Cheers as French hosts release proposed UN climate-rescue pact

December 12, 2015
LE BOURGET, France — French hosts of U.N. talks submitted to cheers and applause Saturday a proposed 195-nation accord to defeat global warming, which threatens mankind but needs an energy revolution to resolve.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on the brink of tears after presiding over nearly a fortnight of talks in Paris, delivered the proposal to ministers who must now decide whether to approve it, possibly within hours.

“It is my conviction that we have come up with an ambitious … agreement,” Fabius said, telling the ministers they would achieve a “historic turning point” for the world if they endorsed it.

The hoped-for deal seeks to end decades-long rows between rich and poor nations over how to fund the multi-trillion-dollar campaign.

With 2015 forecast to be the hottest year on record, world leaders and scientists have warned the accord is vital for capping rising temperatures and averting the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

If climate change goes unabated, scientists warn of increasingly severe droughts, floods and storms, as well as rising seas that would engulf islands and coastal areas populated by hundreds of millions of people.

Fabius said that, if approved, the deal would set a “floor” in funding, in which at least $100 billion a year from 2020 would be channelled to help the developing world fight global warming.

It would also aim at limiting warming of the planet since the Industrial Revolution to “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and strive for an even more ambitious goal of 1.5 C, he said.

French President Francois Hollande and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sat on stage alongside Fabius as he made a lengthy speech imploring ministers to approve the blueprint on Saturday.

Raising hopes of a successful conclusion, negotiators stood up and cheered before Fabius spoke, and rose in another standing ovation at the end.

“You have a chance to change the world,” Hollande told delegates.

“You have to take the final step, the decisive step which allows us to reach the goal.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added to the optimism, saying afterwards the United States was pleased with the planned accord.

“It should be good, but we’ll see. Little things can happen, but we think it’s teed up,” Kerry said.

The proposed agreement came after negotiators missed an initial deadline of Friday to sign an accord, as feuding ministers refused to budge on entrenched positions.

Enduring money battles

Developed and developing nations have failed for decades to sign an effective universal pact to tame global warming and shore up defences against its impacts.

They have been badly divided over how much responsibility each side must shoulder.

At the heart of the deal is cutting back or eliminating the use of coal, oil and gas for energy, which has largely powered nations’ paths towards prosperity since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s.

The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases, which cause the planet to warm and change Earth’s delicate climate system. Ending the vicious circles requires a revolution in energy efficiency and a switch to cleaner sources, such as solar and wind.

“Climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” the draft warned.

Developing nations have insisted rich countries must shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for tackling climate change as they have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.

But the United States and other rich nations have stood firm that emerging giants must also do more.

They have argued that developing countries now account for most of current emissions, and thus will be largely responsible for future warming.

Legal obligations

Rich countries promised six years ago in Copenhagen to muster the $100 billion a year referred to in the new agreement, which is meant to help developing nations transition to renewable energies and cope with the impacts of global warming.

But how the funds will be raised remained unclear going into the Paris talks, and developing nations had demanded clarity in the new accord.

Developing countries also demanded a commitment to increase the amount after 2020.

The United States had insisted it could not accept proposals that the accord made the financing obligations legally binding.

Despite being formally submitted, the proposed agreement was not available immediately after Fabius’s speech.

Ahead of the talks, most nations submitted voluntary plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020, a process widely hailed as an important platform for success.

But scientists say that, even if the pledges were fully honoured, Earth would be on track for warming far above safe limits.

They also warn against failures to spell out how much to cut greenhouse gases and by when, thus providing key markers on the path towards the targets.

Nations most vulnerable to climate change lobbied hard for wording in the Paris pact to limit warming to 1.5 C. Big polluters, such as China, India and oil producing-giant Saudi Arabia, preferred a ceiling of 2 C, enabling them to burn fossil fuels for longer.

The proposed agreement’s references to both a target of “well below 2 C”, while also aiming for 1.5 C, indicated the vulnerable nations had won the battle.

As Fabius put forward the proposed deal, green demonstrators lobbied anew, using the geolocalization feature on their mobile phones to spell out the words “Climate,” “Justice” and “Peace” on an interactive map of the city.

But the talks could yet take another twist with opposition to points of the planned agreement when ministers gather again on Saturday afternoon.

A closely watched part of the new text will be details on the framework for reviewing and improving national pledges.

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