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Paris Climate Conference

Published on December 15, 2015
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, President of the Paris Climate Conference, to the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche
Paris, December 13, 2015

Q. – Were the negotiations tougher than you’d thought?

THE MINISTER – As I’d led the negotiations for months, I wasn’t expecting an easy ride. Securing agreement between 195 countries with very different positions and situations, on major issues that affect their development for decades, is an extraordinarily complex task. But overall, things went ahead calmly and constructively. Some moments were tenser than others, but the determination of everyone, including my team, to reach an agreement enabled us to make progress and finally succeed.

Q. – How did you finally wrest an agreement?

THE MINISTER – From the outset of this COP21, I believe I gained everyone’s trust by being true to the method I’d announced: listening, transparency, ambition for the agreement and a spirit of compromise. It wasn’t the Presidency on one side and the parties on the other: I wanted us to move forward together towards our shared goal. It was essential for each country to feel not only heard but listened to and understood. That was an essential condition for enabling trust in the work and then, at the end, compromise.

Q. – Were there any moments when you told yourself it wouldn’t work?

THE MINISTER – I believe in determination and work. I always had confidence, even when the negotiations were progressing less quickly than desired. There was special “momentum” in Paris. We saw it in particular with the presence of 150 heads of state and government at the opening [ceremony] with François Hollande, and with the exceptional mobilization of civil society – local authorities, businesses and non-governmental organizations. The conditions for a global agreement were all there: we didn’t have the right to pass up this unique opportunity; collectively we had to live up to our responsibilities.

Q. – When did you understand that this COP would be a victory?

THE MINISTER – In climate negotiations people often say: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” So I never wanted to show excessive optimism. I always believed we had to wait for the final approval to be able to talk about success. Right up until the very last moment, it was difficult. This global climate agreement is a subtle, patiently-constructed balance resulting from a considerable number of consultations with countries and negotiation groups: we achieved it only in the very final straight.

Q. – On the podium, you were moved; you’re rarely seen that way. Why the emotion?

THE MINISTER – Yes, I was very moved. The term “historic” is often over-used, but in this case it’s justified: this Paris conference is a page in history. It’s rare to experience such moments. To see a whole hall stand up to celebrate a success the world had been waiting for so long was a very powerful moment. In particular, my thoughts were also with all those who dedicated their lives to the climate cause and who were unable to see that day.

Q. – To whom do we owe this success? To you? To François Hollande?

THE MINISTER – It’s a collective success. The French President played a strong and active role in enabling success: his commitment was decisive. For my part, as President of the conference, I did constant and meticulous work for months, with the whole government and a very competent team of climate negotiation experts led by our negotiator, Laurence Tubiana, as well as those who organized the hosting at the Le Bourget site: everyone did an exceptional job. French diplomacy played its role to the full. The success of COP21 is a team victory!

Q. – Has the planet really been saved?

THE MINISTER – The agreement adopted is a turning point, but a lot of work remains – and first of all implementing it. The target is to contain warming to 2ºC by the end of the century, and even strive to limit that increase to 1.5ºC. This Paris agreement contains the main advances we thought would perhaps be impossible to secure. It doesn’t resolve all the problems, but it defines powerful rules for action. It enables a turning point towards global development with low greenhouse gas emissions, based on sustainable lifestyles and using the tools necessary for adapting better to the impact of climate disruption. The framework is there; the action must follow.

Q. – Isn’t the target of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5ºC a wish that’s impossible to achieve?

THE MINISTER – Admittedly it’s an ambitious target, but it’s central and even vital. For many countries, particularly island states and the Least Developed Countries, warming of 2ºC would in itself have dramatic consequences. Through the agreement, the IPCC scientists are given a mandate to prepare a report by 2018 on how to achieve this 1.5ºC target. In terms of climate action, we must set ourselves ambitious targets, but they may seem hard to achieve at the time. One example: when we decided collectively at COP20 in Lima in December 2014 to call on countries to present “national contributions” for acting against global warming, few people were counting on success. But 186 out of 195 countries presented theirs, which covers more than 96% of greenhouse gas emissions! There’s fresh momentum.

Q. – But why such a late initial review, in 2023, when it’s a matter of urgency?

THE MINISTER – An initial collective assessment of states’ commitments will actually be made in 2018. States will evaluate their progress, with a view to preparing or updating national contributions. This will provide the opportunity for a new stage in strengthening our collective ambition.

Q. – $100 billion-worth of aid to developing countries has been announced for after 2020. But how can this amount subsequently be increased?

THE MINISTER – In the global fight against climate disruption, finance is key to confidence. We’re going to move forward in successive stages. The text provides for a new financial target to be set no later than 2025. It is clearly stated that developed countries have a special responsibility to provide financial and technological support to developing countries. The agreement encourages other states, for example the major emerging countries, to make voluntary contributions as well.

Q. – There’s no mention of leaving behind fossil fuels and a carbon economy. Was this prospect too ambitious?

THE MINISTER – The agreement sets a long-term target on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In practice, this will be equivalent to carbon neutrality in the second part of the century. Also provided for is a peak in emissions as soon as possible. Regarding energy choices, the agreement leaves member states free to make their own decisions, but explicit reference is made to the importance of renewable energies, particularly for increasing access to sustainable energy in developing countries, particularly African ones.

Q. – What are your best or worst memories of this COP?

THE MINISTER – I have only good memories – except perhaps the sleepless nights! I travelled so much around the world for this great cause that I was nicknamed “Climarathon Man”. The most vivid moment I’ll remember witnessing and feeling has to be the one yesterday, with all the representatives of the world’s countries standing to applaud the adoption of the agreement. Such a moment of global harmony injects a powerful, exceptional spirit of optimism for the future. I’ve been very lucky in my life to have been able to contribute to it./.

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