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Tuesday, 15 December 2015 00:00

The Paris Climate Agreement Is Unenforceable: It's a Nonbinding Resolution

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aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapocshallThe future of the earth may hang on the consequential difference between "shall" and "should" when it comes to averting environmental destruction across the planet. (Photo: Robert Hruzek)

A December 13 Politico European Edition article discusses how the replacement of the word "shall" with "should" became a vital necessity to the signing of the final COP21 agreement. According to Politico, the last-minute switch to "should" - in reference to compliance with agreement goals by the signatory nations - was made at the request of the United States. President Obama was allegedly worried that the use of the word "shall" would require legal obligations of the US, ensuring almost certain defeat of ratification of what then would be deemed a treaty by the Republican-controlled Senate.

However, it can be speculated that other nations were also concerned about the legal implications of a mandate as opposed to voluntary compliance with the COP21 goals. In short, by replacing the word "shall" with "should," the nations most responsible for ruinous global warming policies will have a lot of wiggle room in implementing the final document.

The National Resources Defense Council, which generally praises the Paris talks, does, however, inadvertently admit its key failings in an article on the top "takeaways" from the accord:

  • It’s not a formal treaty and it doesn’t commit us [the United States] to any new international legal obligations.

  • It doesn’t contain legally binding carbon targets.

  • Each country has put forth its own voluntary proposals for ambitious carbon reductions.

Samantha Page at Think Progress dismisses the distinction between "shall" and "should" in the Paris climate agreement as insignificant, using an analogy that ironically illustrates just the opposite of her intention:

Non-binding, though, does not mean meaningless.

It’s worth taking a moment and thinking about what a binding agreement is. If I offer to pick your child up from daycare Thursday afternoon, is that a binding agreement? You can’t, strictly speaking, punish me if I leave little Sarah sitting on the curb. But - and this is a big but - you can shame me. You can avoid me, distrust me, and not make any more social agreements with me.

"Shaming" in international relations! Given the lessons of history, "shaming" as a tool of international diplomacy has not proven very effective in a world filled with massive nation-state military forces. Page admits that there is no enforcement mechanism to the agreement. Instead, it is reliant on self-reporting on goals and non-enforceable compliance. Page argues that,

The Paris agreement, with its hefty requirements for transparency and reporting, offers another meaningful vehicle toward compliance: public opinion. Civil society has already played a large and important role in getting to this point. Now, environmental groups will take on the role of enforcer.

BuzzFlash lauds advocacy groups and individual advocates who work tirelessly to reduce climate change. Nevertheless, governments in developed nations, in general, have given little more than lip service to dramatic changes in fuel use policies, despite the selfless efforts of those working to save the planet and life on it. Advocacy groups will continue to press hard toward a transformation of how the industrial infrastructure and energy grid are fueled, but they will have no enforcement power under COP 21.

As the Guardian US recently reported, James Hansen - renowned expert on the perilous reality of climate change - denounced the COP21 conference as a failure:

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned....”

“More than half of the world’s cities of the world are at risk,” Hansen says. “If you talk to glaciologists privately they will tell you they are very concerned we are locking in much more significant sea level rises than the ice sheet models are telling us. 

“The economic cost of a business as usual approach to emissions is incalculable. It will become questionable whether global governance will break down. You’re talking about hundreds of million of climate refugees from places such as Pakistan and China. We just can’t let that happen. Civilization was set up and developed with a stable, constant coastline.”

Hansen, who headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies for many years understands that the future of the earth may hang on the consequential difference between "shall" and "should" when it comes to averting environmental destruction across the planet.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.