NSAC's Blog

Au Revoir, Paris: a Bad Move for America, a Bad Deal for Farmers

June 1, 2017

President Trump with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a Farmer’s Roundtable. Photo credit: USDA, Preston Keres.

Farmers are no strangers to the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events – catastrophic floods, severe droughts, and shifting pest pressures – have been impacting farmers across the country for years, and many have responded by increasing their conservation activities and moving to more sustainable production methods. Even with many farmers already implementing climate smart farming practices (e.g., planting cover crops to increase soil health and sequester carbon), some in Washington DC still refuse to properly address issues of climate change and  conservation.

Today, Donald Trump announced he will seek to remove America from its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, which was originally signed in 2015 by President Obama. Though fully exiting the Agreement, would likely be a years-long process (see details below), the implications of such a move will be felt more immediately – not least of all by America’s farmers and ranchers.

Though the Paris Agreement is not a legally binding arrangement, by setting clear goals and benchmarks for mitigating the effects of climate change the Agreement does set the tone for the American response to climate change and may be an indicator of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) support for American farmers in their sustainability efforts. According to the USDA’s website:

The Paris Agreement, adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, builds on the U.S.’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. By developing these building blocks, USDA and its partners have demonstrated that agriculture and forests can play a significant role in helping the U.S. meet its commitment. In turn, the U.S. is modeling practices and strategies that can be applied by nations worldwide to address emissions from the land sector while also meeting the world’s needs for food, fiber, and energy.

Like many of our nation’s farmers and farm-advocates across the country, we at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are extremely disappointed in the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. We remain committed, however, to supporting farmers in their efforts to help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change and to continuing to work with our partners in Congress to attempt to enhance those mitigation efforts. The next farm bill presents an important opportunity to invest in the programs and policies needed to build resilient farms and ranches, and NSAC will work closely our partners to ensure those investments are made.

Carbon Capture as a Global Solution

The President’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Agreement stands in direct opposition to the majority of American voters that think we should stay in the pact. The global community also recognizes the urgency of climate change adaptation and mitigation, including the central role that agricultural can play, the United States should not let itself be left behind.

Earlier this month, NSAC staff joined farmers, ranchers, scientists, policymakers, advocates, and philanthropists in France for a pair of meetings that were focused on the enormous opportunity – and urgency – for the global community to address the linkage between climate change and agriculture. The meeting included:

The significance of the location – just outside of Paris – was not lost on conference attendees; even then the uncertain future of American participation in the Agreement had been producing high levels of anxiety across the global agricultural community.

What happens next?

The Paris Agreement builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCC). There have been 197 parties (196 Nations and the European Union) to sign on to the Convention and 147 of those have ratified the Agreement. As word began to leak that President Trump was leaning towards withdrawing, other nations (including: China, India, Brazil, and the European Union) announced that they would fill the void left by the United States and take on the global leadership roles.

If President Trump chooses to formally abandon America’s commitment to global climate change mitigation, there are a few options before him. The first option is that Trump could choose to submit the Agreement as a treaty to the Senate for ratification; this would require a two-thirds vote and would most likely fail. The original Agreement was not sent to the Senate for ratification by President Obama. Instead, the United States negotiated to have the Agreement be non-legally binding and avoided the need for Senate ratification.

Alternatively, President Trump could avoid the Senate and decide to unilaterally withdraw. Because the original Agreement was unilaterally approved by President Obama, it can therefore be unilaterally withdrawn from by President Trump.

If the President does chose to unilaterally withdraw, there a few ways he could go about it:

  • In the first option, Trump could choose to just withdraw from the Agreement itself. However, because of the language of the Agreement, no country can withdraw until three years after it is entered into force. That occurred for the United States on October 5, 2016, therefore the earliest that Trump could withdraw from the Agreement would be the fall of 2019 – only one year before the next election. Even if he does choose this option, the Agreement states that the withdrawal does not become effective until one year after the country has provided notice of its intention to withdraw, meaning that formal withdrawal could not be accomplished until 2020 at the earliest. In the meantime, however, the President could decide not to send a representative to the annual meetings of the participating countries, and the Administration would be under no legal obligation to take steps to address climate change.
  • The second, and more complicated, option would be to withdraw the United States from the UNFCC as a whole. The United States’ participation in the UNFCC was ratified by the Senate and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. While there is some legal question if the president can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty, Supreme Court precedent and international law leans in Trump’s favor. The UNFCC has a similar three-year wait period after entry into force, but because that occurred in 1994 the timeline would be much shorter under this option. The United States would still need to wait one year after notifying the UNFCC of its intention to stop participating before it would become effective, however.

Because the Paris Agreement is not legally binding, there are no legal consequences for withdrawing. There could, however, be several diplomatic consequences. The most concerning would be a substantial tarnishing of America’s reputation as a global leader, which would likely also effect America’s ability to negotiate global trade agreements. The EU could also decide to tax American companies for carbon emissions that are released within its borders. China, Mexico, and Canada do not currently have similar carbon emissions tariffs; however, they are in the process of developing them and the United States could become a potential target. This type of global response to a US withdrawal from the Agreement would make it demonstrably more expensive to ship and sell American agricultural products overseas.

Bipartisan Congressional Support for Climate Solutions

Though the Administration has chosen to turn its back on America’s climate change mitigation efforts, members of Congress (on both sides of the aisle) are stepping up to show their support and demand action.

In the past several months, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus has grown to 40 representatives, with an equal representation of Republicans and Democrats. The Caucus, which was established to address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate, includes several members of the House Agriculture Committee.

Additionally, 20 Republican members of the House recently signed on to a resolution (House Resolution 195) that urges their colleagues to support the fight against climate change. The resolution describes fact-based stewardship of the economy and environment as a critical responsibility for all Americans to protect our shared natural resources for the next generation.

NSAC hopes that Congressional support for action on climate change will continue to grow. Farmers are greatly affected by and concerned with climate change, and we ought to support their efforts to increase the resiliency of their natural resources and their family businesses.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

One response to “Au Revoir, Paris: a Bad Move for America, a Bad Deal for Farmers”

  1. Dr. Rick vonHuben says:

    I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the Whitehouse decision yesterday to withdraw from the Paris accord. But I was.

    I can’t remember when I found myself so angry about a government action.

    This flies in the face of everything that I have spent 40 years working towards.

    I also find it as an insult to the memory of my father, who dedicated his professional life with the EPA to clean air, water, and land.

    Some of the cooler heads out there have promoted that we can still assist in the pursuit of meeting the global goals, by working locally.

    This is in keeping with the goals of the Wheatland Farms project, and I pledge to double our efforts to promote sustainable energy and good environmental practice, and to lead by example.

    We will prevail.