Background Material for Paris Climate Agreement “Going into Force.”

Quote from the Wall Street Journal on September 3rd, 2016:

U.S. negotiators pressed hard last year to structure the Paris agreement in such a way that the countries’ individual targets for greenhouse-gas emissions after 2020 wouldn’t be binding. Any agreement with legally binding targets and the threat of international sanctions would have required the approval of the Republican-controlled Congress, officials said.

Despite criticism from the European Union and other countries that wanted binding targets, the final Paris deal adopted a looser mechanism that requires countries to issue targets and disclose their progress along the way, with the aim of using peer pressure and world-wide attention to win compliance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the coal-producing state of Kentucky, and other GOP lawmakers have attacked Mr. Obama for pursuing the Paris deal without consulting Congress. Democratic lawmakers largely back the deal.

“With respect to the legal form of the agreement, the United States has a long and well-established process for approving executive agreements, that is, a legal form which is distinct from treaties, which are approved through the advice and consent process in the Senate,” Mr. Deese said.

From Wikipedia on U.S. Treaty Clause in the Constitution:

“The President shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…”

One of three types of international accord.

In the United States, the term “treaty” is used in a more restricted legal sense than in international law. U.S. law distinguishes what it calls treaties from congressional-executive agreements and sole-executive agreements. All three classes are considered treaties under international law; they are distinct only from the perspective of internal United States law. Distinctions among the three concern their method of ratification: by two-thirds of the Senate, by normal legislative process, or by the President alone, respectively. The Treaty Clause empowers the President to make or enter into treaties with the “advice and consent” of two-thirds of the Senate. In contrast, normal legislation becomes law after approval by simple majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Throughout U.S. history, the President has also made international “agreements” through congressional-executive agreements (CEAs) that are ratified with only a majority from both houses of Congress, or sole-executive agreements made by the President alone.

 Earlier quote from the Washington Times, August 29th, 2016: 

White House senior adviser Brian Deese said the president has the legal authority to ratify the accord without the two-thirds Senate vote required for treaties. He said the pact negotiated by 195 countries in December is merely an “executive agreement.”

“The president will use his authority that has been used in dozens of executive agreements in the past to join and formally deposit our instrument of acceptance, and therefore put our country as a party to the Paris Agreement,” Mr. Deese said at a White House press conference. He noted that both U.S. And China presidents  announced in March that they “would seek to formally join the Paris Agreement in 2016.”

“That’s a process that is quite well-established in our existing legal system and in the context of international agreements and international arrangements,” Mr. Deese said. “There is a category of them that are treaties that require advice and consent from the Senate, but there’s a broad category of executive agreements where the executive can enter into those agreements without that advice and consent.”

 The United States and China are the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, together accounting for roughly 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That would mean that only a few other big polluters — like Russia, which accounts for 7.5 percent of global emissions, or India, which accounts for 4.1 percent — would need to sign in order for the agreement to pass the 55 percent of global emissions goal.