Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Paris Climate Agreement May Not Require Congressional Approval, CAP Report Says
Press Release

RELEASE: Paris Climate Agreement May Not Require Congressional Approval, CAP Report Says

Washington, D.C. — According to a Center for American Progress report released today, it is possible that the upcoming international climate agreement may not require formal congressional approval for U.S. participation.

The report examines U.S. historical practice regarding entering international agreements, as well as the probable content of the Paris agreement in particular. It shows that the great majority of international agreements in the modern era have been executive agreements, which, unlike treaties, do not require the consent of a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Contrary to popular opinion, executive agreements have been concluded in almost all areas of international cooperation and are on par with treaties under international law.

Although the Paris climate agreement is still under negotiation, it is becoming clear that it may lack the elements that would suggest the need for congressional consent, such as legally binding national emissions reduction targets.

“It is possible that the Paris climate agreement will qualify as an executive agreement,” said Gwynne Taraska, CAP Senior Policy Advisor and co-author of the report. “U.S. participation would be sanctioned by the president’s foreign affairs power, as well as the original U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was ratified as a treaty during the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992 with strong bipartisan support. The fact that the agreement could be implemented domestically through existing statutes such as the Clean Air Act is relevant as well.”

The report utilized research requested by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

“Fighting climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. The Paris climate talks provide a historic opportunity to put in place a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the world. The United States must be engaged in the process and demonstrate to the world it is committed to joining the fight against climate change,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “This report establishes that, depending on the outcome of the negotiations, there could be both clear authority and well-established precedent for the president to pursue it as an executive agreement. This approach would not require approval from Congress, where those who deny climate science are determined to block any progress in addressing this challenge. This does not change the fact, however, that it is imperative that Congress pass legislation addressing climate change, even if this agreement doesn’t require congressional approval. The United States is a major contributor to global carbon pollution and should take action at all levels.”

Click here to read the report.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.