Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Global climate change fight on ... nearly 200 nations approve landmark deal

Published:Saturday | December 12, 2015 | 12:06 PM
French President Francois Hollande (left) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center left, Christiana Figueres (second right) Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Foreign Affairs Minister and President-designate of COP21 Laurent Fabius (right) speak together at the end of a plenary session at Le Bourget, near Paris, France today.

LE BOURGET, France (AP):

Nearly 200 nations adopted the first global pact to fight climate change today, calling on the world to collectively cut and then eliminate greenhouse gas pollution, but imposing no sanctions on countries that don't.

The "Paris agreement" aims to keep 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.

Loud applause erupted in the conference hall after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gaveled the agreement. Some delegates wept and others embraced.

The agreement, South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa said, "can map a turning point to a better and safer world."

"This is huge," tweeted U.S. President Barack Obama. "Almost every country in the world just signed on to the #ParisAgreement on climate change – thanks to American leadership."

In the pact, the countries 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.

In practical terms, achieving that goal means the world would have to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether in the next half-century, scientists said. That's because the less we pollute, the less pollution nature absorbs.

Achieving such a reduction in emissions would involve a complete transformation of how people get energy, and many activists worry that despite the pledges, countries are not ready to make such profound and costly changes.

The deal now needs to be ratified by individual governments – at least 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions –  and would take effect in 2020.

It is the first pact to ask all countries to join the fight against global warming, representing a sea change in U.N. talks that previously required only wealthy nations to reduce their emissions.

The deal commits countries to keeping the rise in global temperatures by the year 2100 compared with pre-industrial times "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and says they will "endeavor to limit" them even more, to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The world has already warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.

Ben Strauss, a sea level researcher at Climate Central, said limiting warming to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees 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 goal.

"We've agreed to what we ought to be doing, but no one yet has agreed to go do it," said Dennis Clare, a negotiator for the Federated States of Micronesia. "It's a whole lot of pomp, given the circumstances."

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 would 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 U.S. demand because it would let the Obama administration sign on to the deal without going through the Republican-led Senate.

The adoption of the agreement was held up for nearly two hours as the United States tried – successfully, in the end – to change the wording on emissions targets. The draft agreement had said developed countries "shall" commit to reducing emissions; in adopting the pact organizers changed the language to say those countries "should" make that commitment.

Experts said the deal probably won't need congressional approval.