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France says climate deal must avoid US Congress vote

French Foreign Affaires Minister Laurent Fabius attends the start of week-long talks on climate change in Bonn, Germany
French Foreign Affaires Minister Laurent Fabius attends the start of week-long talks on climate change in Bonn, Germany Patrik Stollarz, AFP

The global climate agreement being negotiated this year must be worded in such a way that it won’t be shot down by a hostile US Congress, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned on Monday.

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Fabius, who will host a high-stakes UN climate summit in Paris later this year, made the remarks at preparatory talks in the German city of Bonn. “We know the politics in the US. Whether we like it or not, if it comes to the Congress, they will refuse,” he told African delegates at the talks.

If negotiators follow his advice, any deal reached in Paris in December would exclude legally-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions – something many countries insist on but which would have no chance of being ratified by the Republican-controlled Congress.

"We must find a formula which is valuable for everybody and valuable for the US without going to the Congress," said Fabius, who is hoping to make a landmark climate deal the signature achievement of his tenure at France’s Foreign Ministry.

Those pushing for a legally binding deal in Paris include the 28-nation European Union and small island nations who fear being wiped out by rising seas. Their chief negotiator, Maldives delegate Amjad Abdulla, said the group still wants a binding agreement but is open to compromise. "We are still looking into options," he said. "I think it's important that we get everyone on board."

One possible outcome in Paris is a deal in which some elements are binding but not the emissions targets set by individual countries. The Obama administration has pledged to reduce US emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, but is reluctant to make that target binding.

So far, 38 UN parties have made pledges to a roster of emissions curbs at the heart of the envisioned Paris pact. They include Russia and Canada, but not Japan, Australia, Brazil, India or China, the world's number one emitter.

Jennifer Morgan, a climate policy expert at the World Resources Institute, said it was encouraging that Fabius was raising the legal issue now so it can be dealt with before the Paris conference. "It's a sign that he's really pushing countries to come to terms with what the agreement can and cannot be," she told The Associated Press.

Spectre of Copenhagen

France is seeking to give negotiations a sense of urgency, pushing countries to forge a "pre-agreement" weeks before they meet to seal the deal in December. The process is scarred by memories of the last time the UN tried to forge a global climate deal -- the deadlocked 2009 summit in Copenhagen.

The main goal of the Bonn talks is to shorten the sprawling negotiating text, a compendium of often contradictory viewpoints that is currently around 80 pages long. Delegates say the text needs to be reduced fourfold to have any chance of producing an accord in Paris.

Fabius warned against temptations to leave a breakthrough for the very end, a habit that has hampered climate talks for over two decades. "The goal is for us to reach a pre-agreement as early as October," he told delegates in Bonn. This would enable the Paris conference "to add the finishing touches and focus on the contentious points", Fabius added.

His cabinet colleague Segolene Royal, the ecology minister, piled on the pressure on Monday with a hard-hitting interview in which she attacked the negotiations' snail-like pace and labyrinthine ways. "The UN negotiations are totally unsuited to the climate emergency," Royal told French daily Le Monde.

The goal is to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. On current emissions trends, say scientists, the planet could be on track for 4.8° Celsius of warming this century alone.

The agreement should also muster financial help for poor countries threatened by worsening drought, flood and rising seas. Developing economies insist rich countries show how they will keep a promise of mustering $100 billion (92 billion euros) a year in climate finance by 2020. A mere $10 billion has been collected since the pledge was made in 2009.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
 

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