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Climate talks shift from binding targets to 'name and shame'.

By Karl Ritter

Le Bourget, France -- It's clear at this point that even if the international climate accord being negotiated in suburban Paris becomes legally binding, it won't include punitive measures like trade sanctions or embargoes on straggler countries that fail to meet their commitments.

The only penalty for falling short on efforts to fight global warming would be the hot sting of shame.

Pope Francis, for his part, urged nations to act with "courage", the day before UN talks aimed at saving mankind from the dire impacts of global warming enter their crunch phase.

Ministers begin a frenetic week of negotiations Monday to seal a historic 195-nation agreement in Paris.

The envisaged accord seeks to revolutionize the world's energy industry by replacing coal, oil and gas with renewable sources that do not emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The conference in the French capital crowns more than two decades of obstacle-strewn negotiations to curb climate change, which threatens to make Earth increasingly hostile to human existence.

"What kind of world do you want to leave for those coming after you, to children still growing up," the Pope asked, standing before thousands of the faithful at Saint Peter's Basilica.

Pope Francis said he prayed that leaders would muster "the courage to keep as their guiding criterion the well-being of the entire human family."


"Three words: name and shame,'' said Li Shuo, a climate policy expert at Greenpeace China.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, many analysts say. In international diplomacy, peer pressure and the risk of losing face can be powerful motivations for a country to keep a promise, particularly on a high-profile issue like climate change.

"Meeting national emissions pledges will emerge as a key measure of international moral and diplomatic standing after a Paris agreement, with countries reluctant to flout their targets and risk being treated as pariahs,'' said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser.

Some countries led by the European Union still insist that governments accept legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in the Paris agreement, which is supposed to be adopted at the end of this week. But that's a no-go for the US for political reasons. So the negotiations are increasingly focused on creating transparency rules to determine whether countries actually follow through on their pledges.

The idea is to ensure that even if the targets aren't binding internationally, countries would have a binding obligation to report on whether they are achieving their national goals, which could turn into a potentially humiliating experience if they're not.

Essentially, the system that is emerging is one with clear rules but no mechanism to punish those who break them, like playing a soccer match without a referee.

"Everything happens in the open in the stadium,'' Li said. "So if someone fouls another player, even if he doesn't get a red card, he will be booed by the audience.''

So does that actually work in international relations? Isn't the incentive to ignore the rules, if it entails some competitive advantage, greater than the fear of being publicly called out for foul play?

There are no easy answers. But there are examples of international agreements without binding rules that nonetheless have had an impact on how countries behave, according to environmental law expert Dan Bodansky of Arizona State University.

In a recent academic article, Bodansky wrote that the 1975 Helsinki Declaration on human rights was successful despite its non-legal nature, "because of its regular review conferences... which focused international scrutiny on the Soviet bloc's human rights performance.''

Conversely, the 1997 climate pact known as the Kyoto Protocol failed despite having binding emissions targets for wealthy nations. The U.S. never joined that pact in part because the targets were binding. And when Canada realized it wasn't meeting its targets, it just dropped out.

"Even having legally binding targets is no guarantee that countries do what they've promised to do,'' said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

Peer pressure, on the other hand, often influences countries to change their positions in the UN climate talks.


ALL HANDS ON DECK - Indigenous representatives from around the world gather in a joint prayer session aboard a river boat on the Seine river, as part of the campaign to draw attention to the plight of indigenous tribes facing the effects of climate change, at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, on December 6.

Former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs autographs as he leaves his hotel after attending COP21 meetings. (EPA)
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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Dec 8, 2015
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