Standort: / Meldung: "The End of the Fossil Fuel Era?"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

13. 12. 2015 - 11:00

The End of the Fossil Fuel Era?

We have a deal on fighting climate change - heralded as a "historic turning point". Do we have a plan to save the planet?

“It’s an historic day, it’s an historic agreement. It really is a turning point in the history of climate change,” a visibly delighted Austrian environment minister Andrä Rupprechter told me, barely an hour after the so-called Paris Agreement was adopted here in Le Bourget.

Figueres hugging


This time Greenpeace, often the fly in the orange juice of environment ministers, wholeheartedly agreed: “This is historic,” said Greenpeace Austria’s Adam Pawloff: “For the first time ever 196 nations have come together to agree a legally binding deal to counter the effects of climate change.”

The deal, a framework to tackle global warming, set a new goal to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century - a target which should tell investors, they’d more savvy in the future to put their money in renewable technology. As Rupprechter put it: “Today we started the end of the fossil fuel era.”

Adam Pawloff of Greenpeace Austria

Angie Rattay/Neongreen Network

Crucially, the deal includes a review mechanism that means countries are obliged to update and hopefully deepen their national emissions cuts at regular intervals. This is important because the current carbon cutting pledges from individual countries won’t make us hit the ambitious targets included in the Paris Agreement. These include containing global warming to a peak of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels - with the ultimate ambition of keeping the rise to just 1.5 degrees.

Le deal est fait?


As the Guardian’s John Vidal told me in a first reaction to the deal: “This is just the architecture and the building will be erected over the next few years.” He says in the near future money should be made available for poorer countries to adapt to or mitigate the effects of climate change, and to smooth the transition to clean energy. “And the carbon-cutting ambitions can be ratcheted up,” added Vidal “I think that is what a lot of countries are hoping: that this is just the start.”

So while thanking the delegates at this conference, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned that the real work was only just about to begin: “Now we must stay united and bring the same spirit you have demonstrated already here to the crucial test of implementation.”

Ban talks

Angie Rattay/Neongreen Network

That will mean no less than reforming the way we power our lives, said Andrä Rupprechter. “We have to start with the decarbonisation of our energy and mobility systems, and this was the start today.”

Adam Pawloff of Greenpeace agreed. “What we needed was a deal on a global level that sends a strong signal to business and to industry that we are taking this problem seriously - or at least trying to”, he said. “What we need now is for business and industry and government on a national, regional and local level to take this forward and translate it into action. We need to replace our fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy and we need to do it quickly.”

He was worried about a last minute compromise on the review system. Since current carbon-pledges are not going to get us to a world with a warming cap of two degrees, Greenpeace had been hoping that the review system would mean that the efforts had to be improved.

Skiing in December

Eva Walkner

But deepening cuts is not mandatory. So, in essence, countries can review their cuts and, perfectly legally, opt for less ambition from 2018.

As Vidal had put it earlier, this was “the deal everyone could agree to, rather than the deal everyone wanted”, and there were certainly some losers. The pressure group lamented that indigenous rights, human rights and women's rights had been moved to sections of the text where they aren't legally protected or operationalized.

Indigenous people have traditionally been among the best custodians of nature, but their land rights have not been protected by international law and they fear they could be marginalised by big corporations using afforestation projects as a way to turn trees into investment stock instead of … well, trees.

Yet NGOs overwhelmingly applauded the ambitious goals - with obvious caveats. They basically say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. It was heartening to see ministers from across the globe applaud the global agreement and embrace it. But when they return home we will be watching carefully how they go about turning the Paris Agreement into practical policy.



Will car-firms, that have been shown to cheat on their emissions, be held to task? Or will they be let off? Will the world’s ministers live up to the hype?

A lot of credit for getting any sort of deal must go to Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister and President of the COP21 UN Climate change conference. He directed the meeting like a convivial dinner party host who stays awake and keeps the conversation going, even you sense the guests are becoming bored.

Fabius with a hammer


I was having a post-conference beer with FM4’s Barbara Köppel, as Fabius finally left the Plenary hall after midnight. After three all night sessions an agreement had been reached, but then he had had to sit through mini-speeches from most of the 196 national delegations, his glasses perched on the end of his nose like a kindly looking headmaster. As he filed past the café, the late-night customers burst into spontaneous applause. It’s not the sort of politics I am used too.

In the end Ban Ki Moon summed up to the potential significance of the deal. Ban has made the fight against climate change one of the key aspects of his two periods at the helm of the international community. There was genuine emotion in his voice when he said:

“Today we can look our children and our grandchildren in the eye and finally say we have joined hands to bequeath a more habitable world.”