Guest Columnist

Ernst is wrong about the Paris Climate Agreement

Sen. Joni Ernst in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Sen. Joni Ernst says she wants to promote unity in our country. But as we all recently learned, the biggest threat to our national unity is the tendency of some politicians to tell lies to the American people in order to further their own political interests.

Unfortunately, Sen. Ernst is one of those politicians.

In her recent editorial in The Gazette, Sen. Ernst sought to demonize the Biden Administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. That agreement, she said, “saddles hardworking folks with over-burdensome government regulations.” Moreover, she said, it lets China “off the hook.”

I have researched and taught about international climate agreements for more than twenty years. Both of Sen. Ernst’s statements about the Paris Agreement are untrue.

The Paris Agreement does not impose “over-burdensome government regulations” on “hardworking folks” in our country or anywhere else. First, it applies only to governments, not to hardworking folks in the United States. Second, it doesn’t impose “burdensome regulations” on those governments. It doesn’t require any country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to adopt regulations of any kind.

What the Paris Agreement does is simply this: it asks each participating government to make “nationally determined contributions” to the global effort to combat climate change. This means that each country decides for itself what it will do to combat climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement, the United States will make a “national determination” of the climate-related action we will take. We are not “saddled” with obligations by the Agreement, as Sen. Ernst falsely claims. We will decide for ourselves what steps we want to take. All that is required is that we tell other countries what we plan to do.

The Paris Agreement is a choose-your-own-adventure agreement. Whatever the United States decides to do about climate change, the decision will be our own decision, made according to our own laws. No “over-burdensome regulations” will be handed down from on high. We can do something, or we can do nothing.

Sen. Ernst’s statement that the Agreement “saddles” people “with over-burdensome government regulations” is simply untrue.

The Senator’s claim that China is being “let off the hook” is also false. China, like the United States, is obligated to make a “nationally determined contribution” toward combating climate change. Other nations may expect us to do more than China because we are richer and have been contributing to the problem for a much longer time. But both countries have the same legal obligation; they must inform others of what they plan to do.

In short, the Paris Agreement is basically toothless.

So why would Biden join it?

Because climate change is a global problem that can only be solved through international cooperation. The Paris Agreement presents the best opportunity we have to achieve that cooperation.

By asking governments to be transparent about what they plan to do in response to climate change, the Paris Agreement opens the door to important discussions among diplomats and governments. Is enough action being taken? What more is needed? How can we work together to address climate change most efficiently and effectively?

The hope is that negotiations around these issues will ultimately lead to improved climate action that can reduce the threat we face more cheaply, equitably, and effectively than piecemeal and uncoordinated national actions.

I don’t know why Sen. Ernst doesn’t want those conversations to happen, but she obviously is scared of them. Otherwise, why tell lies about the Paris Agreement that are designed to stop the Agreement, and the conversations it fosters, in its tracks?

If, like me, you are tired of politicians using falsehoods to demonize their political opponents and prevent reasonable conversation about political issues, I urge you to let Sen. Ernst know at www.ernst.senate.gov.

With enough nudging, perhaps she will begin to participate in an honest, fact-based debate about the important issues facing our nation.

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Jonathan Carlson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and practices law at Carlson Law, PLC in Iowa City. The views expressed are his own.

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