PARIS — A historic and truly global agreement to tackle and adapt to climate change has been approved after two decades of failed attempts.
It aims to hold the rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees C and strengthen that further with a call to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C — an aspect of the deal few expected heading into the summit.
The agreement was unanimously approved, and negotiators rose to their feet in applause after it became certain that the first legally binding, universal deal to fight back against climate change was a done deal.
“Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act,” said former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.
“The text we have before us is not perfect,” said lead negotiator for South Africa, adding that it creates a solid foundation for action and is the “best we can get at this historic moment.”
The agreement establishes a floor, not a ceiling, on the ambition of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, aiming for a global peak in GHGs “as soon as possible” and a balance between how much humanity emits and how much nature can absorb – known as “carbon neutrality” — sometime during the second half of the century.
There would be a common, legally binding system of transparency applied to all countries, meaning their commitments would be reviewed under the same standards every five years, and countries would get a chance in 2018 to bolster their current pledges and continue to up their game in five-year cycles.
Reducing GHG emissions and adapting to climate effects share the stage as priorities, and financing will be provided — led by developed countries with help from able and willing developing countries — to support the most vulnerable nations transition to a low-carbon economy and remain resilient in the face of intensifying climate impacts.
“This sends a very powerful signal to the world’s markets,” said Michael Jacobs, senior advisor for the New Climate Economy.
Business leaders were quick to speak out. “The ‘Paris effect’ will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy,” said Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.
Earlier in the day, environmental groups were predictably divided, with Friends of Earth calling the draft text “a sham of a deal” and the David Suzuki Foundation calling it an ambitious deal that “marks a pivotal moment in history.”
Climate activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben said the deal doesn’t save the planet, “but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters in Paris, under the close watch of riot police, are holding hands beneath the Eiffel Tower and denouncing a burgeoning Paris climate accord as too weak to save the planet.
Paris police authorized Saturday's protest despite continued security fears and a state of emergency declared because of the deadly Nov. 13 attacks. The activists remained cheerful as they demonstrated on the Champ de Mars field that stretches beneath the tower.
Danielle Lefait, a retired deaf student teacher, says she is protesting because she is afraid of the environmental risks of proposed shale gas extraction in her town of Arras in northern France. Other protesters are angry the draft climate accord doesn't do more to force governments to give up fossil fuels blamed for warming the planet.
Protesters also stretched a two-kilometre red banner from the Arc de Triomphe to the La Defence business district in Paris — illustrating the “red line” they say climate negotiators shouldn't cross if they want to protect vulnerable people and the Earth.
– With files from The Associated Press
– This article is part of a series produced in partnership by the Toronto Star and Tides Canada to address a range of pressing climate issues in Canada leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, December 2015. Tides Canada is supporting this partnership to increase public awareness and dialogue around the impacts of climate change on Canada’s economy and communities. The Toronto Star has full editorial control and responsibility to ensure stories are rigorously edited in order to meet its editorial standards.