By Jean Réné Meva’a Amougou , US Africa News. Updated 2015-12-08

Paris COP 21 2015

The United States refuses to provide a legally binding future climate agreement. France sees it differently.


The agreement will be "binding" or there will be none, François Hollande said on November 19, 2015, referring to the COP21 climate conference. "If the agreement is not legally binding, then there is no agreement, because it will mean that it is not possible to check or control the commitments made," the president told the French press on the sidelines of the summit on migration in Valletta (Malta). At the same time, he said he understood "quite legitimately" that the United States "has problems with its Congress." The main thing for him is that the expected agreement ensures that commitments are kept and respected, notably through periodic review mechanisms. Hollande said he understood the difficulties of the US executive, faced with the reluctance of the majority Republican Congress. "I know how difficult this is, but we must give the Paris agreement, if there is agreement, a binding nature, in the sense that the commitments that have been made must be kept and respected," he insisted.


A salvo


The "pre-COP 21", which brought together in Paris some 70 ministers from around the world, just concluded on a rather encouraging note, just as this disagreement is arising. The opening salvo came from John Kerry, the US State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, on November 18. The agreement to be drawn during COP 21, which is being held in the French capital from 30 November to 11 December, "will certainly not be a treaty," Kerry said in the columns of the Financial Times. The US chief diplomat went on to say that "there will be no legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto." He gave the opinion that COP 21 will not be "binding" in legal terms. Washington has often said that it would refuse any binding target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but would accept "a hybrid agreement" providing legal constraints on other provisions, for example, on the monitoring of commitments made by countries. "I think it is a formulation that could have been better," the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said of Kerry’s recent statements.


Brutal backlash


One can see a sharp backlash in the historic development of climate negotiations. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, and which the Paris agreement is expected to replace in 2020, had, in effect, allotted lower targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to all the rich countries. Almost all of them, with the European Union at the head, had ratified the Kyoto document, with the notable exception of the US, which had limited its signing. At the time, the Clinton administration had, it is true, no chance of pushing adoption by the Republican-held Congress, which was considered hostile to any binding climate treaty. A position justified at the time by the fact that no reduction target was imposed on in China.


Same cause, same effect?


This time, the Obama administration, again, has no free hand with Congress. And given the positive changes on the part of China, which has finally set a target on greenhouse gases, which are very improved, reaching a emission goal in 2030, the Democrats do not want to face another battle on Capitol Hill, especially a little less than a year from the US presidential election.


Paris speaks back


Considering all these factors, the stance of John Kerry in the end is not so surprising. It has at least not left Paris speechless. "We can discuss the legal form of the agreement...However, it is clear that it should include legally binding provisions, as expected in the mandate of the climate conference in Durban" of 2011, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and future President of COP 21 warned on November 19. The statements issued by both sides of the Atlantic may end up being a lot of noise with little final effect on the outcome. Washington would not be opposed to having to meet certain constraints on GHG emissions. But it views the issue uniquely through regulation and not on the basis of the objectives of the national contributions that about 160 countries are coming to make to the UN. This option would still be on the table. "In fact, what we are supporting is a partially legally binding agreement," a senior US official explained this week.