One Year of On Security; the Paris Climate Agreement Moves Forward

It has come to my attention that On Security is officially one year old this week. To celebrate, I’m throwing a party and you’re all invited! Just kidding. Instead, I thought I would shift gears a little bit and revisit one of my favorite posts from last year.

In this post from last December I discussed the Paris Climate Talks. I wrote about the basic goals of the conference (minimizing the rise in Earth’s temperature by limiting or reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and offered three explanations from international relations theory for why climate change is a uniquely difficult challenge for states to tackle. Although 180 countries have since signed the agreement that came out of the Paris talks, at the start of this month only 23 countries had ratified the agreement. (At least 55 states must ratify the agreement for it to go into effect.)

The good news is that last week the United States and China announced that they would be ratifying the Paris agreement.  Together, the United States and China account for nearly 40% of total world emissions, so it is hoped that their commitment to reducing emissions under the terms of the Paris agreement will both have a real impact on global temperatures and encourage other states to ratify the agreement.

The announcement raises some interesting issues related to U.S. domestic politics. In the United States, the Executive signs treaties but the Senate must ratify them. Sometimes this results in treaties that are signed but never ratified, like the Kyoto Protocol. In this case, President Obama has chosen to issue an executive order to ratify the Paris agreement, bypassing the need for Senate approval. Obama has turned to this policy tool frequently throughout his presidency.   Executive orders and agreements do not necessarily outlast the sitting president—although Hillary Clinton has voiced her support for the Paris agreement, Donald Trump has indicated that he would withdraw U.S. support if elected. To the many challenges hampering efforts to mitigate climate change, we must add the challenges of domestic politics.


Thanks to all of my readers for your support. Looking ahead to another productive year of writing about international security.