Deal reached at UN climate conference

December 16, 2015

On December 12, the 196 nations in attendance at the COP21 climate meetings outside of Paris voted to adopt an agreement that will bring developed and undeveloped countries together on a mission to halt climate change.

Reached after nearly two weeks of careful deliberation, the agreement sets forth a goal of limiting global temperature rise to "well below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

The original target going into the meetings was two degrees: However the decision to seek a 1.5 degree cap was added upon the advocacy of island nations particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. 

Effectively, the agreement is meant to "signal the beginning of the end of more than 100 years of fossil fuels serving as the primary engine of economic growth," according to Time, asking even those countries that rely on revenue from oil and gas production to invest in more sustainable sources of energy.

In addition to cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement calls upon developed nations to provide $100 billion annually to help their less-developed neighbors make the switch to green energy programs beginning in 2020, a number that is expected to increase over the life of the deal. The funds will also go toward helping developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change by backing infrastructure like sea walls and programs to improve soil conditions.

Markets can now unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low-emissions and resilient growth.

While the deal leaves room for nations to decide for themselves how to reduce emissions, it does hold them accountable for reporting on their progress. Every five years, nations that ratify the agreement will be required to perform environmental reporting on their emissions by source, then assess their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them. 

"With these elements in place, markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low-emissions [and] resilient growth," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, taking the stage shortly after the agreement was adopted, adding: "What was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable."

His comments serve as a glance in the rear-view mirror to the last UN climate summit. The 2009 conference ended in frustration as developed and undeveloped countries were unable to find common ground on their way to what ended up being merely a weak outline of what a future global agreement might look like. With Copenhagen fresh in the minds of many, both supporters and detractors of this year's deal were impressed with the two sides' ability to work together to meet the deadline.