After months of preparation and weeks of negotiation, world leaders have reached a climate-change deal at this year’s Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. It is the most ambitious international agreement ever to face up to the threat of global warming, as the final text of the deal makes clear.
Here are the main points:
An aim to keep global mean temperature within 1.5°C of that which existed before the industrial era. This is a more ambitious goal that the 2°C goal that nearly 200 governments agreed upon six years ago.A check-in every five years, to take stock of how countries are doing on their individual climate plans, which will come into effect in 2020. The first check-in will happen in 2023.A “loss and damage” clause that will allow vulnerable countries to claim compensation for financial losses due to climate change.
The deal also calls for balancing out carbon emissions caused by humans with those that can be absorbed back in by sinks (such as trees and oceans). This could be significant as a long-term goal, despite the much-criticized absence of a specific timeline.
The resolution was unveiled on December 12, and has been called “unprecedented.” It wins on many political points, including the fact that the negotiations have seen the widest participation of parties in COP history.
Update Dec. 12, 13:30: The final text was accepted unanimously by all 195 countries involved in the negotiations, which makes it another historic first for climate talks. That means, for the first time ever, each of those countries has agreed to reduce carbon emissions.
Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute said in a statement:
“This agreement would mark a true turning point in the global effort to address climate change. The text reflects both the push for high ambition and the voices of the most vulnerable. It accelerates the energy transformation that is well underway, pointing us to a safer and stronger future.”
But many remain skeptical of the advances made by the Paris deal, pointing out that the text specifies few hard commitments. As a spokesperson for international charity Oxfam said in a statement:
“This deal offers a frayed life-line to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Only the vague promise of a new future climate funding target has been made, while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall a climate change catastrophe.”
One of the sticking points is the “loss and damage” clause. The Paris deal, for the first time, recognizes that rich countries that built their wealth on fossil fuels should help vulnerable countries to deal with damages wrought by climate change, and clears the way for those countries to ask for compensation. But that doesn’t mean wealthy nations will be held directly responsible—the United States seems to have forced its wish to avoid actual legal liability.
Climate scientists also worry that the vague language will mean little real action to avert the coming crisis.