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COP21 Diaries: The Final Agreement

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon presents the final text of the Paris Agreement UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon presents the final text of the Paris Agreement Benjamin Géminel
13 Dec
Marco Magrini reports for Geographical on daily events at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris

On 10 December, 1948, the United Nations signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. On 12 December, 2015, again in Paris, the same United Nations have blessed by acclamation the Paris Agreement, the universal charter that puts the world on track for an energetic, economic and scientific revolution.

This revolution is about energy because it prescribes a gradual, yet swift adieu to fossil fuels. It is about the economy because such a transition, pursuing a clean tech-fuelled growth, will be market-driven. It is about science, because the world’s governments have finally accepted the scientific evidence that carbon extracted from underground and spewed into the atmosphere, warms the planet and puts human survival at risk.

We could say that planet Earth is grateful for such largesse, but it would be inaccurate. ‘Nature doesn't need man’, read a pro-environment ad displayed in the Paris metro. ‘Man needs Nature.’

It is not hyperbole to say that the Paris Agreement, the culmination of a long diplomatic trajectory that seemed at a dead end, is the first international treaty that looks into the future, for the sake of generations yet to be born. ‘This is an historic moment, not just for us and our world today, but for our children, our grandchildren and future generations,’ declares Sir Nicholas Stern, author of a famed report on the costs of climate change. ‘The Agreement creates enormous opportunities as countries begin to accelerate along the path towards low-carbon economic development and growth’.

Not surprisingly, the same adjective ‘historic’ has been uttered by everyone, from François Hollande to Laurent Fabius (who gave new luster to French diplomacy’s reputation), from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. It all happened ‘thanks to American leadership,’ promptly tweeted Barack Obama, who may be immodest but probably right.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights came out of World War II’s rubble. The Paris Agreement, instead, comes out of a collective farsightedness. It may sound like an oxymoron, but it is not.

Of course, the Agreement is not perfect. Any reference to aviation and shipping, which together make for eight per cent of global emissions, was removed. Yet, the final text is bizarrely more ambitious than the drafts before it. Environmentalists and scientists point their fingers on the massive gap between the treaty’s ideal targets ('hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C') and voluntary commitments in CO2 emission cuts so far taken by individual countries (which would not prevent a warming of 2.7°C and more). Surprisingly, the agreement takes note ‘with concern’ of the issue. It prescribes to have the commitments reviewed in 2018, and a regular five-year update cycle.

In a nutshell, the agreement recommends to reach a global peak in emissions ‘as soon as possible’ (science urges by 2020), establishes a funding flow to developing countries of ‘at least $100billion per year’, and it recognises the importance of minimising future damage suffered by the poorest nations because of climate change.

To give an idea of the difficulty of such a diplomatic undertaking, the final text (beside having incorporated lots of compromises) was custom-designed to dodge the legal requirement of a US Congress ratification, where the Senate would not have never approved it. But above all, the agreement was voted unanimously by almost 200 countries with completely different customs and habits, governments and religions, consumptions and per capita incomes.

Today officially begins the world’s decarbonisation, an economic growth that must be increasingly less dependent on fossil fuels. Scientists claim that, to achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement (we already are 1°C above pre-industrial levels), we must phase out any coal, oil and gas use by 2050. The road is long, and massive resources, new technologies, human ingenuity and some lifestyle changes will be needed. The march along the path that inextricably links human rights with nature’s rights though, can now start off.

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