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Two decades of talks have come to this: an ambitious agreement to hold states to emissions targets – but already low-lying countries are worried
Governments have signalled an end to the fossil fuel era, committing for the first time to a universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change at crunch UN talks in Paris.
After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the past two weeks spent in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a deal on Saturday evening that set ambitious goals to limit temperature rise and to hold governments to account for reaching those targets.
After an anxious two-hour wait for the final plenary session to begin, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, who was chairing the meeting, invited delegates to adopt the agreement. After looking up briefly, he brought down the gavel to widespread applause and cheering, signifying the deal had been formally agreed. “It is a small gavel but I think it can do a great job,” he said once the applause had died down.
François Hollande, the French president, appealed to negotiators to approve the 31-page text, and said countries had a rare chance to make history. “We are at a decisive point in time,” he said.
Fabius said: “It is my deep conviction that we have come up with an ambitious and balanced agreement. Today it is a moment of truth.”
Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s climate commissioner, hailed the historic deal. “It is solid. We can build on it. The deal is ambitious, balanced and robust,” he said.
Six years after the chaotic collapse of the Copenhagen climate summit, the agreement now known as the Paris Outcome for the first time commits rich countries, rising economies and some of the poorest countries to work together to fight climate change.
Under the deal, adopted by consensus, all countries agreed to reduce emissions. Rich countries agreed to raise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries transform their economies. The overall agreement is legally binding but some elements, including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements, are not.
Government and business leaders said the agreement, which set a new goal to by the end of the century, sent a powerful signal to business that the fossil fuel era was coming to an end.
The International Investors Group on Climate Change, a network managing €13 trillion of assets, said the decision would help trigger a shift away from fossil fuels and encourage greater investments in renewable energy
“Investors across Europe will now have the confidence to do much more to address the risks arising from high carbon assets and to seek opportunities linked to the low carbon transition already transforming the world’s energy system and infrastructure,” the group said.
Jennifer Morgan of the environmental think tank the World Resources Institute said the long term goal was “transformational” and “sends signals into the heart of the markets”.
The deal set a high aspirational goal to limit warming below 2C and strive to keep temperatures at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – a far more ambitious target than expected, and a key demand of vulnerable countries. It incorporates previous commitments from 186 countries to reduce emissions which on their own would only hold warming to between 2.7C and 3C.
But it sets out procedures for review at regular intervals to deepen emissions cuts, with countries aiming to peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and then rapidly scale down in the second half of this century.
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