The Planet

‘The Paris Agreement Is Adopted’

by Ben Jervey

December 12, 2015
On the final day of COP 21, Comité de Paris is opened by French President François Hollande, COP 21President Laurent Fabius, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Photo by IISD/Kiara Worth

“I see there is no objection, the Paris Agreement has been adopted.” With those words, French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius gaveled in a new global climate deal.

It only took negotiators an extra 24 hours and some exceedingly tense moments that played out on the plenary floor before the final meeting formally got underway.

In the end, everyone had to give a little, which is how an effective negotiation should work. Earlier today, a European climate expert explained this agreement is a truly impressive feat of compromise and collaboration. One path to agreement, Thomas Spencer of IDDRI said, would have been “a low ambition agreement at the lowest common denominators.” Rather, what we got is a highly ambitious deal, “because the tensions between each of the elements held the whole thing together.” 

Deeper analyses will be done on which countries were forced to budge the most, but we have a general sense at this point of who got the deal done. There would be no deal without the incredible leadership of Tony DeBrum of the Marshall Islands, who spearheaded the High Ambition Coalition that injected considerable confidence into the talks during the second week.

Indian leaders yielded on a couple of key points. The Chinese negotiators seemed incredibly happy entering the plenary. The American team nearly derailed everything with some last minute demands on the floor (which are being severely criticized by many as yet another example of U.S. bullying in the talks). The Venezuelans seem uphappy, but not enough so to derail the whole deal.

So what’s actually in this 31-page deal?

If you're the type that’d like to dig into the text, there are some great resources for that. Carbon Brief has a really handy rundown of all the key issues and how they have been resolved.

Like so many other experts scrambling around Le Bourget right now, the Climate Trackers have been in overdrive reviewing and analyzing the text. They published an infographic that evaluates all of the key elements, and there’s probably no better way for the layperson out there to get a grip of what’s actually in this deal.

Climate Trackers quick analysis of final loss and damage language.

The deal will not make everyone happy. But as Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International said earlier today, "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. This deal puts the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history."

That’s a common theme about the Paris Agreement. As written, it does not come close to forcing the sort of action that the science says is necessary to effectively halt temperature rise and reign in the rising seas.

Yet, it could prove the turning point when the world deliberately and collectively pivots away from fossil fuels.

Michael Jacobs of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate said that the business and investor community “wanted a signal about the way the future economy would be shaped. This deal sends an incredibly powerful signal to the world’s markets...We are on an irresistible, irrevokable path to low carbon.”

In terms of ambition, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon offered that, “the Paris Agreement is a floor not a ceiling. It ensures that in 2018 we come back and do what is necessary by the climate science.”

The Day of the Deal

It was Saturday afternoon at Le Bourget, and the thousands of delegates, advocates, experts, and journalists who stuck around as the meetings dragged into overtime were waiting.

“You have this opportunity to take the world. You have to take this opportunity, grasp it, so our planet may live a long time,” French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius told the assembled delegates in the morning.

But first, lunch. In a development that should surprise nobody familiar with the perpetual tardiness of UN climate summit, the final draft text that was first expected at 9am was postponed until 10:30am, and then until 1:30pm. Well, 1:36 to be exact.

A palpable energy coursed through the retrofitted airport hanger that holds these critical meetings when the final draft of the agreement was uploaded to the conference's website and hundreds of paper copies handed out from the document center.

Soon, countries were scrambling to read the final text in time for two consecutive meetings that were supposed to start at 5:30 p.m., but wound up being pushed until after 7:30 p.m. (Why two meetings? For bureaucratic reasons that are pointless to explain here.) After the plenary hall filled, there was more delay. And tension. Rumors ran rampant – a panicked tweet said that a major superpower wasn’t happy with an article in the final draft, others were saying that the U.S. was using one last opportunity to play hardball and strip some unfavorable language from the text. In the end, both rumors were true. But all was somehow resolved. (And I look forward to someday learning exactly how all the tensions were resolved.)

Then, the last Comite meeting was finally underway, and over in a flash. Suddenly, the final COP Plenary was underway, and within seconds, Fabius lifts a gavel. 

And, Voilà!, an international climate deal.

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‘The Paris Agreement Is Adopted’