Obama calls for climate deal, stops short of binding targets

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US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that parts of a climate deal must be legally binding, but stopped short of saying that specific legal emissions limitations for individual countries should be built into a treaty.

Speaking in Paris, where a summit began Monday on a global agreement to curb man-made emissions and limit global warming to under 2 degrees centigrade, Obama said countries should adhere to a transparency mechanism to make sure they’re keeping up with voluntary goals.

He also said there should be periodic reviews in order to update targets with developments in technology and science, and added his call for climate financing to help poorer countries develop sustainably.

“If we have these periodic reviews over time, what I believe will happen is by sending that signal to researchers and scientists and investors and entrepreneurs, we’ll actually start hitting these targets faster than expected. And we can be more ambitious,” Obama said.

The EU and other countries have called for emissions targets to be legally binding in order to ensure that nations follow through with their goals.

Obama also said that countries should decide their own targets, hailing plans submitted by more than 180 countries to pursue domestic policies. But he also acknowledged a United Nations report saying the collected impact of the plans would only limit temperature rise to 2.7 degrees.

“That’s too high. We want to get it to 2 degrees centigrade or even lower,” Obama said. Referencing the US renewable energy sector, he said that advances in private sector and research will enable to targets to faster toward the goal.

“When you look at the cumulative targets that may exist 10 years from now, we may well be within the 2 per cent centigrade increase,” Obama said.

Many observers have scrutinized the position of the US leading up to the climate talks, with fears that an intransigent US Congress could put up a stumbling bloc to an international treaty. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was never sent to Congress for ratification because of a lack of support.

An environmental group cautiously welcomed Obama’s willingness to secure a treaty, but warned that the US leader may be stepping back from stronger statement made earlier in the year.

“Calling for the global economy to become low carbon over the course of the century falls short of what we need,” said Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo. “Last June as a member of the G7, he signed up to a goal to decarbonise the global economy this century. It’s taken less than six months for him to roll back on that ambition.”

Obama made the remarks after meeting with the heads of small island nations that are at particular threat from climate change and rising seas caused by ice melt.

“Some of their nations could disappear entirely and as weather patterns change, we might deal with tens of millions of climate refugees in the Asia Pacific region,” Obama had said.

“I am an island boy. I understand both the beauty but also the fragility,” he added, referring to his childhood growing up in the US archipelago of Hawaii.

He said that while the island nations weren’t the most populous places in the world, they, “a right to dignity and sense of place.”

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