A Monumental Agreement is Reached in Paris - December 12, 2015

Delegations from 195 countries, virtually every country on the planet, came together in Paris to agree on a historic document.

Each country agreed to implement its plan to hold the increase in global temperature "well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels". This is a more ambitious goal than had been expected.

Leaders from around the world heralded this agreement.

  • French President Francois Hollande told the assembled delegates: "You've done it, reached an ambitious agreement, a binding agreement, a universal agreement. Never will I be able to express more gratitude to a conference. You can be proud to stand before your children and grandchildren."
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action. This is a resounding success for multilateralism."
  • U.S. President Barack Obama said: "I believe this moment is a turning point for the world. We've shown that we have both the will and the ability to take on this challenge. It won't be easy, progress never is, but we have to keep up the fight."
  • Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: "One planet, one chance to get it right and we did it in Paris. We have made history together. It is an agreement of conviction. It is an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable. It is an agreement of long-term vision, for we have to turn this agreement into an engine of safe growth."

The Agreement captures these essential elements to drive action forward:

  • Mitigation reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal
  • A transparency system and global stock-take accounting for climate action
  • Adaptation strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts.
  • Loss and damage strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts
  • Support including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures

    The scale of the Climate Action Agendas pledged by businesses, investors, cities, and regions globally is unprecedented. Included are:

    - Over 7,000 cities, including the most vulnerable to climate change, from over 100 countries with a combined population with one and a quarter billion people and around 32% of global GDP.
    - Sub-national states and regions comprising one fifth of total global land area and combined GDP of $12.5 trillion.
    - Over 5,000 companies from more than 90 countries that together represent the majority of global market capitalisation and over $38 trillion in revenue.
    - Nearly 500 investors with total assets under management of over $25 trillion

    Christiana Figueres said: "The recognition of actions by businesses, investors, cities and regions is one of the key outcomes of COP 21. .... the groundswell of action shows that the world is on an inevitable path toward a properly sustainable, low-carbon world."

    How in the world did this happen?

    In recent times, there have been big shifts that opened the way for what occurred in Paris.

    • First, China decided that the air quality degradation caused by coal fired power generation is just not acceptable for a civilized country. Chinese people want a country with breathable air. So, the Chinese delegation arrived with a different approach than in the past. They came prepared to pledge real action to reduce emissions.
    • Meanwhile, at the Paris meeting the USA assumed a leadership role in advocating for strong actions on Climate change. President Obama took executive action through the Clean Power Plan to set the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants in the USA. The Clean Power Plan sets achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This and other actions raised America's credibility as an advocate for Action on Climate Change.
    • In addition, the costs of solar and wind power have fallen dramatically and are close to being competitive with fossil fuels. This plus the progress being made on energy storage are making renewable energy sources preferable to further use of fossil fuels. Plus, renewable energy creates more jobs!

    In response to the critics that focus on shortcomings, we suggest that there is far more to celebrate in this agreement than not. Even the mention of the lack of enforcement provisions overlooks the fact that the participants have promised to accomplish their goals and expressed the determination to carry out their plans.

    Will the actions promised in this agreement be sufficient to meet the goals? Time will tell, but now, more than ever before, there is reason for hope that they will!


    Click here to read the opinion of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, "Hope from Paris"

    Click here to read the opinion of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, 'Paris Climate Accord Is a Big, Big Deal'

    Click here to return to our Climate Change opening page