The Paris Agreement is supposed to handle climate change. The Sustainable Development Goals should be the grand master plan for all countries until 2030. But the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere still increases at record speed while more tonnes are taken from the earth every year. It looks like we need something stronger.

To address the gap, French President Emmanuel Macron is talking about a global pact for the environment with other heads of state, most recently in the UK and China. One key feature of this pact is the explicit bottom line to create a global legally binding document on all environmental laws in one document. Whether that comes with stronger options for enforcing the implementation – like trade agreements have – that is still a whole other thing.

The Global Pact for the environment would rely on the right to a healthy environment and the duty to take care of the environment. In what could become a good precedent, The Inter-American Court for Human Rights just ruled that such a right should be guaranteed. Since environmental harm often crosses state boundaries, the Court answered a key question: should persons affected by environmental harm coming from another country be protected? The answer was yes. Some environmental organisations already hailed that ruling as historic, but to really make it historic, it would need to be agreed at the global level and then implemented. Regarding the latter: it also helps that in the draft of the Global Pact for the Environment, there’s an official recognition of the role of civil society in being a watchdog.

While Donald Tusk, President of the Council of the EU, said that this pact is needed and timely – chances are that the Donald on the other side of the Atlantic has a slightly different view. The EU is not doing great on the environment (for example: big countries like Germany won’t make the already weak climate targets), but maybe the situation in the US is so bad that a strong statement by the rest of the world is not only needed but also politically possible. The EU seems ready – illustrated by the recent statement that being in the Paris Agreement is going to be a pre-condition for making new trade deals. Yes, there is still room to take this to a whole other level by putting unsustainable trade flows into question. But if Trump puts the bar so low, we shouldn’t go for the lowest common denominator globally. We need to leap ahead.

After Macron’s January trip to China their common Declaration afterwards said: “France and China intend to continue their constructive dialogue on the development of a Global Pact for the Environment”. Fair enough, there are also risks with this initiative. The outcome of a conference to negotiate such a pact is highly uncertain and adopting a treaty that is then not ratified could cast doubts about the customary status of the Articles – which are mostly based on pre-existing principles. But despite these reservations, the environmental challenges humanity is faced with are as real as acute and they demand for bold and binding action at the global level.