Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageParis Agreement — Acceptance came down to the use of one word

By Karen Graham     Dec 13, 2015 in Environment
Paris - Without a doubt, getting almost every nation on the planet to agree on anything would be a challenge, however, the COP21 meeting ended in an historic and unprecedented accord that had hinged on the meaning of a single word.
The world heard the announcement of the acceptance of the international climate deal from Paris Saturday night, and the climate pact accord was met with tears, cheers, celebration and glad-handing around the globe.
But it has come to light, according to Reuters, that just a few hours before the announcement, there was serious doubt if key countries were going to accept the document as it was written. And the reason for the possible unraveling of the accord came down to one little word.
The deal-killing tweak was found by Obama administration lawyers deeply embedded in Article 4, in a line of text that said wealthier countries "shall" set economy-wide targets for curbing greenhouse gas pollution. To U.S. lawyers, the implication of the word had a disturbing meaning.
In all previous drafts of the document, the word "should" had been written. The change to the word "shall" was a small error, but one with enormous implications, according to ABC.net.au.
"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.'”
While the use of "shall" may not seem to be a big deal, when a document needs to be perfectly worded so that it is accepted by every nation, then the right word absolutely should be without any question as to its meaning.
The word "shall" implies a legal obligation, and as written, wealthier countries "have the legal obligation" to set...etc. The word "should" implies a moral obligation, however, it does not mean a nation is compelled to do something. It sort of lets everyone off the hook.
In the case of the U.S., leaving the word "shall" in the document would have meant the Obama administration would have needed Congressional approval, something we all know is impossible. It also meant the U.S. would not have signed the accord. And if we wouldn't sign it, neither would China.
If that situation wasn't enough to give negotiators heartburn, Nicaragua, who didn't like the deal anyway, saw an opportunity to make some demands themselves. Things were getting out of hand. Both US president Barack Obama and Cuba's leader Raul Castro called and spoke with the Nicaraguans, and finally got them to back down.
So it all came down to a grammatical error, and somehow, good intentions fell into a less than acceptable category. But finally, the climate deal is in the bag, accepted by all, leaving it up to almost 200 nations to decide if they have a moral or legal obligation to work together to curb greenhouse gas emissions going forward.
More about paris agreement, should or shall, moral vs legal obligation, Secretary of State, lastminute changes
 
Latest News
Top News