Climate deal ‘best chance’ to avert catastrophe, says Obama

US, China and EU welcome Paris deal but scientists and campaigners have misgivings

 Barack Obama makes a statement on the climate agreement in the  White House after its adoption  at the World Climate Change Conference  (COP21). Photograph: Dennis Brack / EPA

Barack Obama makes a statement on the climate agreement in the White House after its adoption at the World Climate Change Conference (COP21). Photograph: Dennis Brack / EPA

 

World leaders have hailed the 11th-hour climate deal reached in Paris on Saturday, claiming it provides the “best chance we have” of saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

As the dust settled on what politicians insisted was a historic agreement, senior figures from the US, China and the EU on Sunday welcomed the deal, despite misgivings among scientists and campaigners who said it did not go far enough.

Describing the agreement as “ambitious”, the US president, Barack Obama, said: “Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one. In short, 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 investments.”

Obama warned that the pact was not perfect and said there was much hard work ahead.

China’s chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, agreed that the Paris plan was not ideal but he added that “this does not prevent us from marching historical steps forward”.

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The deal aims to hold global temperatures to a maximum rise of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, staving off the worst effects of catastrophic global warming.

Countries agreed to reduce emissions, promised to raise $100 billion (€91 billion) a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt their economies, and accept a new goal of net zero emissions by later this century.

Aspects of the agreement are legally binding, such as the obligation on countries to set an emissions reduction target and undergo reviews of that goal. However, the targets themselves are not legally binding.

On Sunday, the UK energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, said the agreement was an “extraordinary achievement”, but she warned it was “only the start”.

“The French did a fantastic job managing the whole process, but, as they said themselves, it’s [just] a step in the right direction. The work begins now.”

She said the existing deal would mean a 2.7-degree increase in global temperatures, and so more had to be done.

“What this did was set us on a pathway to try and achieve that . . . I think this is the right balance. While it is a compromise, it is nevertheless an historic moment,” she said.

Climate scientists and activists cautioned that while the agreement was unexpectedly ambitious, the measures did not go far enough.

“The cuts promised by countries are still insufficient, but the agreement sends a strong message to business, investors and cities that fossil fuels belong to the past,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at Oxford, cast doubt on the plausibility of the 1.5-degree target: “Human-induced warming is already approaching one degree and is predicted to be at 1.2 degrees by 2030, so 1.5 degrees will be a challenge.”

Bill McKibben, founder of environment movement 350.org, said: “The power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text of the agreement, which drags out the transition [to clean energy] so far that endless climate damage will be done.”

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace international director, added: “The deal puts the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history. But emission targets are not big enough.”