EU climate chief says US must consider binding Paris pact

Miguel Arias Canete turns screw on US counterpart Todd Stern, insisting COP21 must legally enforce national emissions cuts

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete (Pic: Peru Climate Action/Flickr)

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete (Pic: Peru Climate Action/Flickr)

By Ed King

Washington and Brussels are on a collision course over the legal nature of a proposed UN deal to tackle global warming, with the EU’s top climate official insisting it wants a binding treaty to enforce carbon cuts.

Miguel Arias Canete said the US had to demonstrate how promises to curb greenhouse gases could be believed if they were not to be legally binding. “It must put a new approach on the table. We want binding mitigation commitments,” he said.

US secretary of state John Kerry recently said there was “definitively not going to be a treaty” binding the administration to its climate targets – a move that would require the approval of a hostile Republican-dominated Senate.

As the world’s second largest carbon polluter after China the US had to be part of any deal, Canete said. But he added the EU was not alone on wanting a tougher outcome from the Paris climate summit, which starts next week.

“For sure there may be flexibility but those who cannot accept binding [targets] have to come along and negotiate… not just with EU, but other developing countries like Pacific Islands… it will be one of the difficult elements of the negotiations,” he said.

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Nearly 200 countries will start a final round of talks on a global pact this Monday. While there appears widespread political will for a new UN climate deal there remain considerable differences on how it will work.

More than 170 of those governments have submitted national pledges known as INDCs to the UN, although these will not on their own be enough to limit temperature rises to what scientists say are relatively safe levels.

In a Tuesday briefing lead US climate envoy Todd Stern said the “stars are more aligned that ever before” in the quest for a pact to hold warming below the 2C danger zone. “We are riding on the wave of those 170 targets that have been submitted.”

But he repeated his long-held view that binding carbon cutting targets would leave “many countries unable to participate” in the agreement, which would come into force from 2020.

India, Saudi Arabia and Canada are among other larger polluters believed to oppose binding carbon targets.

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EU and US positions on what negotiators call a ‘transparency’ mechanism are more closely aligned, with both sides insisting all countries should sign up to a system of climate policy and emission reviews to be held every five years.

“That system is going to be enormously important. People are going to be looking for confidence and the capacity to have trust,” said Stern.

Canete said a “robust” accounting system for emissions and national plans was essential to ensure an agreement in Paris could be the basis for a deal that would last for a century.

“We will have a deal – of that I have no doubt. My worry is that we will have a minimalistic agreement,” he said. “What is clear is we need a robust deal on track to objective to limit to 2C… ambitious and fair in every area.

“This won’t be easy… judging from the last G20 meeting and discussions over 2C and regular reviews I can say we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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