Nearly 200 Nations Reach Historic Climate Accord

Children display giant letters spelling out the French word 'Adieu' (Goodbye), part of a larger display bidding farewell to the use of fossil fuels earlier this month outside the U.N. climate talks in Paris. Photo: Jose Rodriguez / EPA

PARIS — After decades of wrangling, delegates from nearly 200 countries adopted Saturday an historic agreement to limit emissions in the Earth's atmosphere, the first-ever accord to keep global temperature rise within a certain limit.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, and more than two decades of international talks aimed at setting out a plan to keep man-made emissions from reaching dangerous levels, the announcement of the agreement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was met with long applause, embraces and tears.

Hailing the agreement at the White House, US. President Barack Obama said: "We met the moment."

In a plan laid out over 31 pages, countries committed to limit the global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to pursue efforts to meet the more ambitious target of below 1.5 degrees, the number called for by many small island states.

To achieve the target, countries would agree to reach a global greenhouses gas emissions peak "as soon as possible" and, some time between 2050 and 2100, reach a level that would balance man-made emissions with the removal of emissions from the atmosphere with the help of carbon sinks.

Planting more forests, developing natural carbon sinks or developing technology to take carbon out of the atmosphere are all possible within the agreement, scientists said, while tangentially placing a broader conservation premium on existing forests.

It would also set nations on a course to make their national emissions reductions plans, already submitted by 186 countries, more ambitious over time. The world has already warmed by approximately 1 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and the current promises on the table would see the atmosphere's temperature rise between 2.7-3.7 degrees.

"The text we have before us is not perfect, but we believe that it represents a solid foundation from which we can launch our enhanced action with renewed determination," South African delegate Edna Molewa said.

Obama said the accord showed what can be achieved "when the world stands as one."

While describing the accord as a "tribute to American leadership," Obama noted that, "no nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone. And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines. All of us had to solve it together."

Pointing out that the "problem is not solved," Obama nevertheless said, "this agreement represents the best chance we've had to save the one planet that we've got."

EU Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the agreement, shepherded by France only weeks after terrorist attacks on its capital left 130 people dead, was a testament to the strength of the nation and "makes us all proud as Europeans."

Nicaragua, one of a handful of countries that did not submit a national emissions reduction plan, abstained from the consensus. The country's negotiator, Paul Oquist, said that agreement didn't go far enough to protect the environment.

Observers said that they welcomed the agreement, but added that it was only the beginning to a longer process.

"Today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it's what happens after this conference that really matters," Greenpeace's director Kumi Naidoo said.

"The Paris Agreement is only one step on a long road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress," he added.

The agreement will be opened to signing by individual countries starting next April at the United Nations headquarters, but it won't enter into force until ratification has come from 55 countries who account for at least an estimated 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

"We have reached an agreement that, fully implemented, will help us transition to a global clean energy economy and ultimately prevent the worst, most devastating consequences of climate change from ever happening," US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the agreement as a "sign of hope," and praised the French government's leadership in the negotiations.

"In Paris there have been many revolutions for centuries," French President Francois Hollande said, hailing what he called the beginning of a low-carbon age. "But today the most beautiful and peaceful of revolutions has been accomplished, a revolution for climate change."

Story: DPA / Jessica Camille Aguirre and Pat Reber