LE BOURGET, France - Negotiators from 196 countries approved a landmark climate accord Saturday that seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for a dangerous warming of the planet.
The agreement, adopted after 13 days of intense bargaining in a Paris suburb, puts the world's nations on a course that could fundamentally change the way energy is produced and consumed, gradually reducing reliance on fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy.
"History will remember this day," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the pact was gaveled through to thunderous applause. "The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people."
The deal was struck in a rare show of near-universal accord, as poor and wealthy nations from across the political and geographic spectrum expressed support for measures that require all to take steps to battle climate change. The agreement binds together pledges by individual nations to cut or limit emissions from fossil-fuel burning, within a framework of rules that provide for monitoring and verification as well as financial and technical assistance for developing countries.
The overarching goal is to bring down pollution levels so that the rise in global temperatures is limited to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages. Delegates added language that expressed an ambition to restrict the temperature increase even more, to 1.5 degrees C, if possible.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who presided over the talks, hailed the pact as a "historical turning point" that could spare the planet's 7.3 billion people from the most disruptive effects of global warming in decades to come. Before the vote, he urged delegates not to shirk from taking steps that could avert an environmental disaster.
"The citizens of the world - our own citizens - and our children would not understand it. Nor, I believe, would they forgive us," Fabius said.
Cheers echoed up and down the tent city where thousands of journalists, activists, and business leaders awaited news of the deal, which was sealed during the final 48 hours of nearly nonstop talks.
"This is a tremendous victory for all of our citizens - not for any one country or bloc, but a victory for all of the planet, and for future generations," Secretary of State John Kerry said after the accord was announced. "The world has come together behind an agreement that will empower us to chart a new path for our planet: a smart and responsible path, a sustainable path."
The accord is the first to call on all nations - rich and poor - to take action to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, with additional reviews required every five years to encourage even deeper pollution cuts. A major goal, officials said, is to spur governments and private industry to rapidly develop new technologies to help solve the climate challenge.
"Markets now have the clear signal to unleash the full force of human ingenuity," said Ban Ki-moon, who praised the pact as "ambitious, credible, flexible and durable." He added: "The work starts tomorrow."
The agreement is a major diplomatic achievement for the Obama administration, which has made climate change a signature issue in the face of determined opposition from congressional Republicans, many of whom dispute the scientific consensus that links man-made pollution to Earth's recent warming.
President Obama, in an appearance at the White House, hailed the agreement as a "turning point for the world," adding, "We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. Together we've shown what's possible when the world stands as one."
Environmental groups generally praised the accord, though some complained the delegates did not go far enough in helping the world's poorest countries cope with effects of climate change that already are being felt.
"This is a pivotal moment where nations stepped across political fault lines to collectively face down climate change," said Lou Leonard, vice president of climate change for the World Wildlife Fund. "For decades, we have heard that large developing nations don't care about climate change and aren't acting fast enough. The climate talks in Paris showed us that this false narrative now belongs in the dustbin of history."
But others blasted the Obama administration for not seeking a more ambitious treaty.
"The United States has hindered ambition," said Erich Pica, president of the U.S. chapter of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group. "The result is an agreement that could see low-lying islands and coastlines swallowed up by the sea, and many African lands ravaged by drought."
There also were signs of future trouble for the agreement from political opponents in Washington. Earlier in the week, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R., Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pronounced the Paris talks "full of hot air" and vowed to block the White House from using taxpayer funds to help carry out the accord.
On Saturday, Inhofe said, "The news remains the same. This agreement is no more binding than any other 'agreement' from any Conference of the Parties over the last 21 years. Senate leadership has already been outspoken in its positions that the United States is not legally bound to any agreement setting emissions targets or any financial commitment to it without approval by Congress."
But Kerry told journalists that the agreement would survive Republican opposition.
"I regret to say, Sen. Inhofe is just wrong: This has to happen," Kerry told reporters. He added: "I just personally do not believe that any person who doesn't understand this science and isn't prepared to do for the next generations what we did here today, and follow through on it, cannot and will not be elected president of the United States. It's that simple."
Among those witnessing the final approval was former Vice President Al Gore, who had pressed for two decades for a climate 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," Gore said.
Key Elements of the Deal
Long-term goal: The long-term objective of the agreement is to make sure global warming stays "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and to "pursue efforts" to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. To achieve that goal, governments pledged to stop the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions "as soon as possible." By some point after 2050, the agreement says, man-made emissions should be reduced to a level forests and oceans can absorb.
Emissions targets: In order to reach the long-term goal, countries agreed to set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years. More than 180 countries have already submitted targets for the first cycle beginning in 2020. Only developed countries are expected to slash their emissions in absolute terms; developing nations are "encouraged" to do so as their capabilities evolve. Until then, they are expected only to rein in emissions growth as their economies develop.
Reviewing targets: The initial targets won't be enough to put the world on a path to meet the long-term temperature goal. So the agreement asks governments to review their targets in the next four years and see if they can "update" them. That doesn't require governments to deepen their cuts. But the hope is that it will be possible for them to do so if renewable energy sources become more affordable and effective.
Transparency: There is no penalty for countries that miss their emissions targets. But the agreement has transparency rules to help encourage countries to do what they say they will do. That was one of the most difficult pieces to agree on, with China asking for softer requirements for developing countries. The agreement says all countries must report on their emissions and their efforts the reduce them. But it allows for some "flexibility" for developing countries.
Money: The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn't require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion in climate finance by 2020.
Loss and damage: In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters. The U.S. long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.
- Associated Press