From US secretary of state John Kerry who called it “a tremendous victory” to China’s chief climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua, who hailed it as a “milestone in the global efforts to respond to climate change”, even if it needs “some areas in need of improvement” to India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar, who declared he was “happy” that it “takes care of India’s concerns”, most key players are hailing the agreement.
This is not surprising given that Paris marks an “unprecedented political recognition of the risks of climate change”.
It has established a more ambitious goal than was expected: aiming to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. Developed countries will also contribute $100 billion a year to developed countries by 2020, though this is not legally binding and the sum will be re-worked in 2025
So, yes, we do have a great diplomatic triumph. The question is how real will it be on the ground? As the economist Jeffrey Sachs points out, “it is crucial to distinguish between diplomacy and implementation.”
Ultimately the devil will lie in implementation. Just as Francis Fukuyama declaring the end of history in 1991 did not end history or bring in an American global order, Hollande declaring the making history in Paris does not end global warming.
The grim truth is that voluntary nationally determined contributions at the heart of this agreement do not yet add up to a 2-degree limit. As Sachs points out, the agreement itself notes that “much greater emissions reductions will be required.”
The 31-page text, which brought down points of dissent from 1600 to zero is smartly worded, and is aware of its limitations but at many levels is also un-enforceable. For example, the first stock-taking is proposed for 2018 before the agreement event enters into force. In that sense, nations that want to flout it, can. But as Sachs emphasizes, ultimately agreements such as these are meant to appeal to our better senses and provide hope and direction.
Many are still not happy, including important countries like Indonesia and South Africa. Dr Nur Masripatin, Indonesia’s lead negotiator says the finances are “very weak” and the “deal is not fair” but his country signed up because “we don’t have more time, we have to agree on what we have now.” Similarly, Edna Molewa, the South African environmental minister and chair of the G77 and China group told newspaper reporters, “The deal is not perfect . . . but the best we can get at this historic moment”.
In the end, the best summation of Paris was by the delegate who said: “It is like going to a good restaurant: you may not like all the dishes, but in the end it leaves a nice taste in your mouth.”
So, history may not be here yet. But after Paris, it certainly has a chance to be re-written.

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