The Sine Qua Non of Climate Diplomacy, Part II

The Sine Qua Non of Climate Diplomacy, Part II

By Kevin Spinella, Staff Contributor

On the eve of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, the United States and China announced they would join the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.[1] While not entirely a surprise, such a declaration is nonetheless a significant breakthrough. The U.S. and China are the largest polluters of greenhouse gases.[2] With the U.S. and China as signatories, the prospect for the agreement’s widespread approval becomes ever more likely, as other countries will be encouraged to follow suit. In order for the agreement to be enacted, at least 55 countries representative of 55% of global emissions are needed to sign and deliver the accord.[3] The U.S. and China represent approximately 38% of global emissions.[4] While there is a long way to go, because of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs),[5] closing this gap is not insurmountable. Accordingly, soon after the time of this publication, I would not be surprised if the agreement “enters into force,”[6] which would represent much needed progress in the fight against global warming.

But let’s not self-congratulate too quickly. This progress could be undone by GOP Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has indicated his opposition to the Paris Agreement, and has stated his plans, if elected, not to cooperate.[7] Moreover, under Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, President Trump could formally withdraw the U.S. from the accord after three years.[8] While the repercussions and sanctions to the U.S. for doing so would be minimal,[9] the ramifications to our climate would no doubt be severe. Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary R. Clinton has indicated, if elected, her support of the Paris Agreement.[10] Therefore, the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election will determine far more than whether a wall will be built on the southern border between U.S. and Mexico. Indeed, the stability of this agreement may rest upon the outcome of the U.S. election.

However, the U.S. is but only one key player in the battle against climate change. What’s to stop any other government from ignoring or withdrawing from the Paris Agreement due to future changes, political or otherwise? What happens if a future China decides not to comply? With minimal sanctions and a mere explanation required for non-compliance,[11] one or more countries could derail the scope of this agreement in years to come. Accordingly, exacting compliance measures and political pressures must be an integral part of encouraging countries’ continual participation in the agreement and adherence to their predetermined INDCs.

Approximately one year ago, in The Sine Qua Non of Climate Diplomacy,[12] I wrote about both the benefits and challenges of INDCs. While INDC pledges provide authority for polities to determine their own sovereign reduction goals, these goals may not be at a rate significant enough to militate against corresponding contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.[13] Moreover, as discussed, a nation could alter or even choose not to comply with one or more INDC reduction goals.[14] However, the cost of not having a country participate in the Paris Agreement is far more perilous. While the agreement is surely flawed, it is an important first step. While I do expect its passage, unfortunately, I do not expect it to do enough to fight against global warming. Hopefully, however, it serves as a vital stepping stone for future agreements and future courses of action which will more aggressively curb the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. And let us equally hope that our leaders remain up to the challenge of taking on climate change without abandon.


[1]  Chris Mooney et al., The U.S. and China just joined the Paris climate deal — which could be bad news for Donald Trump, Wash. Post, Sept. 3, 2016,

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Justin Worland, Climate Change Negotiators Are Undeterred by Slow Progress, Time Sept. 4, 2015,

[6] Mooney, supra note 1.

[7] Mooney, supra note 1.

[8] Mooney, supra note 1.

[9] Mooney, supra note 1.

[10] Mooney, supra note 1.

[11] Mooney, supra note 1.

[12] Kevin Spinella, The Sine Qua Non of Climate Diplomacy, The Geo. Envtl. L. Rev., Sept. 30, 2015,

[13] Worland, supra note 5.

[14] Worland, supra note 5.

One response to “The Sine Qua Non of Climate Diplomacy, Part II

  1. Luckily, if Mr Trump decides to back out of the Agreement, then Article 28 also states ‘Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal’, which would mean that if he were to lose reelection, then the next POTUS may have enough time to cancel the process.
    Very nice article, I cannot wait to enter law school and to start navigating the complex web of environmental law.

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