How can President Trump unilaterally withdraw the USA from the Paris Accord?

Title says it all. Doesn’t he need an act of Congress or something? What was the mechanism that got is *into *the Accord in the first place? Was it just Obama unilaterally deciding we should be in that club? Neither sounds like a good way to run a country or a foreign policy, or an energy policy for that matter.


The BBC article on this is singularly useless. Does the Accord unfairly disadvantage the US?

Withdrawal of the US from international agreements is not a fully settled area of law, but in practice, Presidents can terminate any agreement they want.

I think I said that too broadly. Trade agreements are constitutionally the prerogative of Congress, so depending on specifics, it may require a new statute to eliminate a previously agreed to trade deal.

The National Review (conservative leaning media outlet) argues that the Obama administration signed the agreement but did not put the matter to the Senate to ratify it as a treaty. They argue that one means Trump could back the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement is to put it to the Senate for ratification now under the assumption that the current Senate would reject ratification.

Wikipedia lists the “Paris Agreement” on its page of List of treaties unsigned or unratified by the United States as “signed but not ratified”

President Obama didn’t require an act of Congress to join “that club”, so President Trump doesn’t require an act of Congress to resign from “that club”.

But in this case, Okrahoma is right. The Senate never ratified the Paris Accord. Its only legal authority in the United States was an Executive Order issued by President Obama. And an Executive Order issued by one President can be rescinded by another.

The legal question is whether or not Obama’s Executive Order really had that authority. That’s not clear. The President has the authority to commit the United States to some international agreements but not to others. Supporters of Obama and the Paris Accord argue that this was such an agreement. Opponents of Obama and the Paris Accord argue that it wasn’t and required Senate approval.

The reason this matters is because if the agreement required Senate ratification then we were never officially a party to the Accord. So we aren’t really withdrawing because we were never really in. But if the agreement didn’t require Senate ratification and the Executive Order was sufficient authority then we were officially part of the Accord. Which means we can still withdraw from it but have to do so under the terms of the Accord - which requires four years notice before the actual withdrawal.

Trump’s problem is that if he argues that Obama didn’t have the authority to enter the agreement by Executive Order, he’s going to undermine his own authority to act by Executive Order. Trump might prefer to argue that Obama’s Executive Order was legal in order to preserve his own future power to act similarly. If that’s the case, Trump’s withdrawal won’t go into effect until 2021.

What happens if we say: Four years? We ain’t got no four years. We don’t need no stinking’ four years to exit the accord!

If the deal was ratified by Congress. The Paris agreement wasn’t.

I don’t know why you’re quoting me here, I literally had no interest in his post nor did I respond to it in any way.

Good points, but there are also those who look at the law and make their decisions.

Totally agree, 100%.

The Paris Agreement was not a trade agreement, so you’re posting a non sequitir.

Since the OP is about the Paris agreement, the non-sequitur was yours.

Reading lots of well thought out responses about the legality of his decision begs the question, since so much of what he’s done (or is doing) is against established law, why would he care about the legality of withdrawal?

I doubt anyone’s planning on declaring war. But if the United States decides to just start ignoring treaties whenever we feel like it, we have to expect other countries will do the same and cite us as precedent.

You had written that Congress needed to be involved in getting us into or out of an international agreement. I was responding that this isn’t always true and the President can enter an international agreement without congressional approval in some circumstances and had done so in this case. I mentioned Okrahoma because he had also said this and I wanted to acknowledge his post.

It’s not a treaty.

Ah, I see. There’s a perception that trade agreements are treaties, but that’s not true. Trade agreements are negotiated by the Executive and enacted as statutes, and so the ability of the Executive to withdraw from trade agreements may be limited, depending on the statute that was enacted.

I want to make clear once again that this is a unique feature of trade agreements and does not apply to any other international agreements that one commonly thinks of, from environmental agreements to arms control treaties.

I mistakenly wrote that Presidents can cancel any international agreement, and corrected myself that such statement doesn’t apply to trade agreements which are a subset of international agreements. Not all international agreements are treaties, you know.

And it’s a reasonable discussion to a point, but at some point it becomes IMO overly legalistic to base a judgement that the second president’s withdrawal from an agreement unilaterally adopted by the first (without Congress) is ‘illegal’ if the first president really didn’t need Congress. The partisans of the second president are always just going to say the first president really did need Congress to make US membership binding, and it will go around and around with pundits and partisans, and any judicial decision will just be seen as partisan too. Which IMO it would be. And if a future Democrat wants to undo some unilateral intl agreement by Trump which says the US can’t just withdraw, 99% of the lawyerly types will shift position 180, gteed. :slight_smile:

IMO, Obama went into a gray area committing the US to an international agreement that far reaching without Congress. I don’t see how Trump could be clearly over the line just basically reversing that decision. It’s in the realm of politics, that’s all, as I see it.