How will history judge the Paris Climate Change deal?


Back in 1987 Michael Jackson released his platinum award-winning album Bad, Ronald Reagan demanded Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, the Single European Act came into force, and Arnold Swarzenegger opened in a film called Predator. I was fourteen.  Amongst all this history, almost unnoticed at the time, the Maldives asked that climate change be placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting taking place in Vancouver. That year tidal waves had pounded the archipelago, leaving hundreds homeless and causing millions of pounds worth of damage. It was the first time climate change was raised on the international stage.

Yesterday in Paris, 28 years later, the world came together to strike a dealt that will arrest global warming at 2oC. Bringing together 195 countries has been no easy task. The politics of the issue are fractious.  Every solution costs money. Ending fossil fuel dependence is no easy task. And the consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about. 

When the members of the European Parliament rolled into Paris, the working text was 58 pages long with no fewer than 1000 ‘decisions’ still to be taken.  After 5 days, three drafts, much debate, more posturing and lots of pouting, the final text was whittled down to only 31 pages.

The binding Paris Accord commits the nations of the planet to keeping global temperature rise to well below 2oC, with an aspiration of 1.5oC. It commits the developed world to provide $100 billion every year from 2020 to help developing countries deal with the impact of climate change, and aims to scale up that money in 2025.  Crucially, it calls upon emerging economies such as China (currently the world’s largest emitter and second largest economy) to contribute on a voluntary basis. Every five years from 2023, nations will have to submit their emission reductions plans to the UN for review, literally a ‘temperature check’. 

France was critical to delivering the final agreement. To hold the event so soon after the recent terror attacks was seen as an act of courage by the French Government, and a sense of fraternity and solidarity pervaded the entire conference, something markedly absent from previous gatherings. In announcing the agreement, the French President François Hollande spoke with pride of being able to deliver the accord so soon after the recent attacks. He was visibly moved.

And so as 40,000 delegates  - from eco protestors to prime ministers - pack their bags and prepare to bid Paris a fond au revoir, the real work is about to begin. In the New Year I will be leading the negotiations on the European Parliament’s reform of carbon markets, a corner stone of the EU’s commitment to addressing climate change. A highlight of the Paris COP21 for me was sitting with former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger - the Governator Himself - talking about the lessons the EU could learn from the California carbon market he introduced. A unexpected but genuinely informative discussion.

How will history judge the Paris Accord? That will depend on whether the words that took so long to craft are seen as a blue print for change and a road map to a better world or just  more hot air.

This article appeared in 'Scotland on Sunday' on the 13th December.