Dec 132015
 

Source: Craig Welch, National Geographic, PUBLISHED

The world came together. More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas. “It’s rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world,” French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time). After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”

Two weeks of marathon deal-making, which started with high hopes, ended with a surprisingly ambitious pact. Its 31 pages commit wealthier nations to provide billions of dollars to poor countries to battle rising seas and extreme weather, and called on every nation to begin a rapid transition toward clean energy. It remains to be seen how well nations will follow through on these pledges – and whether the newly aggressive goals can be achieved. But as a blueprint for the future, diplomats were clearly proud of their efforts, and even many skeptical climate activists praised the unexpected boldness of portions of the agreement. “Countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, “Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

Here are highlights of the deal–some surprises, some snubs, what it means, and where it takes us:

SURPRISES

1.5 Degrees

Aside from the fact that there’s an agreement at all, perhaps nothing was more unexpected than the ambitiousness of its goal: Negotiators came to Paris with a mission to stop the rise of greenhouse gases before they cause irreversible harm to the planet. Countries previously had set a target of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But the new accord commits the planet to limiting global temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” And it adds that nations will do so while also “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.”

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