Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

EU and 195 countries adopt Paris climate accord

  • Laurent Fabius (m), flanked by Francois Hollande and Ban Ki-Moon, calling on the world's countries to adopt the agreement. (Photo: UNclimatechange)

For the first time in the history of mankind, the world's countries, on Saturday evening (12 December) in Paris, committed to fighting climate change by adopting a fully global climate treaty.

After two weeks of talks in a conference centre in a suburb of the French capital, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius asked the plenary session of the United Nations climate conference if it wished to adopt the Paris Agreement.

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“I see that the reaction is positive. I see no objection. The Paris Agreement is adopted,” said Fabius.

The deal cements a new bottom-up approach, which involves pledges by every country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a review mechanism to jack up the ambition of the pledges every five years.

The international legal document, which will be signed by 195 countries and by the European Union, says the signatories aim to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

The reference to the 1.5 degrees is a powerful element, introduced in the text in Paris to accommodate the worries of countries most vulnerable to climate change, and of those which wanted an "ambitious" agreement.

The more the earth's global temperature rises, the more chance there is of extreme weather events which cause both economic harm and loss of life.

It is the second legally binding climate document since the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in Japan in 1997. But Kyoto required only action from a few dozen developed countries, which, historically speaking, have been the greatest polluters.

This time, all countries are expected to act, but the text still allows for different responsibilities.

“Developed country parties [to the Paris accord] should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances,” said the text, adopted Saturday.

Another important aspect of the text is “climate finance” - aid money to developing countries to help them reduce emissions, as well as take care of the effects of climate change whic have already happened.

In addition to the Paris Agreement, the countries also adopted another document, in which developed countries promise to annually provide $100 billion starting in 2020, and, in a last-minute concession to developing countries, to increase this sum from 2025 onwards.

Putting the finance chapter in the additional document, rather than in the binding agreement, appeased the wealthier nations’ concerns.

The adoption of the Paris document ends a process of years, and puts the traumatic experience of the Copenhagen climate conference of 2009, where a similar treaty was expected but not delivered, to rest.

“This historic agreement is a manifesto for a better world, for a world that is just and sustainable,” said Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg's minister of environment, on behalf of EU ministers.

Sitting next to her was the European Commission's climate negotiatior, Miguel Arias Canete, who called it a “strong and robust agreement.” He noted that following the adoption, nations and the EU must next take measures in the spirit of the agreement.

“Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we have to act,” said Canete.

The adoption also ended a rollercoaster of a day on Saturday, during which the climate talks were finalised, one day later than in the original schedule.

Earlier on Saturday, Fabius delivered an emotional speech in which he called on delegates to accept the draft text he presented.

He was flanked by French president Francois Hollande, and United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, who also asked countries to accept the draft.

During the day, environmental groups held a press conference. Referring to the draft text, they said that although “disappointing” compromises intruded into the document, it is still a “landmark agreement.”

“Paris will be the floor, not the ceiling,” said Oxfam's Tim Gore.

Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo added: “This is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.”

As is common in international climate negotiations, several key moments in the final days were postponed to accommodate bilateral talks.

The final plenary session started one hour and 45 minutes after it was scheduled to, but with several of the delegates visibly discussing in so-called "huddles" on television screens.

It is likely that during these huddles, the last of the edges were smoothed, which allowed Fabius to declare the historic document as adopted after no one country objected.

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