Envoys in Paris have agreed an international accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions that marks a turning point in more than 20 years of efforts to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
Delegates from nearly 200 nations cheered and embraced each other on the floor of the convention centre hall at Le Bourget airport, north of the city centre, as Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, declared the new pact had been formally adopted just before 7.30pm in Paris.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, said: “This is a tremendous victory for all of our citizens . . . It is a victory for all of the planet and for future generations . . . I know that all of us will be better off for the agreement we have finalised here today.”
Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator, hailed the agreement as a “milestone in the global efforts to respond to climate change”, even if it was not perfect and contained “some areas in need of improvement”.
The new pact, to be known as the Paris agreement, for the first time requires virtually every country in the world to set out its plans to avert climate change every five years.
It includes an objective to limit global warming to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels” and “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.
To meet these temperature targets, the draft says countries should aim to reach a “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions” as soon as possible and “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.
The text does not define precisely what this means but scientists said it suggested that after 2050, countries could not emit more carbon dioxide — the greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels — than could be absorbed by forests and other carbon “sinks”.
President François Hollande became the first leader to act on the new agreement, committing France to a revision of its national climate targets before 2020. He said the country would “work with all parties who want to scale up ambition pre-2020’’, and that he would also form a coalition of countries on carbon pricing.
Gurdial Nijar, the Malaysian delegate who is the head of the Like Minded grouping of developing countries that includes Saudi Arabia, said he was “very happy”.
“It is like going to a good restaurant,” he said. “You may not like all the dishes but in the end it leaves a nice taste in your mouth.”
Prakash Javadekar, Indian environment minister, also hailed the accord. “Today is a historic day,” he said. “It is not only an agreement, but we have written a new chapter of hope in the lives of 7bn people on the planet.”
However, others were not so satisfied. Nur Masripatin, lead negotiator for Indonesia, said Jakarta was disappointed with the finance.
“It’s very weak,” he said. “The deal is not fair . . . But we don’t have more time, we have to agree on what we have now.”
Edna Molewa, South African environmental minister and chair of the G77 and China group of emerging market nations, gave the agreement a cautious welcome: “The deal is not perfect . . . but the best we can get at this historic moment”
The accord was hailed as a significant step by many businesses.
“We welcome the Paris outcome as a historic milestone on the road to a more sustainable global economy,” said Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of the HSBC banking group.
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, praised the agreement as “an unequivocal signal to the business and financial communities” that would drive real economic change.
“The billions of dollars pledged by developed countries will be matched with the trillions of dollars that will flow to low-carbon investment,” he said, predicting the move by hundreds of businesses to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy would “become the norm for hundreds of thousands”.
While dozens of environmental groups welcomed the pact, some expressed reservations.
“This climate deal falls far short of the soaring rhetoric from world leaders less than two weeks ago,” said Craig Bennett, chief executive of UK campaign group Friends of the Earth, referring to the heads of state who opened the two-week Paris meeting on November 30.
“An ambition to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C is all very well but we still don’t have an adequate global plan to make this a reality. However, this is still a historic moment. This summit clearly shows that fossil fuels have had their day.”