What Joe Biden Doesn’t Know About Paris

What Joe Biden Doesn’t Know About Paris
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President Joe Biden should reconsider his commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate. For, if he really does bring the U.S. back into the treaty, it will violate his past Senate actions and the promise in his election climate plan to “not allow other nations, including China, to game the system by becoming destination economies for polluters...”

The Paris Agreement is, in fact, one of the main instruments Beijing is using ‘to game the system.’ The treaty gives huge advantages to China, still considered a developing country by the United Nations, that do not apply to developed nations.

Under Paris, China committed to stop increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030. The U.S. agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (about 81% of which is CO2) by between 26% and 28% below its 2005 levels by 2025. It makes no sense to allow China, which emits double that of America, to increase emissions while restricting the U.S. More industries will simply move to China and total global emissions will then likely rise even more quickly.

Biden also doesn’t seem to realize that, under the Paris Agreement, China and other developing nations need not ever cut back emissions. The new President appears not to have actually read the treaty because, on page one, it states: 

“The Parties to this Agreement, Being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [i.e., the UNFCCC], hereinafter referred to as 'the Convention.' …In pursuit of the objective of the Convention, and being guided by its principles…”

The Convention is referenced no less than 51 times in the Paris Agreement. So, Paris is clearly based on the UNFCCC and Article 4 in the Convention states: 

“The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”

Expressed in plain English, under Paris and other treaties based on the UNFCCC, any emission reduction commitments made by developing nations are contingent on developed countries giving them enough technology and, more importantly, sufficient funds. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt illustrated the scale of this when he said in an October 17, 2017 Fox News interview that, “India conditioned all of the responsibilities on receiving $2.5 trillion of aid.”

But even if developed countries give developing countries everything they have committed to, the UNFCCC indicates that developing countries may ignore their emission reduction commitments if they interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” [of] “economic and social development and poverty eradication.” Developed nations are expected to keep their commitments no matter how it impacts their economies.

Restricting emissions of CO2 in developing nations would very likely involve reducing their use of coal, the source of over half of China’s electricity, for example. As coal is the least expensive power source across much of the world, restricting CO2 emissions by limiting coal use would clearly interfere with development priorities. So, no matter what they promise, China and other developing countries are unlikely to abide by their commitments, presenting UNFCCC Article 4 as their justification.

This is unlikely to change any time soon. Chinese negotiator Su Wei asserted at the UN’s Peru climate conference (2014) that the objective of the Paris Agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the UNFCCC, not redraft it.

Committing America to Paris without Senate approval, a consent that is required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, violates the terms under which the UNFCCC treaty was ratified in 1992 by then Senator Joe Biden and his Senate colleagues. 

Biden was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) whose report asserted that any future decision concerning a climate agreement to “adopt targets and timetables [for emission reductions, etc.] would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement.” 

The SFRC report accompanied the UNFCCC to the Senate floor and the UNFCCC was ratified under this condition.

Biden and indeed every Senator present also voted in support of the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution that asserted that America should not enter into any UNFCCC agreement that mandated GHG emission limits for developed countries unless it “also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce GHG emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.”

Realizing the Senate would reject the Paris Agreement, former President Barack Obama approved the treaty as an ‘Executive Agreement.’ This, despite the fact that every other participating country consider it a treaty.

President Biden should recognize that the Paris Agreement violates his own ‘fair play’ objectives and his past actions in the Senate. Any aversion he may feel to admitting that President Trump was right to pull America out of the treaty should not prevent him from doing what is best for America.


Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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