The monumental climate conference in Paris is now officially over and the new pact, which commits all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, has been approved by the Conference of the Parties. The brand new Paris Agreement will enter into force once 55 parties, accounting for at least 55% of total global emissions, have ratified it. It is part binding and part non-binding and while it alone will not curb the trajectory of global emissions, it lays out a solid roadmap for doing so.
What follows is a summary of how the events of the final day at COP21 in Paris, Saturday the 12th of December, unfolded.
11:30am – After numerous last minute delays, the Comite de Paris reconvened at 11:30am. There were passionate speeches from the COP president Laurent Fabius, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and the President of France, Francois Hollande. Fabius announced that the final text was ready and would be available after lunch.
01:30pm – As promised, the text was released at 1.30pm and shortly thereafter, government officials and civil society alike pored over the specifics of the final text. The general consensus was that the Paris agreement read coherently, hit a logical landing zone based on the various iterations of drafts, and was an appropriate balance of all viewpoints. While not all parties seemed happy, those who have followed the international legal process and have an understanding of the nuances of negotiations were generally impressed with the monumental effort to reach compromise (within the parameters of the UNFCCC).
04:00pm – During the afternoon, Civil Society throughout Paris continued to maintain a strong voice beyond the walls of COP. It is clear that the climate justice movement will continue independent of any agreement. Thousands of activists gathered at the Eiffel Tower, expressing doubt over the agreement and alleging that the bar was set too low for success. Former negotiator-turned-environmentalist, Yeb Sano, expressed his discontent, claiming to “hear 2 different things. The people in communities think the Paris agreement is weak. Those wearing suits and ties think it is good.”
That said, one can’t help but feel hopeful when AOSIS – the Alliance of Small Island States – is literally singing, “Don’t worry, Be Happy.” In his opening speech at the leader’s event, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, emphasised that “if Tuvalu falls, we all fall,” but his mood was not so somber on the final day of the conference. Clearly the AOSIS feel they have got a better agreement than they expected. While nobody is under the illusion that the Paris outcome is enough to combat climate change, Parties seem to have got the most they could have out of the UNFCCC forum.
6:00pm – Although the final Comite session was scheduled to begin at 6:00, draft typos (a stray “shall” meant to be “should”) and other technical issues delayed proceedings until 7:15pm. During the waiting time, COP President Laurent Fabius and UNFCCC Secretary Christiana Figueras entered, and then left again with the Chair of G77 – the atmosphere in the room changed and rumours began to ripple: “Do we have another all nighter?” The room was full of mixed messages, but in media alerts, the UN had dropped the word ‘draft,’ a strong indication.
7.15pm – Finally, President Laurent Fabius and UNFCCC Secretary Christiana Figueras returned. The final text was advanced to the floor and the COP was invited to adopt the Paris Agreement. Just before the gavel was struck to signify agreement, Laurent Fabius addressed delegates, stating “I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.” The gavel was struck and following a standing ovation by parties present, Fabius emphasised that the “most difficult part is over.”
Initial Reactions from Parties
South Africa, on behalf of G77 and China, then began party statements. Though South Africa noted that the agreement is not perfect and that further technical work is required to ensure enhanced ambition from developed countries, it stated that it understood the agreement to be a solid foundation for launching enhanced action with new determination. “For South Africa, the G77 and China, the text is the best balance we can get at this historic moment.”
The USA followed the mood of support, noting that over the past two weeks, we have spoken with one loud voice – “we need to move in this direction.”
Though India expressed their support for the final text, they stated that they had wished for more ambition and emphasised their concern around maintaining temperatures to below 2°C. However, in the spirit of compromise, they leniently agreed with the final result.
The Caribbean nations were also happy with the final text, importantly emphasising that they believed this was the first time in the COP process where the voices of Small Island developing states were heard. Those at home were celebrating “positive vibes.”
In contrast to the positive mood, Nicaragua expressed frustration that their objections to the text were ignored before the gavel went down. They did not support the agreement for various reasons, including: wanting a strict 1.5°C limit; more financing; the necessity of a ‘plan B’ that provides alternative pathways if INDCs fail to close the emissions-reduction gap; and the necessity of a global carbon budget that is distributed equitably based on the best available science. Fabius noted their complaints and moved on. One blocking nation is not enough to overrule ‘consensus’ per international law precedent.
François Hollande, President of France, emphasised the importance of continually projecting ambition through the platform that this text provides. Starting from tomorrow, all parties are able to update their INDCs – and France will be leading the charge in doing so.
With COP21 coming to a close, it has been a stressful and intense two weeks in the Le Bourget conference centre, but there has been an air of cautious optimism since the beginning that has lasted right through until the final hours. December 12 2015 will go down in history as the beginning of a new era, where the governments of the world agreed to shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewables – together. The agreement, by its very nature, is not perfect but it is a powerful step forward.
Our analysis will be available on our website shortly.