Paris Agreement: landmark accord, turn from fossil fuels

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (C), President-designate of COP21 and Christiana Figueres (L), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, react during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (C), President-designate of COP21 and Christiana Figueres (L), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, react during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Alister Doyle and Barbara Lewis
December 12, 2015

PARIS (Reuters) – The global climate summit in Paris agreed a landmark accord on Saturday, setting the course for a historic transformation of the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy within decades in a bid to arrest global warming.

After four years of fraught U.N. talks often pitting the interests of rich nations against poor, imperilled island states against rising economic powerhouses, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared the pact adopted to the standing applause and whistles of delegates from almost 200 nations.

“With a small hammer you can achieve great things,” Fabius said as he gavelled the agreement, capping two weeks of tense negotiations at the summit on the outskirts of Paris.

Hailed as the first truly global climate deal, committing both rich and poor nations to reining in rising emissions blamed for warming the planet, it sets out a sweeping long-term goal of eliminating net man-made greenhouse gas output this century.

“It is a victory for all of the planet and for future generations,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. negotiations in Paris.

“We have set a course here. The world has come together around an agreement that will empower us to chart a new path for our planet, a smart and responsible path, a sustainable path.”

It also creates a system to encourage nations to step up voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions, and provides billions more dollars to help poor nations cope with the transition to a greener economy powered by renewable energy.

Calling it “ambitious and balanced”, Fabius said the accord would mark a “historic turning point” in efforts to avert the potentially disastrous consequences of an overheated planet.

The final agreement was essentially unchanged from a draft unveiled earlier in the day, including a more ambitious objective of restraining the rise in temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a mark scientists fear could be a tipping point for the climate.

Previously, the goal on temperature rise was set at 2 degrees Celsius in 2010.

In some ways its success was assured before the summit began: 187 nations have submitted detailed national plans for how they will contain the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, commitments that are the core of the Paris deal.

While leaving each country to pursue those measures on its own, the agreement finally sets a common vision and course of action after years of bickering over how to move forward.

Officials hope a unified stance will be a powerful symbol for world citizens and a potent signal to the executives and investors they’re counting on to spend trillions of dollars to replace coal-fired power with solar panels and windmills.

“This agreement establishes a clear path to decarbonize the global economy within the lifetimes of many people alive today,” said Paul Polman, the CEO of consumer goods maker Unilever and a leading advocate for sustainable business practices.

It will “drive real change in the real economy”.

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TOO MUCH, OR NOT ENOUGH?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, reacts after a press conference during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, reacts after a press conference during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

While some climate change activists and U.S. Republicans will likely find fault with the accord – either for failing to take sufficiently drastic action, or for overreacting to an uncertain threat – many of the estimated 30,000 officials, academics and campaigners who set up camp on the outskirts of Paris say they see it as a long overdue turning point.

Six years after the previous climate summit in Copenhagen ended in failure and acrimony, the Paris pact appears to have rebuilt much of the trust required for a concerted global effort to combat climate change, delegates say.

“Whereas we left Copenhagen scared of what comes next, we’ll leave Paris inspired to keep fighting,” said David Turnbull, Director at Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organisation opposed to fossil fuel production.

Most climate activists reacted positively, encouraged by long-term targets that were more ambitious than they expected, while warning it was only the first step of many.

“Today we celebrate, tomorrow we have to work,” European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said.

From the outset, some have criticized the deal for setting too low a bar for success. Scientists warn that the envisaged national emissions cuts will not be enough to keep warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the last major climate deal agreed in 1997, the Paris pact will also not be a fully legally binding treaty, something that would almost certainly fail to pass the U.S. Congress.

In the United States, many Republicans will see the pact as a dangerous endeavour that threatens to trade economic prosperity for an uncertain if greener future.

DESTINIES BOUND

After talks that extended into early morning, the draft text showed how officials had resolved the stickiest points.

In a win for vulnerable low-lying nations who had portrayed the summit as the last chance to avoid the existential threat of rising seas, nations would “pursue efforts” to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as they had hoped.

“Our head is above water,” said Olai Uludong, ambassador on climate change for the Pacific island state of Palau.

While scientists say pledges thus far could see global temperatures rise by as much as 3.7 degrees, the agreement also lays out a roadmap for checking up on progress. The first “stocktake” would occur in 2023, with further reviews every five years to steadily increase or “ratchet up” those measures.

It softened that requirement for countries with longer-term plans extending to 2030, such as China, which had resisted revisiting its goal before then.

And for the first time, the world has agreed on a longer-term aspiration for reaching a peak in greenhouse emissions “as soon as possible” and achieving a balance between output of manmade greenhouse gases and absorption – by forests or the oceans – by the second half of this century.

