Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached an agreement Saturday, December 12th this year on what they say signifies the most important international pact to address climate change since the issue first emerged as a political priority, decades ago. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who headed up the United Nations conference, commonly known as COP 21, said the final deal successfully resolved points of contention that had taken negotiations into overtime and called the agreement “the best possible text.”
“We have come to a defining moment on a long journey that dates back decades,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon before passage of the agreement. “The document with which you have just presented us is historic. It promises to set the world on a new path to a low emissions, climate-resilient future.”
The deal, known as the Paris Agreement, represents remarkable compromise after years of negotiations in which developing countries wrangled with their developed counterparts and failed to come to agreement on several key occasions. Supporters say the agreement will help define the energy landscape for the remainder of the century and signal to markets the beginning of the end of more than one hundred years of dependence on fossil fuels for economic growth
The historic agreement, containing a strong long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions, provisions explaining how developing countries will receive financing for their efforts to adapt to climate change, and a transparency system to ensure that countries meet their promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were among those key goals. The agreement includes a long-term goal of holding global temperature rise “well below” 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 and recognizes a maximum temperature rise of below 1.5°C (2.7°F) as an ideal goal. The 2°C target is needed to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, according to climate scientists, but it would not be enough to save many of the world’s most vulnerable countries. Those nations, largely small Pacific Island countries, launched a large-scale push for the more aggressive 1.5°C target to be included in the agreement. The draft text also calls for “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible” and for the continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century as science allows.
Measures to finance efforts to fight climate change in the developing world had also been a key sticking point in negations. The agreement renews a commitment by developed countries to send $100 billion a year beginning in 2020 to developing countries to support their efforts to fight climate change. The deal describes the sum as a “floor,” which may presumably be increased.
The notion that developed and developing countries should have different responsibilities has been a key principle of climate negotiations since countries first gathered in a large-scale conference to address global warming in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. A gathering that year divided countries into two groupings based on their development status and required vastly different efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from each group.
But as officially “developing” nations like China grew rapidly—with accompanying carbon emissions—the U.S. and other developed countries have not asked to do away with the notion of different responsibilities entirely, but they have called for a less stringent system that takes into account economic growth and other factors that affect their capabilities. Such a system would take into account the evolving capabilities of developing countries.
When the two weeks long Paris Climate talks began, India came to the table walking a tightrope. While wanting to show to the world that the world’s fourth-biggest carbon emitter was ready to play a constructive role in international climate negotiations, India needed to show citizens back home that addressing climate change would not detract from development goals—particularly the need to bring power to the quarter of the population that goes without it.
India needed to sign onto whatever deal negotiators reach in Paris for the agreement to have legitimacy, given its importance in the global economy and its sheer size. India, the country of 1.2 billion people to continue to rise in the rankings of top emitters as its economy grows and as a greater share of its population gains access to electricity. “India is sometimes the man in the middle,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the India Initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “India’s role here at the [conference] is often bridging the many nations across the world and also bridging development with climate action.” In the end, India has emerged as a key player in shaping the agreement, leaving observers to hope that it will not play the same role slowing negotiations at the last minute that other key developing countries have played in past conferences.
India’s position has made it a key player in the effort come to an agreement. The U.S. in particular has lobbied hard with Secretary of State John Kerry holding at least two bilateral meetings with Javadekar and Obama speaking by phone with Modi.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly said that the country needs to address climate change, not because of pressure from Western countries but because of the potential damage warming could cause worldwide and in India especially. The country set an ambitious goal of receiving 40% of its power from renewable resources by 2030 and in recent weeks launched a solar power alliance aimed at growing solar power production in the developing world. The country also recently set a target to develop 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022, a huge ramp up from current capacity.
Modi defended a principle that developed countries should have more stringent responsibilities than their developing counterparts—a concept known as “differentiation”—and suggested that the principle should be a bedrock part of nearly every provision of the agreement. “Climate justice demands that, with the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow,” he said at a speech at the beginning of the Paris summit.
Part of what underlies India’s position on differentiation is the belief that the efforts taken by the country so far outweighs its contribution to climate change. India’s per-capita carbon emissions add up to just 1.7 metric tons, 10 times less than America’s per-capita emissions. Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, told the media in an interview that his country had done four times their fair share to address climate change, based on past carbon emissions, while the developed countries have done far less. “The developed world has done much less than their fair share,” said Javadekar. “Everyone must at least do what their fair share demands. Then it will be a collective action. Then it will be more robust.”