US Senate Byrd-Hagel Resolution status

Legal assistance paper

All reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time the advice was produced. However, the materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and may have been superseded by more recent developments. They do not constitute formal legal advice or create a lawyer- client relationship. To the extent permitted any liability is excluded. Those consulting the database may wish to contact LRI for clarifications and an updated analysis.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Date produced: 14/12/2009

1. It is reported that the US Senate passed a resolution in 1997 to reject any international climate treaty that did not include binding targets for developing nations. Does this resolution continue to bind the US Senate or the US more generally? 

2. Will it need to be specifically revoked or overruled in order for the US to ratify such a treaty, or would it be sufficient for the US Senate to pass another resolution ratifying the treaty? 

3. Is the resolution limited to treaties, or does it also affect the US’ capacity to sign/agree a COP Decision or other agreement/statement/declaration on climate change? 

4. Did the resolution refer to specific countries, e.g. China? 

5. Are there any other implications of the resolution?

1. Yes, the resolution is popularly known as the “Byrd-Hagel” resolution. This is a link to its text:  http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:SE00098

The resolution was not legally binding, however, it indicated the unanimous sentiment of the US Senate in 1997 that the Senate would not ratify any treaty that limited the US’ emissions of greenhouse gases without new scheduled commitments for developing countries (including China) to reduce their emissions.

2. The resolution is non-binding and thus the Senate could still vote to ratify a treaty today if it had the political will to do so. Although the resolution passed twelve years ago and under a different administration, the fact that it was a bipartisan effort and passed by a unanimous vote indicates that the sentiment was strongly held.  Many of those same senators remain in the Senate today.

3. The resolution discussed protocols and other “agreements”. It specifically made reference to the Kyoto Protocol, but likely indicates the sentiment of the Senate as to any actions that would require Senate ratification/approval.

4. Yes, it specifically refers to China, Mexico, India, Brazil, and South Korea, and the other “Developing Country Parties” identified in the Kyoto Protocol.

5. It was reported that there was a failed attempt by Senator John Kerry to rescind the Byrd-Hagel amendment in 1998 but that he could not get the support of senior Democrat Senators.