It also requires rich nations to maintain a $100 billion (£65.72 billion) a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025, providing greater financial security to developing nations as they wean themselves away from coal-fired power.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting By Emmanuel Jarry, Bate Felix, Lesley Wroughton, Nina Chestney, Richard Valdmanis, Valerie Volcovici, Bruce Wallace and David Stanway; Editing by Jonathan Leff and Clelia Oziel)

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FACTBOX, THE PARIS AGREEMENT

French President Francois Hollande (R) embraces French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21 during the Climate Change, at the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015.   REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French President Francois Hollande (R) embraces French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21 during the Climate Change, at the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PARIS (Reuters) – After four years of global negotiations, two weeks of intense talks and more than a few sleepless nights, climate officials from almost 200 nations meeting in Paris are on the cusp of a landmark accord to arrest climate change.

On Saturday, hosts France released the final text of a “Paris Outcome”, this one devoid of the bracketed text that represented the sticking points yet to be resolved.

Written in the opaque legal language that has evolved from more than two decades of U.N. climate talks, the pact sets the world a roadmap for breaking away from the fossil fuels that have powered the global economy since the Industrial Revolution.

The new text is 31 pages, against 27 on Thursday and more than 50 at the start of the talks.

National delegations have broken up to review the text, with hopes high that they will return to a formal session to adopt it later on Saturday.

Following are details of the new draft:

FINANCE

Developed nations promised in 2009 to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 from both public and private sources to help developing nations limit their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to more floods, heat waves and rising sea levels.

Enshrining that figure in legal language was one of the biggest sticking points of the talks as delegates said the U.S. Congress could never ratify a commitment for developing nations to keep on increasing that figure from 2020.

In non-binding decisions that accompany the binding text, the agreement says governments shall set by 2025 “a new collective quantified goal from a floor of $100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries”.

LONG-TERM GOAL (DEGREES)

In 2010, the U.N. climate summit in Mexico adopted a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, a level that scientists say could be a tipping point for the climate. Global average surface temperatures have already risen by about 1.0 Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit).

But many vulnerable, low-lying nations like the Marshall Islands say that a full 2 degrees Celsius rise would endanger their very existence as sea levels rise, and pushed hard for setting a goal to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They found support from more than 100 nations, including the European Union and the United States, which formed a “high ambition coalition”.

Saudi Arabia and other nations resisted, saying there was insufficient research to support a tougher target and that setting too ambitious a figure could endanger food security.

The final draft text sets an aim to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”.

It also seeks to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

LONG-TERM GOAL (EMISSIONS)

Negotiators have struggled with how to phrase an aspirational longer-term goal for halting emissions, a symbolic but still potent message about how they see the world’s energy system transforming over the rest of this century.

Some of the most vulnerable nations and non-governmental organisations had campaigned for a clear, quantified goal for eliminating or reducing fossil fuel use by the middle of the century.

China and India, heavily dependent on coal, are among those reluctant to set clear dates for giving up fossil fuels they see as vital to lifting millions from poverty. Saudi Arabia, whose economy also depends on oil, is also a clear opponent.

The European Union, although keen to lead on climate had a problem with the word decarbonisation because of Poland, whose economy depends on coal.

As negotiations wore on, the options grew vaguer. By Thursday evening, the goal was greenhouse gas neutrality, a phrasing that confounded some climate experts, but avoided the word decarbonisation.

The final text said nations must “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognising that peaking will take longer for developing country parties”.

It said that to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out by the deal, parties will aim to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Analysts at the talks interpreted the text as implying net zero emissions.

LOSS AND DAMAGE

Developing nations want a long-term mechanism to help them cope with loss and damage from disasters such as typhoons or the impacts of a creeping rise of sea level rise. All governments set up a loss and damage mechanism in 2013, but it has so far done little.

Earlier drafts recognised the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage, but offered divergent options, including one that left out the mechanism.

An existing international mechanism to deal with the unavoidable losses and damages caused by climate change, such as creeping deserts and rising seas, is anchored in the draft final deal.

A promise that it will not be used as a basis for “liability and compensation” — a demand from the United States that proved divisive — has been moved to a set of accompanying decisions in a compromise.

RAISING AMBITION

Well before the Paris talks began, it was clear that the promises made by 186 nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020, the backbone of the Paris accord, were too weak to limit rising temperatures to the agreed 2 degrees Celsius level.

Negotiators knew going in there would have to be a system for “ratcheting up” national measures, but how and when to do that has been a sticking point throughout.

Frequent reviews have been a major demand from negotiating blocs such as the European Union, but China in particular said it cannot commit to more aggressive action quickly because Beijing has already set domestic goals out to 2030.

In line with a date mooted in the previous draft on Thursday, the new draft text schedules a “first global stocktake in 2023” and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided.

CARBON MARKETS

The draft legal text contains no explicit mention of carbon markets, nor of the possibility of carbon penalties for aviation and shipping. It does, however, include a reference to the “use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes,” which could allow nations on a voluntary basis to offset their own emissions by buying credits from other nations.

DIFFERENTIATION

Developing nations say that rich nations, as defined in a 1992 Convention, should continue to take the lead in cutting emissions and providing finance. Developed nations argue that many of these countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, have since become wealthy and should do more.

The new text says developed countries shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries and “other parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily”.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis, Megan Rowling, editing by Jonathan Leff and David Evans)

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