Paris Agreement is on the Table
December 12, 2015
Representatives of 195 countries were on the brink of reaching a landmark climate accord that would, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.
Delegates who have been negotiating intensely in this Paris suburb for two weeks were presented with the final draft of the document Saturday afternoon, after a tense morning when the text was promised but repeatedly delayed. Delegates immediately began parsing the text of the agreement for language that had been the subject of debate before determining whether the deal should become law.
At the heart of the new draft text is a breakthrough on an issue that has foiled decades of international efforts to address climate change. Traditionally, such pacts have required developed economies, such as the United States, to take action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but they have exempted developing countries, such as China and India, from such action.
The new accord changes that dynamic by requiring action in some form from every country, rich or poor. The echoes of those divides persisted during the negotiations, however.
The accord was heralded by three leaders — Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, President François Hollande and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations — who helped shepherd it through the final phase of a two-year effort to forge commitments to lowering the rate in which carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere.
Before the text of the accord was released, the three urged all delegates to seize the opportunity for enormous change, and Mr. Fabius, who has presided over the assembly, made an emotional appeal.
“Our text is the best possible balance,” he said, “a balance which is powerful yet delicate, which will enable each delegation, each group of countries, with his head held high, having achieved something important.
Unlike at the climate summit meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, Mr. Fabius said, the stars for this assembly were aligned.
As negotiators from countries representing a self-described “high-ambition coalition” walked into the United Nations plenary session shortly before noon, they were swarmed by cheering, clapping bystanders. The coalition, formed to push for ambitious environmental provisions in the deal, includes a mix of rich countries, such as the United States and members of the European Union; island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati, which are vulnerable to damage from rising sea levels; and countries with the strongest economies in Latin America, such as Brazil.
Representatives of the group all wore lapel pins made of dried coconut fronds, a symbol of the Marshall Islands, whose climate envoy, Tony de Brum, helped form the coalition. Developing countries with the highest emissions, such as China and India, are not in the coalition.
Scientists and world leaders have said the talks here represent the world’s last, best hope of striking a deal that would begin to avert the most devastating effects of a warming planet.
Mr. Ban has said there is “no Plan B” if this deal falls apart. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated with that phrase Friday night.
Mr. Fabius hopes the document will be approved as international law at a plenary session of 195 parties and the European Union scheduled for later Saturday. But it is not yet certain that the draft accord will receive the unanimous support required for it to become legally binding.
At the Copenhagen conference in 2009, a hard-fought deal failed at the last moment, when a handful of parties objected to the text.
“Anything could happen,” said Jennifer Morgan, an expert in international climate change negotiations at the World Resources Institute, a research organization. “I’ll be holding my breath until the gavel comes down.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, spearheading American efforts in Paris, warned Friday that “very difficult” issues needed to be resolved.
Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar spoke more ominously, warning success was not guaranteed and accusing rich nations of inflexibility.
Seeking to break the deadlock, US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke by telephone.
“They committed that their negotiating teams in Paris would continue to work closely together and with others to realise the vision of an ambitious climate agreement,” the White House said.
Mr Obama spoke earlier in the week with the leaders of India and Brazil in a bid to find common ground with other economies with giant carbon footprints.
In Paris, the Chinese delegation’s deputy chief Liu Zhenmin said he was “quite confident” a deal would be sealed on Saturday.
At the sprawling venue at Le Bourget, negotiators were feeling the effects of the marathon talks.
“We’re all tired and we’ve become much less diplomatic,” said Mr Espen Ronneberg, a finance negotiator for the Pacific island nation of Samoa.
“Instead, we just go straight to the point. Some people don’t even say hello anymore, they just nod their heads.”
The quest to forge an effective worldwide pact dates back to 1992, when the UN climate convention, an international treaty, was adopted.
The process has been dogged by labyrinthine fights, especially over the issue of burden-sharing.
Developing nations insist rich countries must shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for tackling climate change as they have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.
But the United States and other rich nations say emerging giants must also do more.
They argue that developing countries now account for most of today’s emissions and thus will be largely responsible for future warming.
One of the deepest disagreements is about funding the climate fight – at a cost of trillions of dollars over the decades to come.
Rich countries promised six years ago in Copenhagen to muster US$100 billion (S$141 billion) a year by 2020 to help developing nations make the energy shift and cope with the impacts of global warming.
But how the funds will be raised is unclear – and developing countries demand a commitment to increase the amount after 2020, when the pact enters into force.
Ahead of the talks, most nations submitted voluntary plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020, a process widely hailed as an important platform for success.
World leaders reached an historic agreement in Paris moments ago, capping off the COP21 climate talks with a unanimous deal among 195 countries to curb global warming pollution and hasten the clean energy transition. The gavel just fell on the Paris Agreement, and it’s time to celebrate.
Is it enough to please everyone? No. Will people continue to suffer from climate-charged extreme weather events? Yes. But today is a welcome change from previous summit failures.
It’s a big deal whenever 195 countries agree on anything, and that’s exactly what’s happened here today. 195 nations, from the richest to the poorest, agreed to pave the road to the end of fossil fuels.
This agreement sends a strong signal to politicians and the markets that it’s time to immediately escalate the transition to renewable energy and end the reign of fossil fuels which have polluted not only the planet but also democracies the world over.
Let there be no doubt that unacceptable compromises were made here in Paris, and much work remains to strengthen this agreement on the critical issues of human rights, finance for countries that must adapt to the inevitable and ongoing impacts, and other critical issues.
Sea levels will continue to rise and the world must assist those climate refugees who have been and will be displaced by climate chaos. The poorest, most vulnerable nations must be adequately financed to protect their people.
As a result of this agreement, we can move from a sense of total failure towards guarded optimism that we’re on the right path.
This reminds me of the feeling I had on the night of Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. My wife and I hosted a party for friends to watch the results, and as we cheered Obama’s victory, I turned to my brother and said that it was fine to celebrate tonight but tomorrow we had to wake up and start holding him accountable for all the promises he’d made during the campaign.
This Paris deal is no different.
Today, there will be celebration. But tomorrow, the hard work must begin to hold leaders accountable for the promises made here, and to continue to strengthen this agreement because much was lost to compromise.
Separately, a well known climate hawk writes to me:
A stunning, game-changing agreement that marks the beginning of the end for fossil fuels, whose consumption appears to be plateauing even now. As a result, we have the first solid shot at getting close to the 2C path. Change happens slow, until it happens fast.