US notifies United Nations of its intent to withdraw from Paris Agreement

As the US State Department announced in a press release, the US has officially notified the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “as soon as it is eligible to do so”. However, this first US written notice to the United Nations as the depositary for the agreement is no more than a symbolic statement without any legal implications, as Politico emphasises.

US president Donald Trump had announced in a major speech in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 1 that he wants to pull the US out of the international climate agreement. However, according to the provisions of the Paris Agreement, a Party can only withdraw three years after the treaty has entered in force for the Party. Moreover, it takes at least one more year until the withdrawal takes effect. As a consequence of the entry into force of the Agreement in November last year, the earliest date of the pull-out would be November 4, 2020 – one day after the next presidential elections.

The communication emphasises, at the same time, the openness of the US to “re-engage” in the Paris Agreement, if it is more in line with the interests of the country. This corresponds to the words of Donald Trump at his speech on June 1, when he expressed the willingness of the US to start negotiations to “re-enter” or “re-negotiate” a new agreement. However, all major economies have called the Paris Agreement irreversible and emphasised their commitment for the swift implementation of the accord. Thus, the only presumable option for the US while remaining in the accord would be to change the nationally determined contribution (NDC) with new targets that are more favourable in the opinion of Trump. Some observers have assessed the communication to pave the way for such a move due to the expression of “re-engaging” instead of “re-negotiating”. The initial NDC was drafted by the Obama administration and envisages a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent until 2025 compared to 2005. However, the notification has not specified any process of updating the NDC or any similar action.

According to the press release of the US Department, the US remains committed to reduce its GHG emissions while supporting economic growth and ensuring energy security. Similar to G20 Leaders’ Declaration, adopted in Hamburg in July at the end of the G20 summit, the note underscores that the US will “work with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”, while at the same time promoting renewable and other clean energy sources.

Furthermore, the communication to the United Nations informs that the US will continue to participate in the international climate talks under the UNFCCC. This includes the upcoming COP23 in Bonn and the negotiations on the modalities, procedures and guidelines of the Paris Agreement over there. The US aims to defend its interests at the meeting and to keep all future policy options open to the Trump administration. It remains thus to be seen if this translates into a constructive role of the US at the UNFCCC negotiations or if this can somehow slow-down the conclusion of the Paris rulebook to be adopted by 2018.


(Image: President Trump Makes a Statement Regarding the Paris Accord. Source: The White House)