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COP21: Nearly 200 nations pledge to slow global warming

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM
People demonstrate with floods posters near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, yesterday as they waited on the final agreement from COP21.


Nearly 200 nations adopted the first global pact to fight climate change yesterday, 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 gavelled 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 United States 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.

achieving that goal

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 United Nations talks that previously required only wealthy nations to reduce their emissions.

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 US 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.