IDREES ALI, WILL DUNHAM, ANNIKA MCGINNIS & JULIA EDWARDS
Dec 12th 2015 6:50PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed the landmark climate accord reached in Paris as strong and historic, calling it the best chance to save the planet from the effects of global climate change.
"Today the American people can be proud because this historic agreement is a tribute to American leadership. Over the past seven years, we've transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change," Obama said.
He said the accord shows what is possible when the world stands as one, adding: "This agreement represents the best chance we have to save the one planet that we've got."
Speaking at the White House hours after the deal was completed, Obama said that "no agreement is perfect, including this one," and that negotiations that involve nearly 200 nations are always challenging.
"Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we'll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere," Obama added.
Obama has made combating global climate change a top priority of his presidency but has encountered stiff resistance to his proposals from Republicans in Congress.
Republican Jim Inhofe, a global warming skeptic who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the climate deal was "no more significant to the United States" than the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the last major climate deal.
See more photos from the fight against global warming:
Global Warming - general
Obama calls Paris climate pact 'best chance' to save the planet
President Barack Obama speaks about Earth Day while visiting Everglades National Park, Fla., Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Obama visited the Everglades on Earth Day to talk about how global warming threatens the U.S. economy. He says rising sea levels are putting the "economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry" at risk. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, gentoo penguins stand on a rock near station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. The melting of Antarctic glaciers as a consequence of global warming is concerning scientists as this contributes to rising sea levels which will eventually reshape the planet. The rising of sea levels will affects at least a billion people worldwide. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Jimmy Hall, of Mill Creek, Ky., wears a button advocating for the environment as he attends a rally outside an Environmental Protection Agency hearing, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. Utility and coal companies are expected to argue Tuesday against proposals from the Obama administration that would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. The EPA is holding three public hearings on the proposal in Atlanta, Denver and Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
FILE - In this Feb. 4 2014 file photo, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. As bad as the drought in California and the Southwest was last year and in the Midwest a couple years ago, scientists say far worse historic decades-long dry spells are coming. âUnprecedented drought conditionsâ _ the worst in more than 1,000 years _ are likely to come to the Southwest and Central Plains near the end of this century and stick around because of global warming, according to a new study in the journal Science Thursday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
A group of demonstrators gather for a rally for a Global Climate Treaty December 10, 2014 near the United Nations in New York. New Yorkers gathered to demand that world governments address the serious threat global warming poses to human rights. This event coincides with a UN meeting in Lima, Peru, a part of the 2014-15 negotiations for a global climate treaty. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
JOLIET, IL - MAY 07: Traffic backs up at an intersecton in front of NRG Energy's Joliet Station power plant on May 7, 2015 in Joliet, Illinois. According to scientists, global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have reached a new monthly record of 400 parts per million, levels that haven't been seen for about two million years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the United States, followed by the burning of fossil fuels for transportation. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 31, 2015 photo, mangroves stand on an island in the Sundarbans, India. The freshwater swamps and their tangles of mangrove forests acts as a crucial, natural buffer protecting India's West Bengal state and Bangladesh from cyclones. With global warming already a reality for some 13 million impoverished villagers living precariously on the river deltas that spill into the Bay of Bengal, the ecologically sensitive and overpopulated Sundarbans is ground zero for climate change, and a test for how they will cope with warmer temperatures, rising seas and potentially millions of climate refugees. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Birds fly past at sun set as smoke emits from a chimney at a factory in Ahmadabad, India, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. The momentum from a historic U.S.-China pact to resist global warming is showing signs of fading at the U.N. climate talks in Peru as the familiar rich-poor conflict persists over who should do what to keep the planet from overheating. The conference's high-level phase begins Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
A canyon cuts through the Andes mountains in Peru, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. The momentum from a historic U.S.-China pact to resist global warming is showing signs of fading at the U.N. climate talks in Peru, as the familiar rich-poor conflict persists over who should do what to keep the planet from overheating. Time remains to work things out as environment ministers are just starting to arrive. The conferenceâs high-level phase begins Tuesday. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A woman wearing a mask to protect herself from pollutants stands on a pedestrian bridge as buildings at Beijing's Central Business District are shrouded in haze Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. China National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua told reporters Tuesday that China will increase use of renewable energy and rely less on coal to ensure it meets its carbon emissions peak in 2030, as a new United Nations report warned the world is failing to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Oct. 17, 2014, file photo, a thick blanket of smoke is seen against the setting sun as young ragpickers search for reusable material at a garbage dump in New Delhi, India. India launched the Air Quality Index Friday to measure air quality across the nation that is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world. A groundbreaking agreement struck Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, by the United States and China puts the world's two worst polluters on a faster track to curbing the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2014 file photo, a woman takes a walk under the scorching sun in Tokyo. Scientists looking at 16 cases of wild weather around the world last year see the fingerprints of man-made global warming on more than half of them. Researchers found that climate change increased the odds of nine extremes: Heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea, intense rain in parts of the United States and India, and severe droughts in California and New Zealand. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)
The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga. The Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years, in a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/John Amis)
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, a parking lot full of yellow cabs in Hoboken, N.J. is flooded as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Global warming is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy, sneezy and dangerous, according to the National Climate Assessment report released Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
