Paris agreement ‘monumental success for the planet’

Climate change strategy seen as beginning of the end of planet’s dependence on fossil fuels

The historic agreement on climate change, adopted in Le Bourget at the weekend, is widely expected to herald the beginning of the end of humanity's high dependency on fossil fuels and usher in a new era reliant on renewable energy.

Not since pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget in May 1927, after making the first non-stop transatlantic solo flight from New York’s Long Island, has the airfield – once the main airport for Paris – witnessed such a momentous landing as the 31-page Paris Agreement.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who played a major role in preparing the ground for a successful outcome, hailed it as a “monumental success for the planet and its people”, and praised rich countries for having “listened to the voices of the most vulnerable people” on the frontline of climate change.

The agreement, which had been under discussion at UN climate conferences over the past four years, pledges to cap global warming at “well below 2 [degrees] above pre-industrial levels” and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 [degrees]” – one of the key demands of Africa and low-lying island states.


Hard negotiations

After a series of positive speeches by almost 150 world leaders on the opening day, it still took two solid weeks of hard negotiations to reach a consensus at a temporary conference centre, purpose-built to house COP21 – the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Crowds took to the streets despite the anti-terrorism state of emergency rules that forbid large gatherings. People showed their determination with three street demonstrations in Paris. With catchy slogans, imaginative costumes and a palpable feeling of fraternité, the marches were certainly more fun than the proceedings out in Le Bourget.

French president François Hollande has called the ecological crisis “a crisis of meaning” and “a crisis of civilisation”. Yet there was great hope in the chants of the demonstrators as they carried a 100m red banner down the avenue: “We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”

Although the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal on global average surface temperatures is more ambitious than anyone really expected, the means to achieve it – by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – are less specific, although these can be strengthened over time.

No less than 189 of the 195 countries represented at COP21 have now submitted voluntary pledges to cut their emissions.

Long-promised aid of $100 billion (€90 billion) per year is to be provided by developed countries to poorer nations to enable them to switch from using fossil fuels to power their economies, and there is also provision to assist those who are displaced by the impacts of climate change.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times