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John Kerry says we won't have a climate change treaty out of Paris.

We're still scuffling over the basic structure of a global climate agreement.

Justin Sullivan

But don’t panic. While the U.S. secretary of state told the Financial Times this week that the expected deal is “definitively not going to be a treaty,” and that the greenhouse gas targets countries put forward won’t “be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto,” that’s not the end of the story.

The treaty vs. non-treaty debate has been one of the longstanding fault lines for how to create an effective global climate deal on greenhouse gas emissions. We have always known we won’t see a treaty requiring ratification for emissions reductions, because that’s been a political nonstarter in the GOP-controlled Senate. The best we can probably hope for are legal mechanisms that apply to parts of the agreement, not the emissions targets themselves, and it’s unclear if there’s enough appetite even for this. A deal that’s not a treaty would disappoint, but there are other reasons to think that Paris could be a turning point on climate change without it. Read why in my curtain-raiser about the conference.