The Paris climate accord is not legally binding. At any time, the United States can simply announce that its goals have changed and release a new, less ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a “Nationally Determined Contribution” in Paris-speak). Since everything is entirely voluntary and there’s no legal enforcement mechanism for any of it, David Roberts says there’s no reason to consider pulling out:
Trump can weaken the US NDC, without penalty. He can roll back all of Obama’s carbon regulations, without penalty. He can simply fail to meet the targets of the NDC, without penalty. All he has to do is explain himself at the five-year review, and the explanation can be as minimal as he likes.
Paris’s only constraint on Trump comes through intangibles like reputation and influence. It imposes absolutely no practical or legal constraint on his actions—not on trade policy, not on domestic energy policy, nothing.
That means all talk of Paris being a “bad deal” for the US, or hurting US trade, or affecting the US coal industry in any way, is nonsense. Paris does not and cannot do any of those things. The US voluntarily offered up an NDC and can voluntarily offer up a different or weaker NDC any time it wants.
This is an awkward fact for the nationalist contingent. They need Paris to be a boogey man. So they’ve ginned up a novel legal argument.
This novel legal argument is even more comical than these kinds of paper-thin justifications usually are, and you can read all about it at the link. But I think Roberts misses the point. Since Paris is voluntary, there’s no concrete reason for Trump to pull out or to stay in. The United States can do whatever it wants either way. The whole thing is about signaling, and that’s something that rules Trump’s world. Barack Obama considered it important to signal that America was committed to addressing climate change. Trump is committed to a worldview in which climate change is a hoax. He wants a dramatic way to signal this, and pulling out of Paris would be just the ticket.