ST. PAUL, Minn.- Gov. Mark Dayton “added” Minnesota to the Paris Agreement, following President Donald Trump’s decision last week to remove the federal government from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the long term goal of combatting climate change spurred by global warming. The long-term goal of the Paris Agreement is to stop the planet from warming by two degrees celsius. Minnesota is now among ten other state governors who have proclaimed they will honor the agreement. Some see this as upholding the obligation of the U.S. when President Obama signed the Paris Agreement last year.
In a public statement, Dayton stated that, “Minnesota and other states will show the world what we can achieve by working together to conserve energy, to use cleaner and renewable energy, and to leave a livable planet to our children and grandchildren.”
However, questions remain as to whether President Obama’s signing of the Paris Agreement was a legitimate promise by the United States. Indeed, the Constitution holds that the President can commit the United States to treaties, but only with the consent of two thirds of the Senate. No such vote took place.
International law recognizes that the country’s internal process often mean that a country could sign a treaty and then fail to ratify the treaty via its legislature. The Vienna Convention of 1969 states:
“Where the signature is subject to ratification [as is the case in the US], acceptance or approval, the signature does not establish the consent to be bound. However, it is a means of authentication and expresses the willingness of the signatory state to continue the treaty-making process. The signature qualifies the signatory state to proceed to ratification, acceptance or approval. It also creates an obligation to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and the purpose of the treaty.”
Much of the argument for both the federal and state government relies heavily though upon whether or not the Paris Agreement is in fact a treaty, or simply an agreement. The Paris Agreement, unlike the Kyoto Protocol (1992), which the United States signed but never ratified, required that signatories meet certain binding targets. While the Paris Agreement sets out goals for reduction in greenhouse gas levels there are currently no binding aspects to the agreement either.
Going back to Minnesota, Dayton’s move (along with that of other governors and municipal officials) to put Minnesota in line with the Paris Agreement would seem to be more of a policy position rather than an actual formal agreement. If the Paris Agreement could in fact be categorized as an agreement, Dayton would still need Congress to authorize Minnesota to enter into such an agreement. As a policy position, any change in Minnesota’s environmental statutes would require that the Minnesota legislature pass these changes.