Today, the United Nations climate talks reached an agreement, and committed to fighting devastating levels of climate change. The agreement was reached a day after the talks were scheduled to close, with many representatives working through the nights to reach a deal. The text commits global leaders to keeping temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
The deal, called the Paris Agreement, includes commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions from individual nations. It also promises financial support to poorer nations, to help them adapt to the damage that will be caused by the climate changes that are already happening. Participating nations also agreed to meet again in five years to increase their ambitions, known as the so-called “ratchet” mechanism.
The Paris Agreement represents a major diplomatic breakthrough, as past efforts to reach a climate change agreement on this international scale have been unsuccessful. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon characterized the agreement as “truly a historic moment.”
“This agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet, and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment,” President Obama said today at a press conference. “Full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”
On its own, the deal cannot fix climate change. Governments must make good on the commitments they have made at the talks, and each nation must continue to increase its commitments in the coming decades. Efforts to cut emissions from the private sector and sub-national levels of government will also be needed.
The agreement also does not provide a specific timeline for peaking greenhouse gas emissions.
Some environmental groups and people already suffering on the frontlines of climate change say the agreement doesn’t commit enough money to helping the most vulnerable communities. “The nations which caused this problem have promised too little help to the people who are already losing their lives and livelihoods,” Kumi Naidoo, international executive director of Greenpeace, said in a statement
However, many analysts say the agreement sends an important signal to other levels of government, businesses and markets.
Another major success of the talks is the agreement to produce a review of climate progress by 2018. That, combined with the agreement to meet again every five years, means that actions to curb emissions should be put into motion in the short-term.
“The hard work of delivery begins now,” said Peter Seligmann, Conservation International Chairman and CEO, in a press statement. “The security of nations and humanity depends upon the reduction of emissions and the protection of nature.”