One month after brutal terorist attacks claimed over 130 lives in Paris, the city of lights has emerged triumphant in presiding over the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.
At the weekend, over 190 nations shrugged off their many differences to strike the first international deal to save our climate in nearly 20 years.
And, after the last global effort to seal a deal collapsed in Copenhagen 5 years ago, last weekend’s agreement is being hailed as “historic, durable and ambitious.”
And, the stakes could hardly have been higher.
According to the United Nations, owing to our unprecedented use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, world temperatures were fast marching towards the four degrees Celsius mark.
And, while 4C temperature rise may not not sound like much, it’s the difference between today and the last Ice Age.
The accord states that global temperatures must not rise higher than two degrees Celsius, whilst aspiring towards a more ambitious goal of 1.5C.
This represents a far more stringent target than originally expected.
In the words of Europe’s climate chief Miguel Arias Canete: “This was the last chance. And we took it.
The deal marks a hard earned victory for the UN which has labored for years against political apathy and deep divisions between rich and poor nations.
“I used to say: we must, we can, we will,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief who sheparded over the talks. “Today, we can say we did.”
Visibly moved when the deal was formally announced Al Gore, the former US vice-president said the agreement would have a powerful effect on the economy:
“This universal and ambitious agreement sends a clear signal to governments, businesses, and investors everywhere: the transformation of our global economy from one fuelled by dirty energy to one fuelled by sustainable economic growth is now firmly and inevitably underway.”
The CEO of Unilever Paul Polman praised the agreement as:
“An unequivocal signal to the business and financial communities that would drive real economic change. The billions of dollars pledged by developed countries will be matched with the trillions of dollars that will flow to low-carbon investment.”
US president Barack Obama who worked hard to cement this deal in back room talks and late night phone calls described it as a “tribute to strong, principled American leadership” and a vital step in ensuring the future of the planet:
“This agreement represents the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got,” he said, but added that the deal “was not perfect. The problem’s not solved because of this accord”
The sum total of pledges tabled in Paris are not enough to stave off dangerous climate change.
In fact, it only limits dangerous global warming to three degrees Celsius, which in the words of Tim Gore from Oxfam, “only takes us from a 4C catastrophe to a 3C disaster.”
But, the agreement does promise to ratchet up ambition every 5 years in line with scientific advise.
Nevertheless, many scientists questioned the reality of reaching either the 2C or 1.5C goal, arguing that it relied on future technologies to remove huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Moreover, critics lambasted that the deal would not be enough to save many small island states from rising sea levels.
But, supporters of the agreement celebrated the fact that this is the first global deal struck by over 190 nations in nearly two decades.
Also, rich nations did agree to finance poorer nations struggling with the ravaging effects of climate climate, whilst climate aid will be dispatched to countries affected by weather related disasters.
Although most of the accord is legally binding, some elements such as climate finance and national pledges to curb emissions are not.
The deal was specially crafted to ensure that a belligerent US Republican controlled Congress could not torpedo it. That means that there is always the risk that some nations may renege on their promises.
In the words of Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International:
“It sometimes seems that the countries of the UN can unite on nothing, but nearly 200 countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today, the human race has joined in a common cause. The Paris agreement is only one step on a long road and there are parts of it that frustrate, that disappoint me, but it is progress. The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”
But, in the end, the agreement was the by product of years of intense negotiations, two weeks of late night marathon talks, and back room deals with both the U.S. And French president coaxing other world leaders to step up to the plate.
The accord will be open for signature from next spring, and will only come into effect once at least 55 nations making up at least 55% of global emissions have ratified it.
A diplomatic coup for the French government still reeling from last month’s horrific terrorist attacks, the Paris Agreement will long be remembered as a seminal moment in our planet’s fight against catastrophic climate change.
It marked a moment where the climate crusaders beat the climate deniers in what has been a long and drawn out climate war. A war which sadly has many skirmishes ahead of it.
Less than 24 hours after the deal was struck, Republican lawmakers in the U.S are already threatening to block the $3 billion in climate finance that Obama promised ahead of the summit.
Moreover, Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, questioned the validity of the Paris deal:
“Before Obama’s international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject.”
In many ways, the battle has only just begun.
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