Climate summit hails historic Paris accord

A DEAL to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C by 2050 and universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions was last night agreed at the climate change summit in Paris.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and President Francois Hollande applaud the deal
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and President Francois Hollande applaud the deal

After crunch UN talks and two weeks of tense meetings, governments finally signalled an end to the fossil fuel era, as negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed up to a deal that sets ambitious goals to limit temperature rise and hold governments to account for reaching those targets.

The deal is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions with the agreement partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Earlier, key blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, and nations such as China and India, said they supported the proposals crafted by the French.

Protesters in the French capital form a red line that summit negotiators should not cross. Picture: Matt Dunham/AP

The text agreed accepts that the dangers of climate change are much greater than previously acknowledged and pledges to attempt to curb the emissions.

A draft agreement was last night whittled down from 50 pages to 31 – as the details of the accord were thrashed out.

Welcoming the deal, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “In striking this deal, the nations of the world have shown what unity, ambition and perseverance can do.

“Britain is already leading the way in work to cut emissions and help less developed countries cut theirs – and this global deal now means that the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. It’s a moment to remember and a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet.”

In the “Paris agreement”, countries will commit to keeping average global temperatures from rising another degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) between now and 2100, a key demand of poor countries ravaged by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. Countries will also commit to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.

Yesterday, negotiators had a few hours to analyse the draft before going into a plenary meeting for possible adoption. French president Francois Hollande, who joined the meeting, urged them to approve it.

“The decisive agreement for the planet is here and now,” Hollande said. “France calls upon you to adopt the first universal agreement on climate.”

The deal, meant to take effect in 2020, would be the first to ask all countries to join the fight against global warming, representing a sea change in the UN talks, which previously required only wealthy nations to reduce their emissions.

“This is a good text,” said Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira. “Brazil can accept this.”

The deal commits countries to keeping the rise in global temperatures by the year 2100 compared with pre-industrial times “well below” 2C, and says they will “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C. The world has already warmed by about 1C since pre-industrial times.

Ben Strauss, a sea level researcher at Climate Central, said limiting warming to 1.5C instead of 2C could potentially cut in half the projected 280 million people whose houses will eventually be submerged by rising seas.

More than 180 countries have already presented plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions – a breakthrough in itself after years of stalemate.

But those pledges are not enough to achieve the goals in the accord, meaning countries will need to cut much more to meet the target. Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, chairman of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said: “The Paris agreement is the culmination of more than 20 years of negotiation.

“With it the countries of the world have recognised that they all have to work together to tackle the shared problem of dangerous climate change caused by human activities.

“We are now looking towards the post-fossil fuel era that will give new opportunities for technological, economic and social development that is truly sustainable.”

The agreement sets a goal of getting global greenhouse gas emissions to start falling “as soon as possible”; they have been generally rising since the Industrial Revolution.

It says wealthy nations should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That reflects Western attempts to expand the donor base to include advanced developing countries such as China.

In what will be a victory for small island nations, the agreement includes a section highlighting the losses they expect to incur from climate-related disasters that it’s too late to adapt to.

However, a footnote specifies that it “does not involve or provide any basis for any liability or compensation” – a key US demand because it would let the Obama administration sign on to the deal without going through the Republican-led Senate.

The UN has been working for more than two decades to persuade governments to work together to reduce the man-made emissions that scientists say are warming the planet.

The previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, included only rich countries and the US never signed on. The last climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, ended in failure when countries couldn’t agree on a binding emissions pact.

Some scientists who had criticised earlier drafts of the pact as unrealistic praised yesterday’s version for including language that essentially means the world will have to all but stop polluting with greenhouse gases by 2070 to reach the two-degree goal.