For the first time in history, industrialized and developed countries alike have commited to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. Andrea Rönsberg reports from Paris.
Laughter, applause, and cheers broke out in the plenary hall after French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, presiding over the climate conference, said the words apparently everybody had been waiting to hear.
“I hear no objections,” said Fabius, letting the gavel fall, “the Paris Agreement is now adopted.”
It was only then that parties started commenting on the agreement.
“This text is not perfect,” said South African environment minister Edna Molewa, “but it lays a solid foundation.”
Molewa then quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died two years ago.
“I have walked that long road to freedom,” Molewa read, her voice breaking with emotion, “and I dare not linger, for my walk is not ended.”
High emotions after hard negotiations
Again, negotiators and observers filling the plenary room, put away their mobile phones, stopped taking pictures, and tweeting, and clapped loudly. After negotiations had run around the clock for three nights in a row, relief was palpable – especially since the meeting, originally scheduled to start at 04:30 UTC had been delayed by almost two hours.
Sources close to negotiations explained the US delegation had complained about one particular sentence in the draft where the text contained the word “shall,” although the agreed word in fact was “should.”
Though trivial at first sight, success or failure of climate conferences may very well hinge on just one word.
But in this case, the issue was easily resolved: The word “shall” had simply been wrongly pasted into the document, a mistake Fabius himself vouched would be corrected.
“I was a little bit worried because of the delay,” said German environment minister Barbara Hendricks. “But I never lost confidence.”
‘Written history together’
“I don’t tend to exaggerate,” said Hendricks, “but we truly have written history together.”
Saleemul Huq, a veteran observer of climate conferences from Bangladesh, joined Hendricks in calling the moment “historic.”
Sitting in the plenary with a throat sore from all the talking he had done for the past two weeks, Huq was especially content with one particular passage of the agreement.
It concerns the paragraph stating the purpose of the agreement to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius – and in addition “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees”.
“It is very seldom that the poor and vulnerable countries can make rich countries change their minds,” Huq said.
He had been among the leaders of a group calling itself “Climate Vulnerable Forum” which pushed strongly for a reference to 1.5 degrees in the climate agreement – a matter that had been all but dropped at prior climate conferences.
New alliances instrumental
Observers attributed success in Paris to another new grouping on the climate summit scene as well: the self-proclaimed “High Ambition Coalition” bringing together some 100 countries, among them industrialized heavyweights like the EU and the US, as well as small and particularly threatened island states like the Marshall Islands.
Brazil, as a major emerging economy, joining this group Friday night, also gave a boost to negotiations during their final hours.
“Instead of the agreement boiling down to the least-common-denominator, it actually became more ambitious,” said Christoph Bals of NGO Germanwatch.
Praise for the French presidency, abundant throughout the conference, turned into exuberance once the gavel had fallen.
“In those moments where it was a bit unclear whether we would have an agreement, you could really notice what a cunning and experienced diplomat Fabius is,” said Barbara Hendricks.
And UN climate chief Christiana Figueres commended Fabius for having conducted “the most tightly-run climate conference ever.”