LE BOURGET, France — Negotiators from 196 countries approved a landmark climate accord on Saturday that seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for a dangerous warming of the planet.
The agreement, adopted after 13 days of intense bargaining in a Paris suburb, puts the world’s nations on a course that could fundamentally change the way energy is produced and consumed, gradually reducing reliance of fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy.
“The citizens of the world – our own citizens – and our children would not understand it. Nor, I believe, would they forgive us,” Fabius said.
The delegates erupted in applause as Fabius banged a small gavel to officially mark approval of the agreement. “It is a small gavel but it can do a great job,” he said.
Cheers echoed up and down the tent city where thousands of journalists, activists and business leaders awaited news of the deal, which was sealed during the final 48 hours of marathon talks.
Among those witnessing the final approval was former Vice President Al Gore, who had pressed for two decades for a climate deal.
“Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act,” Gore said. “This universal and ambitious agreement sends a clear signal to governments, businesses, and investors everywhere: the transformation of our global economy from one fueled by dirty energy to one fueled by sustainable economic growth is now firmly and inevitably underway.”
The accord is intended to mobilize governments and private industry for a decades-long campaign to slash pollution and keep temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above historical averages. To protect the countries most vulnerable to climate change, the pact calls for “pursuing efforts” to limit the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees C—a far more challenging task, since the planet is already expected to cross that line by the middle of the century.
The accord is the first to call on all nations—rich and poor—to take action to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. While each country’s commitment is voluntary, the pledges are bound within a framework that includes unprecedented measures for reporting and monitoring to guard against cheating. It also contains extensive financial provisions to help poorer countries obtain clean-energy technology and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
President Obama helped set the stage for the agreement by forging a deal with China last year to work jointly to scale back emissions from their two countries, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. U.S. officials also helped engineer the accord’s unusual “bottom-up” structure, which, by relying on voluntary pledges to cut emissions, spares the White House from having to seek formal approval from a hostile Congress.
Officials acknowledged that the compromise accord is insufficient, by itself, to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F] above pre-industrial averages, an increase that many scientists believe is the maximum amount of warming the planet can sustain without massive disruptions in natural ecosystems. But the treaty is structured to allow nations to adopt more ambitious cuts in emissions as new technology becomes available.
“There is an ambitious but necessary long-term objective,” Fabius said. “The reduction of greenhouse gases have become the business of all.”