Paris agreement avoids repeat of UN climate talks that led to Copenhagen

Negotiators in Poland this week reached an agreement to limit global warming by far more than a previous goal was possible: If the world’s nations make adequate progress in reducing greenhouse gases, temperatures will rise by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The new pact, adopted at the end of two weeks of talks, doesn’t need approval by two-thirds of the parties. But it calls for complete climate action by 2030.

The recent breakdown in negotiations raised the specter of a repetition of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, where some nations boycotted because other nations refused to cut emissions. Governments would have to call on the same 197 parties to sign off on the agreement.

An earlier attempt at an agreement at the 1986 Montreal Protocol was struck down by a treaty’s failure to specify how it would operate. China and India were among the nation refusing to take part because the treaty did not state how they would curb emissions. But after Brazil in 2005 helped draft language that allowed global countries to enter voluntary agreements to control emissions, Paris and the agreement reached this week contain language that those countries rejected, such as having national emissions targets.

China said in a statement that the language of the Paris Agreement “considers all relevant parties” in setting its ambition, but it did not explicitly mention the way it will work with other nations, said Joseph MacCormac, the executive director of the World Resources Institute’s policy program.

“The Party remains committed to strengthen domestic capacity for emission reduction so as to provide the necessary tools and conditions for parties to voluntarily take greater steps in reducing emissions,” the Chinese statement said.

The agreement establishes a dozen or so existing negotiating systems to further strengthen the environmental treaty.

In 2009, the greenhouse gas emissions negotiators in Copenhagen came closer to a single emissions target: to lower them by 80 percent to 95 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. This week, the goal was to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

A key chapter of the agreement promises to establish by 2020 a forum to handle disputes among the 195 parties that remain to decide how and when to carry out the treaty’s objectives. The forum would not supersede national laws but rather offer an extra voice to groups of states interested in participating and a mechanism to prevent disputes over the details.

At the same time, China said it was committed to the climate treaty’s protections for the world’s poor: It pledged to give tens of billions of dollars to help poor countries meet climate obligations.

The agreement also took steps to prevent warmer temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean from resulting in problems like hurricane Florence and wildfires in California.

Before the climate negotiations got underway, a U.S. delegation said the United States is set to send detailed plans for a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed an agreement with other countries that would pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The U.S. Senate has disapproved the agreement, and Trump said in June that he would remain in it. He claimed the Paris pact “would weaken the safety, security and prosperity of the American people.”

President Donald Trump sees the Paris accord as taking too much power away from the states and, he believes, against his voter base.

The pact’s supporters, on the other hand, said it is essential to the planet’s survival. A small-planet advocacy group said in a statement that the Paris agreement and a larger climate deal later agreed to by all major economies could, in the long run, avert a climate catastrophe.

“The devil is in the details of the rule book,” said Nathaniel Keohane, senior counsel and director of climate programs at The Natural Resources Defense Council. “But this is a critical step forward and lays the groundwork for a future where climate change is an issue we only speak of with alarm and awe — not as it is a daily and grave threat to our families, neighbors and friends.”

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