POLITICS
12/12/2015 05:36 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2015

Barack Obama Praises Paris Climate Change Agreement

"We've shown what's possible when the world stands as one."

President Barack Obama praised a landmark climate pact in a statement Saturday, just hours after diplomats in Paris agreed on a framework for addressing climate change.

"We came together around a strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment," he said. "We've shown what's possible when the world stands as one."

The president added that the agreement "represents the best chance we have to save the one planet that we've got."  

The agreement came after two weeks of negotiations among world leaders seeking to curb rising sea levels and warming temperatures globally. Almost 200 countries committed to work to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions. Participating countries have also pledged to aid those threatened by the environmental consequences of climate change, such as severe droughts and food shortages.

Obama said the agreement was an important move forward, but acknowledged that additional action will be needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

"The problem is not solved because of this accord," he said. "But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis." 

At the start of the conference, Obama traveled to Paris and expressed hope the United States would lead the nations in reaching such an agreement. He called addressing rising sea levels and warming temperatures "an economic and security imperative that we have to tackle now."

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Senior Obama administration officials said in a phone call with reporters on Saturday evening that Obama had "pushed the envelope" on domestic climate change policy because he believed it was essential to ensuring the U.S.' credibility as a leader in international negotiations. The Clean Power Plan, a measure announced by the White House in August to dramatically reduce power plants' greenhouse gas emissions, was among the initiatives they specifically cited as examples of this strategy.

The president's negotiation of a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and China to reduce emissions in November 2014 was also aimed at laying the groundwork for a strong treaty in Paris, the officials said. They believe that accord helped inspire other nations to act since the U.S. and China are both "the world's two largest economies and two largest emitters." 

The officials said that they did not foresee any ways in which Congress could block key provisions of the Paris agreement. The accord does not need Senate approval because it is an executive agreement rather than an official international treaty, they said.

They described the climate accord as having a “hybrid” legal structure that allowed for the broadest global participation possible, since a completely, legally binding agreement would pose domestic political challenges for many countries, including the United States.

The provisions establishing transparency standards to measure countries’ implementation of the goals they set are legally binding. But the specific greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that almost all of the participating nations voluntarily agreed upon are not.

A senior White House official involved in the negotiations compared this “hybrid” approach with that of the 1997 Kyoto Protocols. The Kyoto agreement was legally binding, but applied only to developed nations, not developing nations where emissions have been rising rapidly in recent decades.

“You have countries coming on and understanding they will not have to compromise their fundamental goals of growth and poverty eradication” in order to reach emissions targets, the official said.

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