International negotiators over the weekend reached a preliminary agreement to fight climate change, but many key questions remain unanswered and it’s still unclear whether President Obama’s goal of a historic deal to fight climate change can be fully realized.
The 48-page draft agreement was released Saturday at the midway point of the 21st session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Paris, commonly known as COP 21. Although the text of deal calls on all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other broad steps to save the planet, many sticking points remain, including whether wealthy countries such as the U.S. will foot the bill to help developing nations transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Mr. Obama wants the U.S. to commit $3 billion to an international climate fund that would aid developing and poor countries in their fights against global warming, but the idea has gone nowhere in Congress, which must approve the funds.
Major developing countries such as China, the world’s top polluter, and India are pushing hard for the U.S. and other wealthy nations to contribute significant amounts of money as part of any agreement. It’s unclear whether a final deal can be reached without such financing.
“There is an obligation on the part of the developed nations to provide finance, and there is an entitlement on the part of developing nations to receive funds for climate action,” Indian negotiator Susheel Kumar said. “We don’t want dilution of that paradigm.”
The conference will continue this week, and world leaders say the most difficult work has just begun.
“So let’s work,” French President Francois Hollande said Saturday. “It’s up to the ministers and officials of every government to remove options, find compromises and make decisions on the difficult issues without undermining the ambition” of the climate deal.
Before the climate meeting began, the U.S., China and other nations already had unveiled their individual plans. The U.S., for example, has vowed to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025, and the administration has begun moving toward that goal by implementing restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants and by taking other steps.
China has promised to cap its overall emissions by 2030 and then begin reductions. Nearly 200 other nations have made individual commitments.
But those commitments aren’t legally binding, and the core of any broader international deal is to develop methods for holding countries accountable for their actions.
One seemingly radical idea is the creation of an “international tribunal of climate justice,” where countries that do not live up to their commitments would stand trial and potentially face financial penalties. That idea likely will go nowhere.
The rest of the draft agreement is littered with “options,” or several possible answers to key questions. For example, a section on reducing emissions includes one sentence that declares “each party” that has committed to reducing its emissions should continue to do so, while an alternate sentence says that “developed” countries should take the lead.
Negotiators will have to hammer out how much additional responsibility, financial or otherwise, developed nations such as the U.S. should carry.
Regardless of what a final deal looks like, it’s unlikely to be legally binding, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned. Entering into a formal international treaty would require the consent of the Senate — a virtual impossibility with Republicans in control of Congress.
In addition, key pieces of Mr. Obama’s climate agenda could be undone easily by the next president, and critics are quick to point out that the U.S. commitments in Paris are far from permanent.
“As the courts and Congress dismantle Obama’s domestic plan, he will be limited in producing anything substantive internationally,” Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in an op-ed for CNN.com last week. “It is emphatically frivolous for the President and other world leaders to spend their time making hollow promises they do not intend to keep.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.