PARIS TALKS

World agrees to historic climate deal

LE BOURGET, France -- The world today agreed to the first truly international climate change agreement when 195 countries promised to stop increasing emissions in the second half of this century.

The agreement, gaveled through at 7:26 p.m. local time, brought wild applause and hugs among top United Nations officials and foreign leaders.

The U.N. agreement adopted this afternoon in an airfield outside Paris creates a framework that will guide efforts moving forward to limit man-made warming to levels scientists say are safe.

The first universally applicable deal on emissions and finance is the culmination of a quarter century of planning and preparing and comes after several false starts -- including the collapse of talks six years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark -- that cast serious doubt on the United Nations as a forum for addressing warming.

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News of the agreement resonated throughout the conference center and echoed on social media.

"This is huge: Almost every country in the world just signed on to the #ParisAgreement on climate change -- thanks to American leadership," President Obama wrote on his personal Twitter account.

News of a final text came in the early hours this morning, but there were stops and starts throughout the day. As delegates filed in to the massive red-tinted plenary hall this afternoon, the mood turned from tense to tickled.

Former Vice President Al Gore walked in followed by a gaggle of television cameras. Then French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived, setting off applause throughout the hall. Gore and Secretary of State John Kerry shook hands and posed for selfies with longtime negotiators and activists. Kerry hugged Chinese lead negotiator Xie Zhenhua as well as French climate Ambassador Laurence Tubiana.

Environmentalists and even heads of state had tears in their eyes describing the weight of the moment.

"This is the moment we have been waiting for," Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told E&E.

Environmentalists who have devoted years to this process greeted the outcome as a victory.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said the deal "would give the world hope that we can come to grips with the mounting climate change crisis and leave our children and grandchildren with a habitable planet."

Things then ground to a halt for more than an hour, reportedly over the article in the text describing the responsibilities of rich and poor nations. The phrase read that "developed countries shall continue taking the lead" in emissions cuts while developing countries "should" continue enhancing their mitigation efforts.

The now-famous climate change huddle re-emerged, this time at the highest levels: Kerry and Stern gathered in a tight circle with Fabius, Xie, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres and the top Brazilian negotiator.

In the end, the United States managed to get the first phrase changed to "should take the lead," thereby closing the gap even further between the roles of developed and developing nations. The crowd clapped and hustled to their seats.

The 195 countries to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to an aspirational goal of keeping post-industrial warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with firmer language calling for a limit "well below" 2 degrees Celsius -- in line with what scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Keeping emissions within that greenhouse gas budget is the process' "long-term goal."

The new deal codifies national pledges made ahead of these talks -- known in U.N. parlance as "intended nationally determined contributions," or INDCs. More than 180 nations have submitted these pledges, but because the pledged emissions cuts don't add up to enough to meet the long-term goal, the new agreement creates a process whereby countries will ratchet up their commitments over time.

A first review will be held in 2018 to assess where the world is in relation to its long-term goal and to inform these new commitments. Countries must then submit fresh pledges or resubmit or revise pledges in 2020 to cover the years through 2030. Emissions pledges would then by due every five years after that, with the expectation that they would become more ambitious.

Developing countries concerned about finance for climate adaptation and mitigation won a major victory when developed countries' pledge to raise $100 billion in climate aid by 2020 was included in the text of the meeting's decision, which accompanies the agreement. The pledge was first made by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen in 2009, and today's decision calls for at least that level of funding to be provided through 2025. Poor countries had sought to have the funding included in the agreement, but the administration warned that language would require Senate approval in the U.S., so it was added to the decision instead.

The agreement for the first time addresses permanent loss experienced by poor countries due to climate change. It creates a standing "loss and damage" mechanism within the UNFCCC, but it also adopts language put forward by the United States that clarifies that rich countries will not be held liable for damages sustained.

The United States won several victories related to the way the agreement divides responsibilities between developed and developing emitters. The historic "firewall" between global "haves" and "have-nots" is eroded in provisions throughout the agreement dealing with the submission of INDCs, the provision of financing -- it leaves a placeholder allowing developing countries to contribute -- and issues of transparency.

The United States has prioritized mandatory measures to improve the transparency of emissions reporting and verification throughout these talks and has insisted they should eventually be universal. The text promises poorer countries unspecified "flexibility" but affirms that all countries must eventually meet the same peer review procedures regardless of their status.

Reporter Lisa Friedman contributed.

Twitter: @chemnipot Email: jchemnick@eenews.net

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