The one word that almost sank the climate talks
U.S. tactics during the negotiations included making a last-minute tweak to the text and amassing a huge coalition to help pressure China and India.
12/12/15 07:51 PM EST By Andrew Restuccia – politico
LE BOURGET, France — After years of preparation and two weeks of tireless negotiations, after all the speeches and backroom compromising, one misplaced word brought the momentum toward a historic global deal on climate change to a halt Saturday — for at least a few hours.
Obama administration lawyers discovered early in the day that the latest draft text had a potentially deal-killing tweak: Deep into the document, in Article 4, was a line declaring that wealthier countries “shall” set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas pollution.
That may not sound like such a headache-inducing roadblock, but in the world of international climate negotiations, every word counts. In previous drafts, the word “shall” had been “should” — and in the lingo of U.N. climate agreements, “shall” implies legal obligation and “should” does not. That means the word change could have obliged the Obama administration to submit the final deal to the Senate for its approval. And inevitably, the GOP-led chamber would kill it on sight.
“When I looked at that, I said, ‘We cannot do this and we will not do this,'” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters afterward. “‘And either it changes or President Obama and the United States will not be able to support this agreement.’”
And so the scrambling began. With the clock ticking and the start of the talks’ final meeting already delayed by several hours, top U.S. negotiators huddled in a cavernous plenary hall in this suburb of Paris trying to get the language changed. At the same time, supporters of the deal feared that re-opening the text would lead to a flood of revisions from other countries, possibly swamping the entire effort.
In the end, the U.S. persuaded the summit’s French hosts to change the wording, and the tweak was read aloud by a delegate in the plenary hall, lost in a package of other technical revisions. Minutes later, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius banged his gavel and the most significant international climate change deal in history won the resounding approval of 196 governments, representing nearly every country on the planet.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/12/paris-climate-talks-tic-toc-216721
“I want to commend President Hollande and Secretary General Ban for their leadership and for hosting such a successful summit, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for presiding with patience and resolve. And I want to give a special thanks to Secretary John Kerry, my Senior Advisor Brian Deese, our chief negotiator Todd Stern, and everyone on their teams for their outstanding work and for making America proud.
I also want to thank the people of nearly 200 nations — large and small, developed and developing — for working together to confront a threat to the people of all nations. Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one.”
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