While not a member of the UN itself, the implementation of AB 32 effectively satisfies all the requirements of the Paris Agreement. The state, being so large, contributes to 6.61% of the US emissions, which is considered 17.89%, or about 1.18% total, replacing Italy as the 18th largest contributor.

So, how could the state peacefully differentiate itself to the UN if the Nation itself decides to not abide to the agreement? Or would it take nothing short of secession?

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    Ratify means a specific thing, which is different from California's ability to abide by the Paris Agreement. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:07

5 Answers 5


The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Sec. 10 states in part (irrelevant wording removed):

  • "No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation, grant letters of marque or reprisal, emit bills of credit, ..."
  • "No state shall, without consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports ..."
  • "No state shall, without consent of Congress, ... enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power ..."

I cut a lot of the text, but the Constitution makes it clear that an individual state cannot be a party to a treaty or make deals with foreign governments. California can pass its own emissions caps, carbon credits, etc., but they only apply within the state. It cannot enforce those provisions outside its jurisdiction, nor can it set up a system of carbon credit swaps with foreign powers or even other U.S. states. It also can't impose tariffs on imports that don't satisfy environmental limits (although it can tax its own citizens for selling/using them).

There is a lot that California can do on its own to enact some of the provisions of the treaty. But they are strictly limited in their ability to cooperate with international efforts, and to have their efforts recognized internationally.

FYI: Letters of marque and reprisal are old English terms for taking actions to sanction another country or state for violating their laws. A bill of credit refers (in this case) to monetizing carbon credits or some such system of cap and trade that would have the effect of turning them into a tradeable commodity on par with currency.

  • Your FYI has me confused. California HAS a cap & trade system on carbon, does that mean the state IS issuing bills of credit?
    – trim
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 19:30
  • 3
    Actually the quotes you provide falsify what you say later. California can be a party to a treaty or make deals with foreign govrenments provided that it has the consent of Congress. This is not the same as being something completely impossible as you seem to conclude.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 20:59
  • @trim, no. I can't take a carbon credit and buy a loaf of bread with it, or use it to pay my property tax, or use it for many of the other things I'd use money for.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 22:10
  • Since the Paris Agreement is a completely voluntary understanding and not a formal treaty, I'm not sure how this directly addresses the question. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 14:03

Only countries and some international organizations can be parties to international law and treaties, so formally only secession could make California a formal signatory of the Paris Agreement.

Of course, AFAIK, nothing forbids California Governor or Legislature to make a declaration by which they declare to abide by the Paris Agreement and approve the laws and measures needed for this objective, as long as they do not conflict with the Federal powers (the only one that I can think could interfere would be the Commerce Clause).

  • Hey, basically same answer, seconds apart!
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:38
  • 2
    @KDog The same conclussion, a very different attitude. I would not call that "basically the same answer".
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:41
  • "and international recognition" According to the Montevideo Convention, the existence of a state is independent of recognition by other states. So an unrecognized entity claiming to be a state could be party to treaties (in its perspective). Though being party to an international agreement would be pretty useless if the other parties don't recognize you as being a party.
    – user102008
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 23:18
  • @user102008 I believed that no country would sign a treaty with an unrecognized country to avoid giving it implicit recognition, but it is clear that I'll have to check that. Thank you!
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 23:23
  • The relevant part here would be the Vienna Formula. In particular, this formula appears in Article 7 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the parent treaty of the Paris Agreement). It defines acceptable members.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:15

Not directly. The Paris Agreement is a protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The latter is the real treaty.

The reason this formula was chosen, instead of a separate agreement, is to let President Obama bypass Congress. However, it means that the Paris Agreement can only include parties who already ratified the UNFCCC (Paris Agreement article 20), which California didn't.

That said, ratifying the UNFCCC is also not an option, for the reasons given in other answers.

  • That's what I didn't understand. It seemed like there was nothing in the agreement that prevented anyone from joining on. I didn't understand that it had a real UN treaty attached to it.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:20

The State of California cannot be a signatory or otherwise represent themselves as a separate entity on par with other nations or as anyway act as representing the United Sates, that's a clear violation of the Logan Act, but they could pass similar laws or just voluntarily abide with the agreement. There is nothing stopping say Leonardo diCaprio from selling his yachts and airplanes and flying coach. I don't know if that would "differentiate" CA in your estimate.

  • The Logan act was an interesting read. Helps explain some of my thoughts. Still, it seems like there is some constitutional controversy on the act, so if they wanted to put up a fight, they could, but it would defeat the purpose of peaceful.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:57
  • 1
    You might want to take a look at Article 2 of the Constitution and the traditional role of the President as head of state.
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:58
  • 3
    What does Leonardo diCaprio have to do with this?
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:05
  • deadline.com/2016/10/…
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:39
  • dailycaller.com/2016/03/01/…
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:41

No, because that's not what "ratify" means. The details vary from country to country but essentially what happens is that the executive signs the treaty, which says, "I agree that our country should do this, but I need to check with the folks back home." The legislature then gets the chance to ratify the treaty (say "We agree") or not (say "That's crazy talk! We ain't doin' that!").

So California cannot ratify the treaty for the simple reason that California isn't a signatory. And California isn't a signatory because foreign relations is the exclusive domain of the federal government.

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