Paris climate deal unites world in a common goal of slashing emissions for the first time

BanFabiusHollande.jpg UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon (left), French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and French President Francoise Hollande. (PhotoL UNFCCC)

PARIS – Negotiators from 196 nations agreed on a deal limiting the global temperature rise of less than 2C by 2050 and drawing each of their countries to an accord to limit greenhouse gas releases, setting an historic milestone in the UN climate process.

After years of disappointment that drew many to question the UN climate process as a whole, the new agreement spells out the first clear path since talks began in 1995 toward slashing emissions via a combined effort of all the world’s nations in a verifiable manner, rather than just a few.

Unlike past negotiations, Paris accepted that the dangers of climate change are much greater than previously acknowledged – and pushed the urgency of curbing emissions as its primary goal.

“It’s an emotional day and it’s fantastic, that’s the word for it,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge. “It’s a historical moment and something I have been waiting 23 years to see.”

bodytextimage_Frederic002.jpg Frederic Hauge. (Photo: Bellona) Photo: (Foto: Dag Thorenfeldt)

But Hauge quickly pointed out that, “The job is not done – it’s just beginning, and it’s a whole new kind of work we’ll have to approach as a world community.”

The striking inclusion in the agreement of attempting to reach a global temperature rise of less than 2C – with an ultimate goal of 1.5C by 2050 – is something Hauge said revalidates Bellona and world leaders’ commitments to using every tool available to stop global warming, including carbon capture and storage deployment with biomass.

Indeed, he conceded it would take even more than that to come anywhere close to that goal.

“This means we’ll have to unleash everything we’ve got,” he said. “But, after tonight, I’ve got a little more faith in the world, and think we can do it.”

The jubilation was general.

After a delay of several hours to allow the draft to be translated and studied, the assembly reconvened for a debate and vote.

When the plenary session was again called to order at the Le Bourget negotiations center, Laurent Fabius, president of the UN climate summit and France’s Foreign Minister, said: “I now invite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in the document.”

After a moment of silence, he added: “Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.”

fabiusgavel.jpg Laurent Fabius gavels the adoption of the Paris accord. (Photo: UNFCCC)

At that, the 196 delegates rose to their feet in applause and cheers after several days of grinding overnight session that brought the conference into overtime.

“Today we are close to the final outcome,” Fabius said to a standing ovation. He urged the delegates not to shirk from a “historic” chance to stave off an environmental disaster. “The citizens of the world – our own citizens – and our children would not understand it. Nor, I believe, would they forgive us,” he said.

US President Barack Obama was among the first world leaders to tweet his congratulations, describing the deal as “huge.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was active in the negotiations, said the deal “will help the world prepare” for impacts of climate change that are either already here or are on the way, adding that it could prevent the worst environmental effects from coming to pass.

“We’ve taken a critical step forward,” Kerry said, adding that the next actions will be equally important.

The measures agreed to in the final draft include a peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. All countries will be required to report on national inventories of emissions by source, as well to explain their mitigation efforts.

ovation A standing ovation ends the negotiations in Paris. (Photo: UNFCCC)

The deal also spells out that the efforts will keep global temperature rises to “well below 2C” and to pursue efforts to limit it at 1.5C.

The delegates also agreed to review their climate progress every five years. Countries will revisit their national climate plans in 2018 before they come into affect post-2020. They would next be reviewed in 2023, and new commitments revisited in 2025, and every five years from then onward.

Richer nations will deliver what Fabius called a “floor” of at least $100 billion in climate finance for developing nations annually by 2020, with a commitment to even deeper financing in the future.

Before the deal was formally struck, the mood among delegates waiting for the plenary session to resume was reported to be buoyant.

Fabius was applauded as he entered the hall ahead of the announcement. Both Hauge and Jonas Helseth, director of Bellona Europa, have noted throughout the talks that Fabius has taken a no nonsense approach to the negotiations and carefully kept delegates focused on reaching the deal they did on Saturday.

There are still a number of dangling issues.

National emissions reductions proposals submitted for the summit still fall short of the 2C goal, the threshold at which scientists believe the most catastrophic effects of climate change could be avoided. Hauge’s own calculations indicate that at current rates, the world is in for something closer to a 3.5C temperature rise.

What’s more is that the accord, for all of the delegates’ emphasis on a wholesale switch to renewable power, makes no mention of when fossil fuels will be phased out entirely.

The penultimate draft circulated at Le Bourget said parties would work “toward reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century,” while the adopted agreement says noting of the sort.

But Hauge said that the delegates have a common understanding of what lies ahead, and the urgency with which it needs to be addressed.

“I think with CCS and biomass we have shown stake holders that there is possibility to move if they dare – and they’re showing they want to take that dare,” he said.

“And now world leaders understand we can’t go backward on this,” added Hauge. “The agreement is more strict than any other and we are all accountable to one another.”

Charles Digges

charles@bellona.no