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20/6/2016 AClimateDeal,6FatefulYearsintheMakingTheNewYorkTimes

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AClimateDeal,6FatefulYearsinthe
Making
ByCORALDAVENPORT DEC.13,2015
PARISIttookalmosttwoweeksfornegotiatorsfrom195countriestofinallypass
thelandmarkclimateaccordthisweekendafterseveralespressofueledallnighters
andlong,passionatedebatesoverthemeaningofasingleword,suchasshall.

Butthestoryofhowthedealcametogetherstartedlongbeforethatin
December2009,withthefailureofthelastsuchsummitmeeting,inCopenhagen.

Thatgatheringwas,inhindsight,acasestudyinhownottodoadeal.Thehosts
oftheeventhadsetasterntone,withconcretebarricades,concertinawire,andsteel
cagestohouseprotesterswhosteppedoutofline.

ConnieHedegaard,Denmarksministerofclimateandenergy,wasbluntinher
approach,puttingpressureonallgovernmentstomakethepoliticalpriceofbeing
anobstaclesohighthatnoonewillpayit,shesaidatthetime.

Inthetensefinalhours,worldleadersfromahandfuloflargecountriestookthe
negotiationsintotheirownhands,leavingsmallercountriesfuming.Littleemerged
fromthetalks,otherthanacrimonyandsuggestionsthatperhapssuchsummit
meetingswereultimatelyfutile.AfterCopenhagen,manyworldleadersbelieved
thattheUnitedNationsprocesswouldnolongerworkfortacklingclimatechange,
SecretaryGeneralBanKimoonoftheUnitedNationssaidinaninterview.Itwas
deeplydisappointing.Itwaspainful.

SowhatchangedfromCopenhagentoParis?Inshort,threethings:a

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fundamentalchangeinthegeopoliticsofclimatechangeashiftintheperceptionof
globalwarmingfromadistantwarningtoanimmediatethreatandtheartofFrench
diplomacyduringtheeventandinthemonthsbeforehandtosoftenthesharp
elbowsofnegotiatorsandreducethechancesthatmajorpointsofcontentionmight
killadealagain.Inparticular,theymadesurethateachcountry,regardlessofits
sizeorwealth,feltitsvoicewouldbeheard.

Itwasawonderfulsurprisethataftertheincredibledisappointmentof
Copenhagen,these195countriescouldcometoanagreementmoreambitiousthan
anyoneimagined,saidJimYongKim,theWorldBankpresident,whohasbeen
closelyengagedinthetalks.Thisneverhappens.

ThetalksinCopenhagenwerehandicappedbeforetheyevenbegan,asmajor
countriesviewedPresidentObamawithdeepskepticism.Thereputationofthe
UnitedStatesonclimatechangehadsufferedbecauseofitsdecision,under
PresidentGeorgeW.Bush,towithdrawfromtheworldsfirstclimatetreaty,the
KyotoProtocol.

Americanshadhistoricallydemandedactionfromothernationswhiledoing
littleathome,despitethecountrysstatusastheworldslargestgreenhousegas
polluterthroughrecentdecades.AndtheUnitedStateswaslockedinanimpasse
withChina,theworldsotherlargestpolluter,aseachcountrywaitedfor
commitmentsfromtheotherbeforeactingitself.

Mr.Obama,stillearlyinhisfirsttermandhavingjustwonthe2009Nobel
PeacePrize,promisedotherworldleadersinCopenhagenthatallthiswouldchange
underhisadministration.HeassuredthemthatCongresswasonthevergeof
passingasweepingnewclimatechangebill,sponsoredbySenatorJohnKerryof
Massachusetts.

ButMr.Obamaspledgeswonhimlittlecredibility.Hewastreateddismissively
bytheChinesepremier,WenJiabao,whosenthimprogressivelylowerlevelofficials
forthefinalnegotiations.Inthestrainedclosinghoursoftheconference,Mr.Obama
burstintoameetingwithMr.Wenandotherleaders,wheretheyworkedallnighton
laptopstohammerouttheterms.

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Ms.Hedegaardhadsignaledafewmonthsbeforethetalksbeganthatfailure
wasnotanoptionforthedeal.Chinaandotheremergingnationsmustacceptit
evenifitisntfair,shesaid.

Butforceofwillwouldnotcarrytheday,andthelatebackroomdealfailedto
wintheconsensusrequiredforalegallybindingagreement,asahandfulof
countries,includingVenezuela,BoliviaandCuba,blockeditspassage.Therichare
destroyingtheplanet,saidHugoChvez,theSocialistpresidentofVenezuela,
duringthetalks.Perhapstheythinktheyregoingofftoanotheroneaftertheyve
destroyedthisone.

