Among world leaders none was more gratified by the weekend’s agreement than President Barack Obama, who made the clinching of a global climate deal and reversing America’s once laggardly stance a priority of his second term in office.
Barely was the ink dry in Paris before Mr Obama reminded Americans of his activism, pursued in the face of Republican recalcitrance. “We’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change,” he declared. “We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment.”
The deal, which Mr Obama called a “turning point”, promises to become a major part of the president’s legacy. However, Republicans in Washington were already warning that it could be torn up if any of their candidates wins back the White House in 2016.
“The President is making promises he can’t keep, writing cheques he can’t cash, and stepping over the middle class to take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” sniped Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the US Senate.
Mr McConnell was echoing the opposition of many in his party to Mr Obama’s executive order earlier this year to force power plants across the country to slash emissions. That was central to American preparations for Paris, as was a bilateral emissions reduction agreement struck by Mr Obama last year with President Xi Jinping of China.
The Paris accord almost became unstitched on Saturday, when US negotiators spotted a sentence saying wealthier nations “shall” set economy-wide targets to cut emissions, which would have made it legally binding. That would have obliged the White House to send the deal to the US Congress for approval, which Republicans would surely have blocked. “Shall” was replaced by “should”.
John Kerry, the Secretary of State who had led the US team in the last laps of the talks, told reporters that without that amendment the US could not have signed. He played down the risk of Republicans undoing what had been achieved.
“This has to happen,” he said. “I believe this will continue, because I just personally cannot believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generation what we did here today ... cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.”
In his response to the deal, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, implied he could hardly believe it had happened, saying he was “in a bit of a shock, a happy shock”. He added, though, that implementation would be “hugely challenging”.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, applauded the deal, saying it marked “the first time that the entire world community has obligated itself to act – to act in the battle against global climate change”. Pope Francis, who has made environmental activism a centrepiece of his papacy, said “implementation requires concerted effort and generous dedication on the part of everyone”.
Donald Trump discussed environmental regulation in his own way, grousing about obligatory flow limiters in bathrooms and the trouble it causes him looking after his very particular hair. “You have sinks where the water doesn’t come out. You have showers where I can’t wash my hair properly, it’s a disaster!” Mr Trump told supporters in South Carolina.
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