An American (State) in Paris: The Constitutionality of U.S. States' Commitments to the Paris Agreement

Date01 November 2018
11-2018 NEWS & ANALYSIS 48 ELR 10977
An American (State) in Paris:
The Constitutionality of
U.S. States’ Commitments
to the Paris Agreement
by Kristin McCarthy
Kristin McCarthy is a third-year law student at William & Mary Law School and a member of the William & Mary
Law Review; upon graduation, she will work as an associate at the Los Angeles oce of Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
In June 2017, President Donald Trump conrmed that
the United States will withdraw from the Paris A gree-
ment.1 Almost immediately, individual states began
to pledge their commitments to the Paris Agreement
despite the lack of federal support.2 Just a month after
this announcement of federal withdrawa l, California Gov.
Jerry Brown announced that the state would play host to
the Climate Action Summit in September 2018, and stated
that President Trump “doesn’t speak for the rest of Amer-
ica” in backing out of the Paris Agreement commitments.3
e Climate Action Summit brought together leaders of
states, cities, and businesses th at have pledged their support
for the Paris Agreement, and represented the rst time a
U.S. state hosted an international climate change confer-
ence directly supporting the Paris A greement.4 California
also entered into a memorandum of understanding with
China in June 2017, pledging to cooperate to share infor-
Editor’s Note: is Comment won the Environmental Law Institute’s
2017-2018 Henry L. Diamond Constitutional Environmental Law
Writing Competition.
Author’s Note: I would like to thank Profs. Tara Grove and Linda
Malone of William & Mary Law School for their guidance in
researching these issues, and my mother Carolyn Krejmas for her
never-ending patience and enthusiasm while proofreading everything
I have written since elementary school..
1. Allison H. Ross & Meghan V. Brown, Environmental Federalism: Individual
States, Cities, and Businesses Vow to Combat Climate Change, O C-
 L., Aug. 2017, at 36.
2. See infra Sections II.B.-C.
3. Lisa Friedman, Jerry Brown Announces a Climate Summit Meeting in Cali-
fornia, N.Y. T, July 6, 2017,
4. Id.
mation on climate-related topics with the goal of advanc-
ing clea n energy technologie s.5
In the midst of these actions by California, at least 20
states, 110 cities, and more than 1,000 businesses and
universities in the United States have publicly pledged
their support for the Paris Agreement.6 Sixteen states rep-
resenting more than 40% of the America n population
have joined together to form the U.S. Climate Alliance,
dedicated to upholding the United States’ original com-
mitments to the Paris Agreement.7 ese states are tak ing
aggressive action to curb their green house gas emissions.
New York, for example, has set greenhouse gas emission
reduction targets at 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and
80% below 1990 levels by 2050.8 e state aims to be
coal-free by 2020, and to source one-half of its electricity
from renewable energy sources by 2030.9 Add itiona l ly, 18
states have pledged commitments to the Paris Agreement
through the United Nations Non-State Actor Zone for Cli-
mate Action (NAZCA) portal.10
is combination of federal withdrawal a nd state
involvement triggers a series of questions surrounding the
constitutionality of individual state action in the Paris
Agreement. Some scholars have noted that states’ involve-
5. Memorandum of Understanding on California-Jiangsu Clean Technology
Partnership, June 5, 2017, Cal.-China,
6. Michael D. Regan, U.S. Cities, States Pledge Support for Climate Ac-
cord, PBS, Nov. 11, 2017,
7. United States Climate Alliance, Home Page, https://www.usclimatealliance.
org/ (last visited Sept. 8, 2018).
8. U.S. C A, 2017 A R: A
S T  L 6 (2017),
9. Id.
10. See Global Climate Action NAZCA, Home Page, http://climateaction.un- (last visited Sept. 8, 2018).
Copyright © 2018 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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