Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord: Legal Framework

The United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, President Donald Trump announced this afternoon at the White House.

Is withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord legally possible? What would the withdrawal entail? How long would it take?

The Congressional Research Service’s report titled “Withdrawal from International Agreements: Legal Framework, the Paris Agreement, and the Iran Nuclear Agreement” provides a good starting point for answering to these questions.

According to the CRS Report, a three step analysis should be followed to determine the withdrawal process, by determining (1) the type of agreement at issue; (2) whether withdrawal is analyzed under international law or domestic law; and (3) whether Congress has enacted implementing legislation. (CRS Report, page 2).

First, the Obama Administration considered the Paris Agreement to be an executive agreement that did not require the Senate’s advice and consent as a treaty would. (CRS Report, Summary).

In the international context, international agreements constitute binding compacts between nations, and they create rights and obligations that sovereign states owe to one another under international law. This means that the Pairs Climate Accord creates a distinct set of rules governing the way in which sovereign states enter into—and withdraw from—the agreement. (CRS Report, pages 4-5 ).

In the domestic context, based on past practices, it appears to be generally accepted that,

when the President has independent authority to enter into an executive agreement, the President may also independently terminate the agreement without congressional or senatorial approval. (CRS Report, pages 5-7).

In sum, withdrawal from the Paris Accord would entail meeting both domestic and international law requirements.


Withdrawal from International Agreements: Legal Framework, the Paris Agreement, and the Iran Nuclear Agreement, by Congressional Research Service, February 9, 2017.

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