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02/09/2021

French Tribunal Apparently Finds Paris Climate Agreement to Be Binding
Michael Ramsey

According to this CBS report: 

Four environmental groups are crying victory after France was found guilty of failing to meet climate change goals it committed to in a historic accord signed in and named after its own capital city. The Administrative Tribunal in Paris ruled Wednesday that France had fallen short of its promise to reduce greenhouse gases under commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and was "responsible for ecological damage."

While the court declared the government guilty of inaction, it rejected a claim for damages by the four NGOs that brought the suit, ordering the government to pay just one symbolic euro to them instead. The tribunal also said it would decide within two months whether to recommend any measures for the government to resolve its failure to meet its own commitments.

I'm not sure of the basis or implications of this ruling, as I haven't seen the actual judgment (and can't read much French anyway), and I have only a superficial understanding of French law.  But it sounds as if the Tribunal found (or assumed) that the Paris Agreement imposes binding commitments on its member nations.

That's important because the position of the Obama Administration was that the Agreement was nonbinding in its material terms and thus did not require the advice and consent of the Senate.  (I assume this is the Biden Administration's position in rejoining the Agreement, though I'm not sure if it's been stated officially.)  My view -- as noted in this post and at greater length in this article -- is that the Obama Administration's argument is correct in its view of the Constitution (that is, that nonbinding agreements do not require Senate approval) but possibly wrong in its description of the Paris Agreement as nonbinding.

Assuming the French Tribunal's decision means what it appears to mean, it's important evidence that other signatories of the Paris Agreement regard the Agreement as having material binding terms.  It's not conclusive (because the Tribunal might be wrong about the nature of the Agreement) but it's further support for the view that the Agreement needs Senate approval.