Some of the pledges at COP21 need to be legally binding, says President Obama


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It’s day 2 at COP21 in Paris and already we’ve seen promising progress being made. The atmosphere here at the conference is very optimistic, despite the tremendous uncertainty and risks climate change poses. Yesterday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a new massive initiative his country is leading called the International Solar Alliance, which he says will see 1000 billion funneled to help 121 countries tap their massive solar resources. Bill Gates and 29 other billionaires took advantage of the timing to announce the largest private fund in history. Things are looking good, but at the government level ambitions – as stated in the INDCs – are still low. Moreover, any promises made here in Paris might amount to little absent a legally binding framework. Recognizing this possibility, a concerned President Barack Obama said part of the climate agreement soon to be hammered next week should be legally binding.

For the past couple of months, President Obama has been meeting world leaders, policymakers and corporate CEOs, urging them to make ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Tuesday, in Paris, President Obama voiced his concerns, however, that any agreement made here will be ineffective if it lacks the force of treaties. He suggests a regulatory body be established that would review commitments every five years.

Obama seems to be reiterating the suggestion the EU is making: a five-year multilateral review process that can enforce emissions commitments, with the threat of withholding climate aid from developing countries that renege on their promises.

“Although the targets themselves may not have the force of treaties, the process, the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding. And that’s going to be critical in us having high ambitions and holding each other accountable,” he said.

What’s ironic, though, is that in his home country, the United States, anything legally binding coming out of Paris will never pass a Republican-majority Congress. Previously, secretary of state John Kerry said it would ‘definitively’ not be a treaty.

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