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Global climate deal commits over 190 countries to lowering emissions in 2020

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After a 36-hour marathon session at the UN, the world's agreed on its first climate accord. But will it be enough?

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After 36 hours of negotiations in Lima, Peru, the world now has a global climate emissions accord. For the first time ever, top officials from about 190 nations agreed on Sunday to a deal that commits their countries to lowering fossil fuel emissions.

The agreement is global, but it isn't legally binding

The scale of the deal — a deal known as the "Lima Accord" — represents a huge achievement for climate change activists and scientists everywhere. Thanks to their efforts, close to 200 countries have agreed to cut their consumption of gas, coal, and oil, reports The New York Times. This is a marked shift away from the strategy adopted in the 1997 Kyoto protocol, reports Reuters, which only asked rich countries to cut emissions.

Of course, the very fact that so many countries agreed to it should be enough to set off some red flags. For one thing, the Lima Accord isn't legally binding. The deal instead asks countries to submit a plan by March 31, 2015 that will outline the laws that each will enact to reduce domestic carbon emissions starting in 2020. Those who are unable to meet the March deadline will have an extension — their new deadline will be in June. "If a country doesn’t submit a plan, there will be no punishment, no fine, no black UN helicopters showing up," Jennifer Morgan, a climate negotiations expert with the World Resources Institute, told The New York Times. The plan relies on peer pressure, she said, instead of sanctions.

"we will live to regret it if we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."

Moreover, countries won't be required to submit their plans in the same metrics. That's the result of objections from China, and it means that it will be more difficult to compare various approaches, and critique those that aren't up to snuff.

The deal has also generated a lot of mistrust. Already, climate activists are asking how China, the US, Russia, and India will cut their emissions. And many people in developing countries have called the deal unfair, because it asks poor countries that largely aren't to blame for climate change to take on too much responsibility. This approach, they say, will halt growth in countries that are already struggling, and will only serve to maintain the status quo. Still, the Lima Accord has the support of many climate scientists, and even the most powerful economies have agreed to its main guidelines — which could lead to real change if they comply.

"We don't have time for more lengthy negotiations," said US climate change special envoy Todd Stern. "I believe we will live to regret it if we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."