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White House Praises Climate Change Pact

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Obama administration and the European Union congratulated world leaders on Monday for their "ambitious" agreement to curb the impact of climate change and hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Hailed by the Obama Administration as "the most ambitious climate change agreement in history," the deal struck in Paris over the weekend attempts to limit greenhouse gas emissions through intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs, which allow nations to set their own goals for cutting back emissions.

Under the agreement, nations have to submit finalized versions of these targets within the next year and will resubmit their plans every five years after that, with each being more ambitious than the last.

"The Paris agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions," the White House said in a press release. "For the first time, all countries commit to putting forward successive and ambitions, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review."

While the published version of the deal contains language referencing a commitment to keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, it stops short of committing the world to that goal.

This language keeps it as an "aspiration," without codifying a goal that might already be unreachable, said Dr. Philip Duffy, president and executive director of the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Center and former senior policy analyst to the White House.

As expected, the pledges are nonbinding, meaning they are not legally enforceable though they will be recorded in a public register. The agreement also encourages nations to be transparent in reporting their emissions, having them slice up their inventories by source, which the administration claims will give an "unprecedented" look at emissions and pollution worldwide.

There is some concern about the enforceability of nonbinding pledges, but according to Duffy, it would be "utterly pointless" to try to make these commitments binding because no country would be willing to take meaningful action - such as military action - to enforce them.

Because there is still no independent way to verify greenhouse gas emissions, self-reporting is the only real way to go forward, Duffy said.

Duffy anticipated most of what was included in the final version of the deal, but was somewhat surprised leaders at the meeting were able to step over some of the hurdles that have derailed similar talks in the past.

"I'm not surprised by what was in the agreement at all," Duffy said. "I'm more surprised that they were able to reach an agreement."

In addition to the intended nationally determined contributions, developed nations like the United States pledged to increase financial support to the developing world. Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week the United States would double grants by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change.

The nation spent more than $400 million on such grants in 2014, according to a State Department press release.

This international spending has been a point of contention back in Washington. Before the summit began, a group of Republican Senators led by John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma promised to tie the purse strings tightly if the administration tried to give money to an international climate fund without the consent of Congress.

Stances against the agreement have not softened now that the final draft has been posted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, blasted the agreement Saturday, saying President Barack Obama based it on a "likely illegal" domestic energy plan Congress already voted to reject.

"The climate proposal announced today represents nothing more than a long-term planning document," McConnell said in a statement. "The president is making promises he can't keep, writing checks 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. His commitments to help leaders abroad are based on proposals at home that would hurt jobs and raise utility rates for American families."

Barrasso recommitted to his stance against the agreement in a floor speech last week, accusing Obama of trying to "buy popularity for himself using Americans' tax dollars."

"So John Kerry is there to open his wallet, open up the wallet of the American taxpayers because it's not his money," Barrasso said. "Open up the American wallet, doubling what he's offering - doubling - to try to buy a solution that he wants to accomplish, even though it's in the direct face and opposition to the American people."

But those in favor of action on climate both on and off the Hill praised the deal after it was announced over the weekend.

"The time to act is now," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said in a statement Saturday. "No country acting alone can stem the tide of climate change, but through international cooperation and American leadership we are taking the necessary actions to protect our air, and climate for our children and grandchildren."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune on Saturday called the agreement a "turning point for humanity."

Obama spent Monday speaking to world leaders by telephone, congratulating them on reaching the agreement. He offered his appreciation to French president Francois Hollande for his leadership, who in turned thanked Obama for "the U.S. leadership and commitment to addressing the challenges presented by climate change," according to the White House.

The European Commission also hailed the agreement on Monday, calling it "ambitious and balanced."

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said of the agreement, "Today the world gets a lifeline, a last chance to hand over to future generations a world that is more stable, a healthier planet, fairer societies and more prosperous economies."

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