The Paris agreement five years on: is it strong enough to avert climate catastrophe?

(The Guardian, 8 Dec 2020) With Trump no longer a threat, there is a sense of optimism around what the accord could achieve – but only if countries meet their targets.

No one who was in the hall that winter evening in a gloomy conference centre on the outskirts of the French capital will ever forget it. Tension had been building throughout the afternoon, as after two weeks of fraught talks the expected resolution was delayed and then delayed yet again. Rumours swirled – had the French got it wrong? Was another climate failure approaching, the latest botched attempt at solving the world’s global heating crisis?

Finally, as the mood in the hall was growing twitchy, the UN security guards cleared the platform and the top officials of the landmark Paris climate talks took to the podium. For two weeks, 196 countries had huddled in countless meetings, wrangling over dense pages of text, scrutinising every semicolon. And they had finally reached agreement. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister in charge of the gruelling talks, looking exhausted but delighted, reached for his gavel and brought it down with a resounding crack. The Paris agreement was approved at last.

Nicholas Stern, the climate economist, found himself hugging Xia Zhenhua, the normally reserved Chinese minister, while whoops and shouts echoed round the hall. “I felt that the Paris agreement was the moment when the world decided it really had to manage climate change in a serious way,” he said. “We were all in it together, that’s what people realised.”

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The Guardian, 8 Dec 2020: The Paris agreement five years on: is it strong enough to avert climate catastrophe?