World reaches historic climate agreement in Paris

  • Negotiators representing nearly 200 countries today reached a historic agreement to address climate change.

  • The accord, approved Saturday night in Paris after nearly two weeks of sometimes acrimonious debate, commits countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions with an objective at halting global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

  • Importantly, all signatories are required to take action toward meeting that goal, whether it means becoming more energy efficient, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, or burning less fossil fuels.

Negotiators representing nearly 200 countries today reached a historic agreement to address climate change.

The accord, approved Saturday night in Paris after nearly two weeks of sometimes acrimonious debate, commits countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions with an objective at halting global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. Importantly, all signatories are required to take action toward meeting that goal, whether it means becoming more energy efficient, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, or burning less fossil fuels. That includes both rich, industrialized nations like the United States and China as well as small, poor countries that are already struggling with the impacts of rising sea levels and temperatures.

However while elements of the agreement are legally binding, most language related to emissions reductions is voluntary. The hybrid nature was developed to accommodate the U.S., where politics may prevent ratification of a binding treaty.

Dried out peat lake in Sumatra, Indonesia is 2015.

The Paris Agreement includes language on REDD+, an initiative that aims to protect forests; the rights of indigenous peoples; a commitment to mobilize funds for climate finance to help developing countries build pathways toward clean energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change; five year benchmarks for measuring progress; and an aspirational target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

In a flurry of press releases issued shortly after the agreement was reached, environmental groups and conservationists responded to specific measures within the text. Most were upbeat about the accord, but expressed concerns about implementation or the need to move faster to phase out emissions.

“This is a pivotal moment where nations stepped across political fault lines to collectively face down climate change,” said WWF Vice President of Climate Change Lou Leonard. “The agreement hammered out over the last weeks in Paris creates a blueprint for progressively bolder action with regular moments where nations come back to the table to do more.”

“The Paris agreement is an important milestone,” added Tasneem Essop, head of WWF delegation to the UN climate talks. “We made progress here, but the job is not done. We must work back home to strengthen the national actions triggered by this agreement. We need to secure faster delivery of new cooperative efforts from governments, cities, businesses and citizens to make deeper emissions cuts, resource the energy transition in developing economies and protect the poor and most vulnerable. Countries must then come back next year with an aim to rapidly implement and strengthen the commitments made here.”

“This is not a moment for triumphalism given the lives that have been lost already as a result of climate impacts, and the lives that are on the precipice as temperatures rise,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International. “This is a time for urgent action. The climate clock is ticking and the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

The pact comes at a turbulent time for the world economy and environment. 2015 has been notable both for plunging energy prices, which have undercut greener energy alternatives like solar and wind; stalling economic conditions; and abnormal climate phenomena, including record-breaking temperatures, wild weather, and outbreaks of massive forest fires from America’s Pacific Northwest to the Brazilian Amazon to Indonesia’s peat forests.

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