A hot trend is sweeping the worlds of energy, environment and politics.
That is, an agreement is valid only as long as the government in the jurisdiction that signs it does not get voted out in an election.
This is very troubling. Or it's reason to cheer. Maybe it's both, depending on which side of an issue one supports. One thing's for sure: This fad heaps huge risks on investors as they try to guess which deal will hold up and which ones will fall apart for political reasons.
Take Paris. There was global condemnation of U.S. President Donald Trump's move to pull out of the international accord aimed at reversing the man-made causes of global warming, a deal that had included all but a few countries.
His reasons for reneging on U.S. participation in the important pact followed the same themes as those he's used to threaten allies that have counted on long-existing trade deals, including Canada and Mexico. They were all central to his campaign platform, and he's repeated them often since he won the White House.
The United States is being short-changed because of bad past negotiations, he's bellowed. In Mr. Trump's America First oeuvre, deals get torn up and those allies just have to deal with it, regardless of any damage that results.
The other signatories to the climate deal – non-binding though it is – are dismayed at Mr. Trump's "Parexit." Theirs is an imperfect agreement, one that many environmentalists blasted for not going far enough to slash carbon emissions. But it is the only game in town, hammered out among 197 parties, including the United States. Hell, they had a deal.
The President even turned his back on an unlikely faction – chief executives of major oil companies Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, who urged him to remain at the climate table to make sure the United States maintains influence over future moves.
Mr. Trump's loyal supporters, many of whom back his early view that the concept of climate change is a hoax perpetrated on U.S. business to render it uncompetitive, cheered the decision to bail, not least because former president Barack Obama saw the Paris Agreement as a crowning achievement of his time in office. They see no reason to live up to an agreement signed by a two-term president they did not like.
Given that Mr. Trump's move actually starts a four-year exit process, the decision on Paris stands to be reversed again.
Another agreement now hanging by a thread shows an uncomfortable turn of the tables. It's almost certain that British Columbia will be governed by a New Democratic Party-Green Party alliance following a provincial election in May in which Premier Christy Clark's Liberals lost their majority in the legislature. Ms. Clark had gone through a years-long process to make pipelines to ship Alberta's heavy crude oil to the West Coast as palatable as possible.
Her government ended up removing its opposition to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, after wresting concessions that included beefed-up safety measures to protect coastal waters as well as $1-billion in payments to the province over 20 years. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley applauded the move, after she took big political risks by establishing a wide-reaching policy to limit carbon through taxes, limits on emissions from the oil sands and a deadline on coal-fired power.
Now, the deal may be off. As they look set for power, the BC NDP, led by John Horgan, and the Greens, headed by Andrew Weaver, have said they will use whatever tools available to them to block the Trans Mountain expansion. If they are successful, there's talk of a potential North American free-trade agreement challenge by Houston-based Kinder Morgan (leaving aside any NAFTA renegotiation under Mr. Trump).
It gets tricky. There are supporters of the Paris accord who would also like to see Trans Mountain kiboshed, given that they see both things as positive moves for the environment. And vice versa – for anyone who believes there is no need to act on emissions, the United States abandoning Paris is totally fine, and so is getting Alberta oil to more diverse foreign markets. Both stances require breaking at least one agreement.
Maybe that's the real art of the deal: Not living up to it.