13/12/2015 2:36 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Climate Change Negotiations Climax With Historic Agreement In Paris

Christina Figueres/Twitter

PARIS -- Several years of gruelling negotiations climaxed today in a historic climate change agreement which requires all nations to combat the global crisis that is triggering extreme weather events around the world, and causing deaths, destruction and displacement.

Cheers and applause resonated across the halls of the Le Bourget Centre as France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the adoption of the Paris Agreement on Saturday night. As Fabius hit the gavel, negotiators rose in a standing ovation, while activists and journalists, who track the climate change talks, hugged each other.

First to speak after the big announcement, South Africa's Environment Minister Edna Molewa recognised that the agreement was by no means perfect, but it was a good start. She quoted Nelson Mandela: "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. "

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan quoted French philosopher Voltaire: Perfect is the enemy of good. "We have a good and necessary agreement," he said.

Although compromises have weakened the agreement, walking away from COP21 without a deal would have been disastrous for the world and embarrassing for its leaders. With this agreement, nations can take major steps towards addressing a massive challenge, which will have to be dealt with over decades, and the international community can live to fight another day.

In his speech, peppered with quotes of Mahatma Gandhi, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said, "Today is a historic day. What we have adopted is not only an agreement, but we have written a chapter of hope in the lives of seven billion people."

The two-week long U.N. Climate Change Conference was held in the shadow of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, and speakers from several countries congratulated the French government for steering one of the most important meetings of modern times, while dealing with its sorrow and loss.

"In France, we have seen many revolutions. The most beautiful, most peaceful revolution has been achieved, a climate revolution," said President François Hollande.

The most beautiful, most peaceful revolution has been achieved, a climate revolution.

WATCH: India's Stunning Pavilion Has A Waterfall Which Spells At Paris Climate Change Talks

Paris Agreement

Under the Paris Agreement, all parties have to work towards arresting average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, while chasing the more ambitious target of a 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They are allowed to set their own national action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming the planet, and to take other steps like investing in newer technologies for green growth. They will have to inform the international community every five years on how they are following up on these goals.

Goals for reducing CO2 emissions, which are "targets" for developed countries and "efforts" for developing nations, will also have to be scaled up subsequently.

Scientists have said that a failure to arrest global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius will have catastrophic consequences: a rise in extreme weather events, floods and droughts, food shortages from changing climate patterns, conflicts and climate refugees as vast tracts of land are lost to rising sea levels.

Under this agreement, developed countries will raise money and provide technology for developing countries to pursue the path of cleaner economic growth and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

For the first time, developing countries are also "encouraged" to provide money on a voluntary basis to less well-off nations to combat climate change. Earlier this year, for instance, China pledged $3 billion to other developing countries to fight climate change under South-South cooperation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this agreement sends a "critical message to the global marketplace" to channel investments, research and development towards a cleaner road to development.

"Many of us here know that it won’t be governments that actually make the decision or find the product, the new technology, the saving grace of this challenge. It will be the genius of the American spirit," he said.

We have written a chapter of hope in the lives of seven billion people.

READ - India Can Beat Climate Change With Trees On Farms: World Agroforestry Chief Interview

Hard-Fought Agreement

Over the past two weeks, negotiators led by top government officials from over 190 countries fought hard to resolve their differences which revolve around the capabilities and responsibilities of developed versus developing countries in combating the climate crisis.

The two-week long U.N. Climate Change Conference, which was scheduled to conclude on Friday, ended on Saturday, with negotiators working through the night over the past few days.

In a show of solidarity, around 150 world leaders kicked off the climate change talks by calling on all nations to set aside their differences before reaching the point of no return, but also underlining their own country positions on who should do what to combat climate change.

Just as Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines while negotiators wrangled over long standing differences at the climate change talks held in Warsaw in 2013, developed and developing nations battled it out at the Le Bourget Centre, while Chennai was flooded by its heaviest rains in living memory.

The international community can live to fight another day.

READ: Quit Blaming India, Support Its Transition To Cleaner Development: U.N. Deputy Climate Change Chief Interview

India At COP 21

Vilified at the talks for being an obstructionist, and under attack for its plans to ratchet up its coal consumption, the Modi government pulled out all the stops to win the perception battle by engaging the media and civil society.

Javadekar tried hard to explain that India is quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. While India is acutely vulnerable to unseasonal rains, floods, droughts and melting glaciers, it also has huge challenges of poverty eradication and providing electricity to millions of people, which will require burning more coal for the next few decades.

Earlier in the day, Javadekar told Indian journalists that the Paris Agreement addressed India's concerns of differentiating between developed and developing nations in the fight against climate change.

Speaking in main hall of the Le Bourget Centre, Javadekar said that the agreement recognised the "development imperatives of developing countries," while "harmonising" the challenges of development and environment.

"The path to climate ambition must be paved with equity," he said.

But the Indian minister also said that actions of developed countries is still far below their historical emissions.

The path to climate ambition must be paved with equity.

Historic But Far From Perfect

While the Paris Agreement is being hailed as historic, the current and planned actions are still far from fulfilling the main objective of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and even further off from the more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Small Island Nations, which are at risk of losing their entire territories to the rising seas, pushed hard for the agreement to include 1.5 degrees Celsius limit - at the very least as a goal to pursue. The collective CO2 emission reduction targets at this point will arrest global temperature rise to an estimated 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The figure of $100 billion, which developed countries committed to the Green Climate Fund till 2020, is not mentioned in the agreement.

Civil society groups have expressed their concerns about the failure to attain a higher level of ambition, and called for all parties to revisit their pledges to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as scale up the finance and technology needed to put developing countries on the path to greener growth.

“What we needed out of Paris was a deal which put the world’s poorest people first - those who are living with the constant threat of the next disaster. Yet what we have been presented with doesn’t go far enough to improve the fragile existence of millions around the world," said Adriano Campolina, chief executive of ActionAid.

“While the issue of providing climate finance to developing countries has been agreed upon, the final deal does not provide any real assurance to poor countries on how much finance will be delivered, when it will be delivered by, or how much of it will be available for adaptation," he said.

Doesn’t go far enough to improve the fragile existence of millions around the world.

READ: COP21 - PM Modi Asks The World To Let India Grow

Paradigm Shift

The Paris Agreement marks a paradigm shift from the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding treaty which only required developed nations to combat climate change because it was their historical emissions over the past century which caused the global crisis.

The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and non-European developed countries like Japan and Canada walked out of the agreement. Over the years, developed countries have pushed for the climate change agreement to reflect the drastically altered economic scenario in which China and India emerged as major powers and emitters.

Under this agreement, developed countries will still take the lead on combating the crisis, but developing countries are also required to do what they can. In practical terms, more is expected from larger developing nations like China and India to rein in their CO2 emissions.

While the stark division between developed and developing nations has been dissolved, the Paris agreement still retains key principles of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and "equity" to retain the differences between rich and poor.

But environmentalist Sunita Narain said that the Paris Agreement failed to capture equity in any real way, and the only distinction between developed versus developing countries was in finance in which rich countries had to give money.

"The most worrying part of it is that there will now be a ratcheting up of ambition, but there has been no operationalisation of equity by including the carbon budget," Narain said.

In his speech on Nov. 30 at COP 21, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked developed nation to take ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets so that developing nations could use the remaining carbon space for their growth.

"India's progress is our destiny," he said.

The next round of climate change talks will be held in Marrakech in 2016.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

COP21 coverage on HuffPost India is supported by CANSA and PAIRVI.

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