Not every country got what it wanted in a deal, but the biggest loser in the Paris agreement could be the fossil fuel industry
LE BOURGET, France—The climate deal adopted in Paris was the culmination of four years of negotiations on how to get nearly all countries to jointly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet.
The talks were difficult and sometimes teetered on the brink of collapse. Every country made compromises to get the deal done, but some got more than others by the time the gavel dropped on Dec. 12.
Here’s a look at winners in the Paris climate agreement and some who came up short:
The tiniest countries were arguably the biggest winners in the deal. Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Maldives, Kiribati and other island nations pushed hard for two things: First, a global commitment to at least try to limit Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. Second, recognition that they’re going to need help to deal with damage caused by rising seas, more extreme weather and other impacts of climate change. They got both, though with some caveats.
The deal in some ways looks like a wish list from U.S. negotiators. It has no new legally binding emissions or financial targets, which would have prevented President Barack Obama from accepting it without approval from the Republican-controlled Congress. It allows countries to set their own emissions targets, rather than having to negotiate them with other countries. And it requires everyone, not just rich countries, to set emissions targets and be transparent about what they are doing to meet them.
Almost everyone involved in the talks heaped praise on France for making the deal come together. With masterful diplomacy, the French built bridges and gave every country confidence that its voice was being heard. France also earned respect for staying the course despite the bomb-and-gun massacres in Paris just weeks before the climate conference.
The world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter didn’t have to cross any of its red lines. Though a strict firewall between developed and developing countries is gone, the deal still reflects different capabilities of rich and poor throughout the text, a key Chinese demand. Another win for Beijing is that, unlike at the chaotic climate summit six years ago in Copenhagen, China wasn’t seen as blocking the talks in Paris.
Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar blended praise with criticism in his post-deal speech, suggesting he had mixed feelings about the outcome. Knowing its emissions are expected to peak later than those of other major economies, India made sure the text includes some leeway for developing nations. It reluctantly accepted the 1.5 degree goal and failed to get the deal to oblige rich countries to provide poorer countries with clean technology that is free of intellectual property rights.
The Europeans didn’t come out of Paris looking like the leaders they want to be—and in many cases are—on climate change. They helped form a “high-ambition coalition” of rich and poor countries, but it wasn’t clear whether the alliance was anything but symbolic. The EU successfully introduced a mechanism in the deal designed to ramp up emissions targets over time, but caved on demands that the targets be legally binding.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia argued against the 1.5-degree temperature target and a long-term goal to phase out emissions. It lost both battles. However, the long-term goal doesn’t specifically mention emissions from fossil fuels, a small win for the Saudis.
The biggest loser in the Paris agreement could be the fossil fuel industry. The deal signals to businesses that governments will enact policies over time to promote a shift toward cleaner energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Of course, it remains to be seen whether they follow up on their pledges. In response to the deal, the World Coal Association referred to projections that “electricity generation from coal would grow by 24 per cent by 2040” even with the emissions targets countries have set so far.