with the hashtag #ScPoJPO

More