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  • Nandini Garg

Deconstructing America's Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

The Paris Agreement became legally effective on November 4, 2016 when various nations, including the United States of America deposited instruments adopting the Agreement. However, the US President in early June declared his intention to withdraw from the Agreement and the nation has recently submitted its first notification of withdrawal to the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations. This move has received a mixed reaction from all stakeholders, both within and outside the US.

This blog post describes the procedure and consequences of America’s withdrawal from the Agreement, in the light of its aims, objectives and legal framework.


I. The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement[1] is broadly based on the scheme of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change[2] which aims to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system by stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases.[3] The Agreement seeks to achieve this by setting a numerical goal of keeping the average global temperature rise below 2 degree celsius. The Parties to the Agreement are required to set, implement, report and assess “nationally determined goals”[4] for the same.

The Agreement is perceived to be a huge step to combat climate change for two reasons. First being its near-universal participation, as 158 out of the 197 Parties to UNFCCC have ratified it, and second being the enhanced support given to developing countries under the Agreement through increased access to financial resources, new technology framework and increased capacity-building.[5]


II. Withdrawal from the Agreement


1. Procedure for Withdrawal under the Agreement Article 28 of the Agreement deals with withdrawal of the Parties and reads as:

"1. At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary.

2. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.

3. Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement."

The US accepted the Agreement on September 3, 2016 and the Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016.[6] This means that the earliest date by which it could leave the Agreement was 4 November 2020. Therefore, the issue of notification on August 4, 2017 is merely a formal act of stepping-back and the US cannot retreat at least till 2019.


2. Consequences of U.S.A.'s Withdrawal from the AgreementThe Agreement relies on a robust transparency and accounting system by requiring Parties to annually report their progress to the Conference of Parties.[7] Under its first NDC, the United States intended to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% till 2025.[8] It also promised $3 billion aid to poorer countries[9] to combat climate change.

Although former President Barack Obama has already coughed up $1 billion and adopted pro-environment domestic policies, Trump's administration through its executive order[10] has begun the process of dismantling these policies. The President has also declined to provide any financial aid in the future.

Two major reasons cited for such withdrawal are -

i.The Agreement is a hindrance to the US's economic progress and effective implementation of the ‘America First Energy Plan’.[11]

ii.It provides an undue advantage to developing countries like India and China by ensuring them financial payments from developed nations like the US.

Until the withdrawal becomes effective, the US can continue to be a part of the talks under the Agreement for at least three years. [12]

However, the door is always open for the Party to re-join if it withdraws from the Agreement.[13] As per the notified communication U.S. intends to exercise its right to withdraw, unless it identifies suitable terms for re-engagement.[14]


III. Conclusion​

The US’s European allies have lobbied hard against its exit from the deal, arguing that it would weaken its enforcement measures and undermine the resolve of other countries to make their own tough cuts.[15] It is feared that this backward step taken by a major contributor like the US might generate a similar reaction from other world leaders and will seriously impede the global efforts to control the rise of greenhouse gases emissions.

Being the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, US's pulling out from the Agreement will have a substantial adverse effect on the joint global efforts to tackle the problem of rapid climate change. The unfavourable stance taken by the Trump's administration against the existing environmental-friendly domestic policies and strong support for the development of fossil fuel industry will absolutely counter the positive steps taken under the Agreement both on the national and international level. Further, the slashing of aid to the developing countries will indirectly affect the capabilities of these nations, both financially and technologically, to effectively implement their NDCs in a time-bound manner.

Following Trump's decision to withdraw from the accord, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy said the agreement was “not renegotiable”.[16] With the huge criticism that Trump's withdrawal decision has received across the globe, any chances of US's re-engagement with the Parties and re-joining the Agreement seem bleak.


(By Nandini Garg , Fourth Year Student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal)


[1] Paris Agreement, U.N.T.S. I-54113 (2016); hereinafter as ‘the Agreement’.


[2] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107 (1994); hereinafter as ‘UNFCCC’.


[3]First steps to a safer future: Introducing The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/items/6036.php.


[4] Supra n.1, at art.4, ¶2; hereinafter as ‘NDC’.


[5]Summary of the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC, http://bigpicture.unfccc.int/#content-the-paris-agreement.


[6]Paris Agreement - Status of Ratification, UNFCCC, http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php.


[7]Supra n.1, at art. 15.


[8]United States of America First NDC, UNFCCC NDC Registry (interim), http://www4.unfccc.int/ndcregistry/PublishedDocuments/United%20States%20of%20America%20First/U.S.A.%20First%20NDC%20Submission.pdf.


[9] Coral Davenport & Mark Landler, U.S. to Give $3 Billion to Climate Fund to Help Poor Nations, and Spur Rich One, New York Times (Nov. 14, 2014), https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/us/politics/obama-climate-change-fund-3-billion-announcement.html.


[10]Trump Takes Aim At A Centerpiece Of Obama's Environmental Legacy, NPR News (March 28, 2017, 04:09 AM),

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/28/519003733/trump-takes-aim-at-a-centerpiece-of-obamas-environmental-legacy.


[11]An America First Energy Plan, The White House, President Donald J. Trump (2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy.



[12]On the Possibility to Withdraw from the Paris Agreement: A Short Overview, UNFCCC Newsroom (Jun. 14, 2017), http://newsroom.unfccc.int/paris-agreement/on-the-possibility-to-withdraw-from-the-paris-agreement-a-short-overview/.


[13]Supra n.7.


[14]UN notified of US intention to withdraw from Paris climate pact, UN News Centre (Aug. 4, 2017), http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=57314#.WYWiZBWGPIU.


[15] James McBride, The Consequences of Leaving the Paris Agreement, CFR News (Jun. 1, 2017), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/consequences-leaving-paris-agreement.


[16]Paris climate agreement: What you need to know, Aljazeera News (Jun. 3, 2017), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/paris-climate-agreement-170602102754827.html.




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