In a landmark move, 195 nations agreed Saturday evening to adopt an historic pact to halt global warming that for the first time asks all countries to reduce or rein in their greenhouse gas emissions.
Loud applause erupted in the conference hall in Le Bourget outside Paris after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gaveled the agreement Saturday. Some delegates started crying, while others embraced.
The countries had been negotiating the pact for four years after earlier attempts to reach such a deal failed.
In the “Paris agreement,” countries commit to keeping average global temperatures from rising another degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) between now and 2100, a key demand of poor countries ravaged by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
They are also committed to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.
Nonetheless, the pact doesn’t have any mechanism to punish countries that don’t or can’t contribute toward that goal.
France earlier Saturday urged negotiators from the nearly 200 nations to approve what it called a “final draft” of the unprecedented climate deal.
“The decisive agreement for the planet is here and now,” said French President Francois Hollande. “France calls upon you to adopt the first universal agreement on climate.”
The deal, meant to take effect in 2020, is the first to ask all countries to join the fight against global warming, representing a sea change in the UN talks, which previously required only wealthy nations to reduce their emissions.
The new version removed disputed concepts like “climate neutrality” or “emissions neutrality,” which had appeared in earlier drafts but met opposition from countries including China. It sets a goal of getting global greenhouse gas emissions to start falling “as soon as possible”; they have been generally rising since the industrial revolution.
It says wealthy nations should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and “encouraged” other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That reflects Western attempts to expand the donor base to include advanced developing countries such as China.
The draft includes a section highlighting the losses they expect to incur from climate-related disasters that it’s too late to adapt to. However, a footnote specifies that it “does not involve or provide any basis for any liability or compensation” — a key US demand because it would let the Obama administration sign on to the deal without going through the Republican-led Senate.
The UN has been working for more than two decades to persuade governments to work together to reduce the man-made emissions that scientists say are warming the planet.
The previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, included only rich countries and the US never signed on. The last climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, ended in failure when countries couldn’t agree on a binding emissions pact.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had also urged delegates to adopt the draft.
“We must protect the planet that sustains us,” Ban told the negotiators, adding: “The whole world is watching. Billions of people are relying on your wisdom.”