“I am looking around the room, I see that the reaction is positive, I don’t hear any objection, the Paris Agreement for climate is accepted,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, and hit the table in front of him with a wooden hammer.
With that simple remark and action, Fabius heralded the arrival of a new global world order in which climate change considerations were likely to dictate most economic activity across the world, and possibly even the way people lead their lives.
The ‘Paris Agreement’, the biggest environment agreement ever, was ‘adopted’ by more than 190 countries at 7.28 pm on Saturday evening (11.58 Saturday night India time) after two weeks of intense negotiations at Le Bourget conference centre on the outskirts of Paris, triggering all-round jubilation, hugs and kisses, handshakes and applause.
The agreement is the culmination of at least eight years of often-acrimonious negotiations in which the poor countries had been pitted against the rich, the developing against the developed, the weak against the capable, and the tiniest island nations against the biggest economic powerhouses.
“With a small hammer, sometimes you can achieve great things,” Fabius said, summing up the moment.
The agreement aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the cause of global warming and consequent climate change, and do it fast enough to keep the average global temperature from rising above two degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. It will force countries to change the way they produce and consume energy, the way they cultivate food, the way they manage urban settlements, the way its people earn their livelihoods, the way the people travel, and in many other ways as well, the full implications of which are still to become apparent.
The all-encompassing nature of the agreement had ensured deep divisions on every issue and countries held on to their positions tightly, any flexibility being seen as a compromise on national interest. The Paris talks had run into obstacles several times this week, as negotiators failed to bridge their differences, and rejected several draft agreements.
But faced with another spectacular failure, like in Copenhagen in 2009, and massive embarrassment to the more than 150 heads of states and governments who had assembled in Paris to give their political backing to the negotiations, the countries finally relented, and agreed to compromise solutions after 48 hours of backroom discussions beginning Thursday night.
“France has seen a lot of revolutions. Today, we have seen the most beautiful and most peaceful of revolutions,” French president Francois Hollande, who had joined the negotiators at the conference venue on Saturday, said.
Like any other international arrangement, the Paris Agreement has something for everyone to claim victory. The developed countries have ensured that henceforth climate actions would be taken by every nation and not just them, as was the requirement in the existing climate framework represented by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The developing countries were able to take heart from the fact that the all-important principle of ‘differentiation’ – that developed nations, being primarily responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, must take greater action to fight climate change – has been retained, even though in a diluted form. The island nations and least developed countries — also the most vulnerable to climate change — were happy to have forced the rest of the world to acknowledge the need to take a 1.5 degree path instead of the 2 degree it is more comfortable with.
“It is a historic day. The agreement gives a new hope to the future generation that the world will act collectively and give them a better earth,” India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the sentiment. “It is the victory of all of the planet and for future generations,” he said.
The agreement is the global climate framework for the post-2020 world. It will replace the existing Kyoto Protocol which will continue till that time. The Paris Agreement will enter into force on the 30th day after the date on which at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions ratify it. It shall be open for signature at the UN headquarters in New York from April 22, 2016 to April 21, 2017, after which the countries can begin the process of ratification or accession.
The agreement is much more comprehensive than the Kyoto Protocol which was limited to assigning greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for a group of developed countries. It asks every country to make “nationally determined” contributions in the fight against climate change, even if it is just steps to adapt itself to the impacts of climate change. It tries to make sure that richer and developed countries make available financial and technological resources and help for the poorer and vulnerable countries in dealing with climate change. It also seeks to establish a mechanism by which the climate actions of all the countries can be periodically monitored and evaluated to see whether the world was actually able to combat climate change and whether the actions needed to be scaled up.