PARIS—Delegates from 196 countries reached consensus early this morning on the final draft of "a universal legal agreement" to keep man-made global warming below 2º C, with a newly enshrined aspiration to hold it to 1.5º.
If approved this afternoon, the draft agreement will require countries to assess their progress and escalate their ambition every five years. It fosters carbon markets that will reduce the cost of clean technologies, directs hundreds of billions of dollars to developing countries to fund clean-energy development, and contains a legally binding transparency system.
"This text, which is necessarily a balanced text, contains the principles that we felt before would be impossible to achieve," said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister and president of the Paris Climate Conference. "The proposed agreement is differentiated, fair, durable, dynamic, balanced, and legally binding.”
And it must yet be approved. Delegates will reconvene at 3:45 CET (9:45 Eastern) to accept or deny the draft by consensus. Update: vote delayed until 5:30 p.m. CET.
The United Nations' final draft of the Paris Agreement was released moments ago, at 1:30 p.m. in Paris, revealing these vital features:
Even before the Paris talks began, governments recognized their collective effort would not attain the 2º temperature limit they agreed to uphold in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. So other parties were brought to Paris to bear responsibility, most notably, the financial sector.
“What we’re doing is sending the marketplace an extraordinary signal,” said John Forbes Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, in his address to the convention Wednesday, "that those 186 countries are really committed – and that helps the private sector to move capital into that, knowing there’s a future that is committed to this sustainable path.”
(Of 196 countries that are parties to the agreement, 186 have submitted specific plans to comply, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.)
The agreement describes parties "engaging on a voluntary basis in cooperative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred emissions reductions" and requires that they promote sustainable development and environmental integrity, apply robust accounting and ensure transparency.
The agreement does not specify what mechanisms countries may employ to fulfill their commitments—carbon taxes, emissions-reduction credits, performance standards, other regulations—but carbon markets are the most likely form of cooperative approach, said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Center on Climate Agreements.
Half of the countries mention them in their commitments. Regional and national carbon markets are likely to eventually combine into ever larger international markets.
Legally Binding Transparency
To ensure participants and investors have faith in financial flows to new carbon markets and new markets in clean technology, the agreement requires measurement and verification of the actions of every participating country. Nations set voluntary targets—they set them autonomously based on local circumstances and abilities—but they will be legally bound to set a target, to inventory their emissions, to report on their progress, and to undergo an expert technical review.
Because countries submit voluntary targets, the U.S. is not required to seek ratification in the U.S. Senate. The Kyoto Protocol required ratification—and never received it—because it set legally binding emissions targets.
With a legally-binding transparency system, the agreement has the force of law but does not need Congressional ratification.
2º and 1.5º
Countries will maintain a long-held goal to keep the human-caused increase in average global temperature "well below" 2ºC, but negotiators accepted a demand by many countries, including the vulnerable small island nations, that the agreement acknowledge a limit of 1.5º.
To achieve the more ambitious temperature, the world would have to reduce emissions as close as possible to zero by 2050 and offset any remaining emissions through reforestation, carbon capture, or other methods.
Some scientists think 2º is unachievable because of warming baked into the system by gasses that have already been emitted, so 1.5º looks even more daunting.
"It’s not totally out of the question," said Richard Richels of the Electric Power Research Institute. "You can always take your capital stock and just make it non functional. Whether society is willing to do that is the question. Is it worth the cost, is the question, and that analysis has yet to be done."
During negotiations, advocates pushed for more practical and immediate goals than the temperature limits. Farina Yamin, a negotiator for a coalition of small island nations and the founder of track0.org, pushed for zero emissions by 2050. Nat Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund pushed for an emissions peaking target in the near term, 2030 or earlier.
Delegates debated the language and the target dates for two weeks, finally settling this morning on language that refers to both of these proposals. The agreement calls for "global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" and seeks to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century."
Geosystem scientist Myles Allen of Oxford University assessed the meaning of balance in the agreement:
"Achieving a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century will require net carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced, in effect, to zero," he said in an email sent by the International Council for Science. "It seems governments understand this, even if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to say so."
The agreement requires countries to submit new plans every five years, each one of which must progress beyond the country's previous efforts and "reflect its highest possible ambition."
"The reduction of greenhouse gases have become the business of all, thanks to an update every five years of national contributions, which in this case can only be more ambitious," Fabius said.
Advocates of these five-year updates argued successfully over the last two weeks that governments will be able to do more as green technology markets develop, reducing costs and spurring innovation.
The agreement strongly urges developed countries to take concrete actions to provide $100 billion to developing countries by 2020 to help them offset the cost of transitioning to a low-carbon economy and developing a clean energy infrastructure.
After 2020, the UN will set a new goal for the annual flow of finance to developing countries, from a "floor" of $100 billion per year.
The conference is set to reconvene at 3:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m. Eastern) to accept or reject this final draft.
French President Françoise Hollande told delegates assembled in the plenary hall that there would be no more drafts.
“The decisive agreement for the planet is here and now and it is up only to you and you alone, on behalf of all those whom you represent, all the nations of the world, it is up to you to decide this. On the 12th of December 2015, we can have a historic day, but also a major date to go down in the history of mankind. The 12th of December 2015 can become a message of life.”
Hollande said he would be proud to have that message issue from Paris, which was attacked almost exactly one month ago.
"France asks you, France calls upon you to adopt the first universal agreement on climate. The first such agreement in our history. It is rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world. You have it. You have this opportunity. You have to take this opportunity, grasp it, so that our planet may live a long time, so that we may live a long time, and healthily."
Paris Agreement Final Draft Released: Six Vital Details