Paris climate agreement: France

Host nation praised for pulling off tough task

Protestors with the message "Divest. Keep it in the Ground" asking investment funds to move their money out of fossil fuels at the COP21 in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, Dec 2, 2015.
Protestors with the message "Divest. Keep it in the Ground" asking investment funds to move their money out of fossil fuels at the COP21 in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, Dec 2, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LE BOURGET (France) • A 195-nation wrangle that ended with a historic Paris pact to curb global warming had to be the anti-Copenhagen: as flawlessly organised as the 2009 summit was chaotic, as much a success as the other was a traumatising blow for climate diplomacy.

By nearly any measure and all accounts, France pulled it off.

From the gourmet tofu sandwiches to the subtle handling of negotiations compared by one analyst to a 12-dimensional Rubik's Cube, the French hosts of the United Nations climate conference have been showered with praise.

"It's the most skilful diplomacy I've seen in the more than two decades that I've been going to this kind of meetings," former United States vice-president Al Gore said.

"It's quite eerie, I must tell you," said World Wide Fund for Nature climate expert Tasneem Essop, a veteran of the often messy 21-year process, on how negotiating deadlines were being met. "It never happens."

  • Highlights of agreement

  • THE CHALLENGE

    The agreement identifies climate change as "an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet". It notes "with concern" that countries' existing pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions would fail to meet targets for curbing planetary warming.

  • THE GOAL

    To hold global warming to "well below" 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for 1.5 deg C if possible.

  • GETTING THERE

    The world will aim for greenhouse gas emissions to peak "as soon as possible", with "rapid reductions" thereafter. By the second half of this century, there must be a balance between the emissions from human activities such as farming, and the amount that can be captured by carbon-absorbing "sinks" such as forests.

  • BURDEN-SHARING

    Developed countries should take "the lead" by taking on absolute emission cuts. Developing nations which still need to burn coal and oil to power growing populations are encouraged to enhance their efforts and "move over time" to cuts.

  • TRACKING PROGRESS

    In 2018, two years before the agreement enters into force, countries will take stock of the overall impact of their efforts and revisit their carbon-curbing plans in 2020. Once the pact takes effect, the countries' efforts will be reviewed at five-year intervals from 2023. 

  • FINANCE

    Developed countries "shall provide" funding to help developing countries make the costly shift to green energy and shore up their defences against climate change impact.

    They pledged to give at least US$100 billion (S$141 billion) a year by 2020. The amount must be updated by 2025.

  • GREATEST LOSSES

    Low-lying island nations and poor countries most at risk from climate change-induced sea level rise and other kinds of impact have won recognition of the need for "averting, minimising and addressing" losses suffered.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

After the Copenhagen fiasco - which ended with some 115 world leaders scrambling overnight to save face and cobble together a political accord - hosting the next critical climate conference was a big risk.

Getting virtually all of the world's nations to agree on transforming the energy system underlying the world economy was bound to be tricky.

The French did not have to push hard for the assignment. "We were chosen, but I must point out that we were the only candidate," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said more than once.

Two years ahead of the rendezvous, Mr Fabius started to prepare the stage. "I mobilised our diplomatic network, started organising international meetings and put together my team," he told Agence France- Presse in his office at the conference centre on the outskirts of Paris.

The 69-year-old former prime minister made 12 trips to China, and four each to India and Saudi Arabia, historically a spoiler in climate talks. Days before the conference opened, Mr Fabius made rapid-fire pit stops in India, Brazil and South Africa - all crucial for success.

Inviting heads of state to kick off the conference rather than to close it - as in Copenhagen - was a masterstroke, diplomats and analysts said. In the Danish capital, ministers negotiating the deal were afraid to take decisions knowing their leaders were about to hit town, they said.

Mr Fabius also got high marks for "transparency", diplomatic jargon for an open-book process devoid of secret, back-room deals.

Mr Camille Grand, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said: "It's a success for Laurent Fabius, who really threw himself into it, and for (President) Francois Hollande, who mobilised the heads of state and government."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Host nation praised for pulling off tough task'. Print Edition | Subscribe