A good deal for the planet?

UN, governments hail an historic deal to save the planet 

There were cheers in Paris after two decades of talks culminated in what has been hailed as an historic deal to save the planet.

“The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet,” said Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general. “It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.”

The UN Climate Change Conference, or COP21 (Conference of the Parties), secured agreement from 195 countries to keep global temperatures below what scientists say would be a disastrous 2°C rise on pre-industrial levels, and signalled countries’ intention to go further and “pursue efforts to limit” them to 1.5°C.

The partly legally binding, and partly voluntary, agreement also saw countries pledge to reach the global peak of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and to take action after that to reduce them to levels that balance with the planet’s ability to absorb those gases. Global warming – the charge for which has largely been laid at the door of developed nations – saw developing countries come away with some of what they wanted, including a pledge of $100bn a year by 2020 to adapt and cope with climate change.

Critics charged that the deal is not ambitious enough, but governments say the deal lays solid foundations for further progress: the parties hope both greenhouse gas limits and climate funding could climb further in the future.

A warming world is a catastrophe for all humanity, but the poorest are already feeling the heat, said Garry Conille, under-secretary general for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Our volunteers are standing on the front line and are witnessing how climate risks are disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable communities in the world,” he said.

Last year, 87 per cent of disasters were related to climate, and climate-related displacement affected some 22 million people around the world in 2013. That figure could rise to 250 million by 2050, warned IFRC.

The urgency and scale of the challenge needs all hands on deck. Earlier in the month, 29 private investors – including Bill Gates, Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – announced the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which will invest $2bn into clean energy R&D starting next year.

“With [the Paris deal] in place, markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low-emissions, resilient growth,” said Ban. “What was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable.”