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Jordan Candler / April 12, 2016

Obama’s Climate Sleight of Hand

The Paris climate agreement could be hard for a Republican president to repeal.

Expect Barack Obama to pull out all the stops before he vacates the White House in January. That includes a sleazy effort to handcuff the next president — assuming that person is not Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders — when it comes to decoupling the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Here’s how:

The Washington Post says, “When at least 55 countries, who account for at least 55 percent of global emissions, have all moved to join the agreement … [it] then enters into force after a 30 day wait period. According to data just released by the U.N., the U.S. and China accounted for around 38 percent of emissions, meaning that if the two act swiftly, it will be much easier to meet the emissions threshold.” The signing off process gets underway on April 22, and since the U.S. and China are already on board it won’t take much to authorize the accord.

But timing is everything, and the speed at which the Obama administration is pushing to formalize the agreement suggests it’s preparing for a worst-case scenario. Article 28 of the agreement states, “At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement.” Furthermore, explains the Post, “[T]he withdrawal itself doesn’t take effect until ‘expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal.’ So that’s 4 years — the length of a presidential term.”

It’s a sordid strategy. The Obama administration insists the agreement is legally non-binding so as to avoid the whole “treaty” thing in the Senate. But that means, under normal circumstances, a successor can simply reject it. Still, Obama’s savvy play here is to create a situation in which deviating from the deal’s terms once it becomes official results in a severe backlash from international partners. Consequently, the repeal process becomes convoluted. Arizona State University’s Daniel Bodansky claims, “It was not negotiated by the U.S. (or any other country) as a means of binding the next president.” Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not going to stop Obama from trying. Republicans had a chance to defund the measure last year, but ultimately failed. They will have only themselves to blame if the next president faces legal hurdles by trying to repeal it.

(Updated.)

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