Landmark climate deal approved by nearly 200 countries in Paris

Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, puts his hand over his heart after a speech. He stands with French President Francois Hollande, French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the World Climate Change Conference 2015, where on Saturday 195 countries formed a historic pact to address global warming.
Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Reuters.

In the waning hours of a nearly two-week summit held outside Paris to address the rising threat of global warming, negotiators said on Saturday that 196 countries have come to terms on a watershed agreement.

The announcement marks the first time every country in the world has committed to a deal to take action on climate change.

France, the summit's host country, released a 31-page draft of the arrangement early on Saturday after several weeks of fervent negotiations among international leaders.

"The end is in sight, let us now finish the job. The whole world is watching," said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "Billions of people are relying on your wisdom, the time has come to acknowledge that national interests are best served by acting in the global interest and solidarity."

By nightfall, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, struck his gavel indicating the international treaty has been officially formed, to raucous applause among the approving delegation.

The agreement seeks to ebb the earth's rising temperatures and create a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Terms of the deal would begin in 2020, with the specific goal of limiting the earth's average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius or better, while also reigning in greenhouse gases emissions.

The earth's average temperature has risen more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.

Previous pacts to reduce carbon emissions have been made only among wealthier countries of the world, but excluded China and India because they were viewed as developing countries. The new deal requires all countries to reduce emissions by burning less fossil fuels.

"This is a pivotal moment where nations stepped across political fault lines to collectively face down climate change," said Lou Leonard, vice president of climate change for the World Wildlife Federation, to the Washington Post. "For decades, we have heard that large developing nations don't care about climate change and aren't acting fast enough. The climate talks in Paris showed us that this false narrative now belongs in the dustbin of history."

But critis said after the deal was formed that the final version lacked the legal authority to ultimately force participation among the world's countries and did not specifically mention how funding initially planned for poorer countries would be raised.

The wealthier nations among the international consortium had planned to raise $500 billion by 2020 to assist poorer countries in meeting emission goals, but with last-minute pressure by the United States and others the idea was left out of the agreement.

The deal still needs to be ratified by at least 55 countries, according to the Associated Press. Some questioned whether the United States would be able to pass the accord through the Republican-controlled Congress, whose members have been skeptical of global warming.

"The commitments that the president made in Paris aren't going to happen," Sen. James M. Inhoffe (R-Okla.) said on Friday. "The American people have caught on to the president's climate charade."

Oliver Geden, head of the European Union Research Division, told the PBS NewsHour that while the global warming agreement had made "remarkable progress," the "spin on the final day is more positive than the actual result."

"Many segments contain very vague language, but this kind of constructive ambiguity is often the only way to get a deal done – the actual meaning will only develop over time," he said. "Overall, COP21 does not mark a break with the modus operandi of kicking the can down the road to delay costly decisions."

Still, the significance of bringing all of the world's countries into a ubiquitous agreement did not go unnoticed.

"History will remember this day," said Ban, the U.N. Secretary General. "The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people."

Recently in Science