© Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters
The French President is unequivocal: the COP21 agreement "will be binding or there will not be any agreement." According to data collected by COP21Horizon, 84% of Internet users worldwide consider that the 196 States gathered in Paris must sign an international legally binding agreement. In theory, it is possible to impose penalties to countries which don’t honor their commitments but in practice it is more complicated.
An imperative: national ratification
An international agreement only has any legal value if it is ratified by the national parliaments. Then, each party is committed to fulfilling its terms and to accepting the penalties. But, as underlined by the American Secretary of State John Kerry to Financial Times: "there will be no binding treaty on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." President Obama’s will is one thing, but the Congress majority is Republican and will refuse to ratify any such treaty.
Furthermore, each State is sovereign and can withdraw from the agreement at any time. Certain Internet users have been quick to remark that the 1997 Kyoto protocol was legally binding, which didn’t prevent Japan and Canada from withdrawing from it, in 2010 and in 2011 respectively. Today, there is no legitimate authority able to sanction States.
Real follow-up on commitments
15% of Internet users, however, remain skeptical about the signature of such an agreement. Some hope more for an actual follow-up on commitments made. On social media, another idea is emerging: set up transparency rules on action taken by countries to limit their emissions. It doesn’t punish States, but allows the public to know where governments are in terms of their commitments.
Mark Rutte’s government condemned for not having "taken sufficient action
against the imminent danger caused by climate change"
This information could then be used by political parties, NGOs or media to inform citizens or prosecute governments as Marjan Minnesma’s Urgenda Foundation successfully did in Netherlands; the Hague district court ruled against national greenhouse gas emission policy in June 2015, forcing the State to reduce emissions by 25% over 5 years.