Obama says parts of climate deal must be legally binding

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Parts of a global climate agreement being hammered out in Paris should be legally binding, President Barack Obama said Tuesday. The declaration was a boost to climate negotiators seeking a tough accord and a challenge to Republican senators, many of whom don’t believe that global warming is real.

Whether or not to make the climate accord legally binding is a major sticking point at the two-week talks in Paris, which aim to get all countries to agree to cut emissions that scientists say are warming the Earth and are increasing extreme weather such as droughts and floods.

Obama has spent months prodding other countries to make ambitious carbon-cutting pledges to the agreement, which would last long beyond the end of his presidency in early 2017.

In Paris, Obama said the specific emissions targets each country is setting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not have the force of treaties. But he says it’s critical that ”periodic reviews” of those commitments be legally binding. He’s referring to a mechanism sought by negotiators under which countries would ratchet up their commitments every five years.

”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.

Obama would have little chance of getting the Republican-run Congress to approve a fully binding new climate treaty fighting global warming. So the White House has been searching for a compromise, sparing the need for a new vote.

The White House had already said parts of the deal should be legally binding, but this is the first time Obama has said it himself, and spelled out which ones.

Obama on Tuesday argued that a deal is critical to the global economy and American national security, and said he believes that his successor will uphold U.S. commitments in a climate change deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republican leaders have warned other countries not to trust any deal Obama may strike. Other Republican politicians are working to nullify Obama’s emissions-cutting steps at home.

More than 190 countries are taking part in the Paris talks based on a collective understanding that humans are contributing to global warming and have some role to play in slowing it.

In the United States, however, there is debate about whether humans really are contributing to climate change, and what, if anything, policymakers should do about it. Almost all Republicans, along with some Democrats, oppose steps Obama has taken to curb emissions, arguing they will hurt the economy, shutter coal plants and eliminate jobs in power-producing states.

Negotiators in Paris still face the tricky task over the next two weeks of hammering out a legal structure for a partially binding deal.

Nigel Purvis, a former U.S. climate negotiator and president of the non-governmental organization Climate Advisers, said Tuesday that Obama has all the legislative authority he needs to enter such an agreement, thanks in part to a 1992 treaty signed by then-President George H.W. Bush and approved by the Senate. The president also has executive authority for what’s likely to be required by a climate deal, he said.

Leaders of poor nations most affected by climate change, meanwhile, shared their stories of global warming threats Tuesday with Obama and French President Francois Hollande.

The encounters highlighted another big debate in the effort to reach an accord: how much aid rich countries should give poor ones to help them adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions.

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