FAQ: The Paris Protocol

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What Is the Paris Protocol?

The Paris Protocol is an international climate change agreement that will be negotiated among United Nations member states between November 30 and December 11, 2015, at the 21st annual session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The agreement commits U.N. member states to enact laws to reduce their carbon emissions.

What Is the Big Deal about the Paris Protocol?

The Paris Protocol will require the United States to implement and enforce harsh carbon emissions regulations written by the Environmental Protection Agency, such as the Clean Power Plan, at the cost of billions of dollars. Under the Constitution, international agreements like the Paris Protocol should be sent to the Senate for its advice and consent before they can take effect. Many Senators have made it clear that they will not support a climate change agreement unless it is submitted to the Senate. However, the Obama Administration has indicated that it will move ahead regardless, and impose this agreement on the American people without congressional approval. If the Obama Administration commits to bind the United States to climate change policies without congressional approval, it will violate its obligations under the Constitution, upend historical precedent, and ignore State Department regulations in addition to demonstrating an unprecedented level of executive unilateralism.

How Should Congress Respond?

  • Demand that the Paris Protocol be submitted to the Senate. The Senate should denounce the Obama Administration’s effort to purposefully make an end run around Congress and note that the Administration’s actions violate historical precedent and State Department regulations.
  • Block funding for the Paris Protocol. Congress should not fund an agreement it has never approved, and it certainly should not commit billions of American taxpayer dollars to finance the Green Climate Fund or enforce emissions regulations that were never voted on by the people’s representatives.
  • Withhold funding for the UNFCCC. If the Administration uses the UNFCCC process to bind the U.S. to emissions reductions that were not approved by Congress, then Congress should defund the UNFCCC in an effort to prevent this from happening again. Defunding the UNFCCC would prevent the U.S. from participating in future conferences, submitting reports, and engaging in other dubious enterprises.

Major environmental treaties that have significant domestic impacts should not be developed and approved by the executive alone. An agreement with far-reaching domestic consequences like the Paris Protocol lacks democratic legitimacy unless the Senate, or Congress as a whole, representing the will of the American people, gives its approval.

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