The sun rises in east Beijing behind a smokestack chimney dwarfed by the capital's tallest skyscraper, the China World Trade Tower 3 (C) at the break of day on March 25, 2010. China has surpassed the United States as the top investor in clean energy with the rising Asian power becoming a 'powerhouse' in the emerging field, a study by environmentalists said as China has shown determination to be on the frontline of green technology, while US investors have been put off by uncertainties amid the legislative battle on climate change. China has also overtaken the United States as the top emitter of carbon blamed for global warming and came under fire for its role in December's much-criticized UN climate summit in Copenhagen, but the study found that China had made a strategic decision to invest in wind and solar technologies as it copes with sharply rising demand for energy, and has set some of the world's most ambitious targets on renewable energy. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo taken through a window, a scientist collects samples outside near Chile's station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica. The first explorers set foot in Antarctica hunting 19th-century riches of whale and seal oil and fur. Since then, the continent has proven a treasure chest for scientists trying to determine everything from the creation of the cosmos to how high seas will rise with global warming. âItâs a window out to the universe and in time,â said Kelly Falkner, polar program chief for the U.S. National Science Foundation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
FILE - This Feb. 7, 2014, file photo shows the cracked-dry bed of the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose, Calif. Global warming is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy, sneezy and dangerous, according to a new federal scientific report. And those shining seas? Rising and costly, the report says. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Wildfire smoke masks the sun as it sets over a ridge Saturday, June 22, 2013, near South Fork, Colo. Global warming is rapidly turning America into a stormy and dangerous place, with rising seas and disasters upending lives from flood-stricken Florida to the wildfire-ravaged West, according to a new U.S. federal scientific report released Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this Tuesday, June 11, 2013, photo, lower Manhattan is visible from the Staten Island Ferry, in New York's Upper Bay. Giant removable floodwalls would be erected around lower Manhattan, and levees, gates and other defenses could be built elsewhere around the city under a nearly $20 billion plan proposed Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to protect New York from storms and the effects of global warming. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 file photo, Mike Brown of Boston cross country skis past snow-covered cars through the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. Scientists point to both scant recent snowfall in parts of the country and this month's whopper of a Northeast blizzard as potential signs of global warming. It may seem like a contradiction, but the explanation lies in atmospheric physics. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2012 file photo, an Indian farmer shows a dry, cracked paddy field in Ranbir Singh Pura 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Jammu, India. A United Nations panel of scientists has drafted a list of eight ``key risksâ about climate change thatâs easy to understand and illustrates the issues that have the greatest potential to cause harm to the planet. The list is part of a massive report on how global warming is affecting humans and the planet and how the future will be worse unless something is done about it. The report is being finalized at a meeting on the weekend of March 29, 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (AP Photo/Channi Anand, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 file photo, cattle walk in a dusty pasture in rural Parker County near Springtown, Texas. Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans now think temperatures are rising and that global warming will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. Belief and worry about climate change are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don't often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they've watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Graphic shows poll results on public opinions about global warming
Laborers walk past a ferry sporting a banner on climate change on the Brahmaputra River in Gauhati, India, Thursday, Dec. 17 2009. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday his country would do even more than it has already promised to fight global warming if it had more financial aid. Disagreements between developing and developed countries, especially between China and the United States, which together emit about 40 percent of the world's heat-trapping greenhouse gases, have hindered progress at the talks, which many say will end without a deal. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2009 file photo, demonstrators hold a picture of President Barack Obama and signs during a demonstration outside the Bella Center, the venue of the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever regulations aimed at reducing the gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
Graphic shows how geoengineering can reduce global warming
FILE - In this March 22, 2012 file photo, a pumpjack is silhouetted against the setting sun in Oklahoma City. On June 2, 2014, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said an Environmental Protection Agency plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants hampers the ability of states to devise their own ways to make the cuts. The plan suggests a 35 percent reduction of carbon emissions in Oklahoma by 2030. The state derives more than half its energy from natural gas and roughly 38 percent from coal. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE- In this April 22, 2011, file photo, a man looks out at smog covering central London from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath in London. A groundbreaking agreement struck Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, by the United States and China puts the world's two worst polluters on a faster track to curbing the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2011 file photo, steam escapes from Exelon Corp.'s nuclear plant in Byron, Ill. Companies that generate electric power with anything other than coal _ and companies that produce cleaner fuels or efficiency technologies _ are likely to benefit from the Obama Administrationâs new proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. (AP Photo/Robert Ray, File)
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Unlike the Kyoto pact, forged with Democratic President Bill Clinton in office, the Paris agreement will not be a fully legally binding treaty, which would almost certainly fail to pass in the U.S. Congress.
Clinton's White House successor, George W. Bush, concluded that the Kyoto pact was giving big emerging economies such as China and India a free ride, and would cost U.S. jobs. Having signed the deal, Washington never ratified it.
"Senate leadership has already been outspoken in its positions that the United States is not legally bound to any agreement setting emissions targets or any financial commitment to it without approval by Congress," Inhofe said.
Besides Inhofe, few Republicans voiced their opinions on the deal.
None of the top Republican presidential candidates nor Republican leaders in Congress had commented on the deal on Twitter as of 6:00 pm Eastern (1100 GMT) Saturday.
Previously, Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump has cast doubt on science that attributes the warming of the climate to carbon emissions, saying the world's temperature "goes up and it goes down."
Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton released a statement via Twitter applauding the agreement and pushing back against its critics.
"We cannot afford to be slowed by the climate skeptics or deterred by the defeatists who doubt America's ability to meet this challenge," Clinton said, vowing to make climate change a top priority if elected president.
Representative Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, urged quick action by the Republican-led Congress to fund and support the Paris accord.
"Too many people have spent their careers pretending that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by shadowy environmental groups and Machiavellian research scientists," Grijalva said. "The American public knows full well that's not the case."