Climate Change Secession

Some private citizen groups in California, distraught at the prospect of an America under President Donald Trump, are advocating that the state secede from the union.

Constitutional scholars (and most Californians) assure us the separation is not going to happen. But is there any instance in which California could go its own way? What if Trump withdraws the nation from the United Nations Climate Change Accord and rejects the validity of the global warming threat altogether?

Could and should that set the stage for environmentally precocious California to break ranks with the president and join the Climate Change Treaty as a separate entity? It is not all that outlandish, considering California would not be declaring itself a sovereign state. It would simply be using its existing progressive greenhouse gas emission reduction policies to directly participate in a worldwide crusade to slow the rate of human-induced global warming. That shouldn't exclude it from being a member of the United States in good standing.

California's unilateral action could arguably be justified as a legitimate manifestation of States' Rights that would serve as an inspiration at home and abroad. We are talking about policies aimed at having 33 percent of the state's electricity come from clean, renewable energy by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Even if Trump disapproved of California's environmental autonomous streak, he would have a tough time treating it as secession. There are already 36 of our states that have independently instituted greenhouse gas emission reduction programs (albeit more modest than California's). Besides, Trump and the Republican Party in general fancy themselves outspoken champions of states' rights.

But what of the UN Treaty apparatus? Would it accept California as an individual member of a formal network currently reserved for sovereign states?

It should. California is roughly the size of Poland and has the sixth largest economy in the world. Its progressive environmental stance has much to contribute to the rest of the world.
Nonetheless, UN officials seem wary of accepting anyone but national governments as full-fledged Treaty participants. It would be hard to keep track of all the grassroots emission reduction efforts by communities and other local entities around the world, even though more progress has currently been made from the bottom up than the top down.

The Treaty's bylaws acknowledge the grass roots' important role by allowing qualified non-sovereign bodies (including government agencies, think tanks, etc.) to participate as "observers". California recently engaged in that capacity during Treaty deliberations, along with sister states Vermont and Washington.

Even if Trump does not formally withdraw from the Climate Change Treaty, he might drag his feet in implementing it. That should be a clarion call for California. Seek unilateral membership in the UN Climate Change Treaty and demonstrate to the world that we are not a nation of deadbeats.

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