By Jeff McMahon
Many people are set to judge the Paris Climate Conference by the same criteria the Copenhagen talks failed to meet in 2009—whether the 196 nations meeting here in the coming two weeks sign a legally binding treaty to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
But negotiators are not aiming for a legally binding agreement in Paris, because they believe they have found a better way .
Legally-binding agreements limit options for nations to craft responses to climate change that suit their unique circumstances. And treaties can be shot down or delayed interminably by dissolute legislatures back home.
So United Nations officials and some expert observers expect voluntary commitments—once considered a consolation prize of Copenhagen—to prove more effective, if three critical actions support them.
“Everybody already knows exactly what these countries are going to be willing to commit to in terms of their greenhouse gas reductions,” said Peter Ogden, a senior fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago and former chief of staff to the U.S. special envoy on climate change. ”That’s been made public over the course of the last year. And those commitments are not going to be made legally binding in a new treaty or protocol or a new amendment in two weeks time.”
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