SoonafterMr.Obamareturnedhome,Mr.Kerrysclimatechangebillfailedin
theSenate.Andfortherestofhisfirstterm,Mr.Obamaputtheissueofclimate
changeonthebackburner.

Thatchangedafterhisreelection.EvenMr.Obamasownaidesweresurprised
whenhetoldtheminearly2013thatheintendedtoputclimatechangeattheheart
ofhissecondterm.InhisfirstStateoftheUnionaddressafterhisreelectionhe
warnedRepublicansonclimatechange,saying,IfCongressdoesntact,Iwill.

ThisenragedRepublicansanddrewcriticismsofabuseofexecutivepower.The
followingyear,theEnvironmentalProtectionAgencyissuedaggressivenew
regulationstocutgreenhousegasesfromcoalfiredpowerplants.Thoserules
whichcouldleadtotheshutdownofhundredsofplantsandfreezeconstructionof
futureplantsstandasthemostsignificantactiontakenbyanyAmericanpresident
onclimatechange.

RepublicansdeclaredthatMr.Obamawaswagingawaroncoal.Butthose
actionsalsofundamentallyalteredtheperceptionoftheUnitedStatesin
internationalclimatetalks.

Itchangedthegame,saidtheFrenchclimatechangeenvoy,Laurence
Tubiana.

Chinasviewsonclimatechangeshifted,aswell.Thevastexpansionofcoal
firedpowerplantsthatwasfuelingChinasrapideconomicgrowthwasalsochoking

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itscitieswithpollution.

Withpublicangerrisingoverrecordlevelsoftoxicsmog,Chineseofficialsbegan
totakestepstocurbChinasuseofcoal.

PayingcloseattentiontothatshiftwasMr.Kerry,nowsecretaryofstate.Hesawan
opportunitytobrokeradeal,andtotrytopavethewaytowardabroaderagreement
inParis.

Throughout2014,Mr.KerryheldaseriesofmeetingsinBeijingfocusedon
climatechange.InOctober2014,heinvitedthetopChineseenvironmentofficial,
YangJiechi,toaprivatelunchattheLegalSeafoodsrestaurantoverlookingBoston
Harbor.Theyspokeforthreehoursaboutthechangesthathadalreadyinfluenced
theirpollutionpoliticsathomeanddiscussedthepossibilityofturningthatintonew
policyontheworldstage.

Thenextmonth,Mr.ObamavisitedBeijing,whereheandPresidentXiJinping
ofChinaannouncedthattheywouldmoveforwardjointlyonplanstoreducetheir
greenhousegaspollution.

Thatannouncementbrokethedeadlockthathadstalledclimatechange
negotiationsforover20years.

ThefollowingmonthinLima,Peru,negotiatorswroteafirstdraftofwhatwould
ultimatelybecometheParisAgreement.Inlanguagemodeledontheagreement
betweentheUnitedStatesandChina,theLimapactrequiredeverycountryto
submititsownclimatechangeplanbeforemeetinginParis.

TheChinaannouncementchangedeverything,saidMr.Kerryinaninterview.
Itchangedpeoplesthinkingaboutthis.WithouttheChinaannouncement,you
wouldnthave184nationsreadytocometoParis,thehomeworkdone,thetable
set.

Theplanetitselfwaschanging.Fromthetimelawmakersbeganpushingfor
climatechangepoliciesinthe1980s,theissuehadloomedlargelyasafuture
existentialthreat.Butinrecentyears,scientificstudieshavestartedtodrawadirect
linkbetweenclimatechangeandcertainweatherevents,suchasthe2010extreme

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heatwaveandforestfiresinRussiacripplingdroughtsinTexasin2012and
Australiain2014floodinginMiamiandstormsurgesacrossthePacific.

SinceCopenhagen,therehasbeenavirtualtorrentofstudiesthatassessthe
linkbetweenthebuildupofgreenhousegasesandspecificevents,saidMichael
Oppenheimer,aclimatescientistatPrincetonUniversity.Themorerealclimate
changeistotheaverageperson,themorerealitistopolicymakersintermsof
makingdecisionsaboutsavinglivesandcleaningupafterdisasters.

AllthosemomentsleduptoPariswhereelementsofFrenchdiplomacy
helpedtosealthedeal.

LikeMr.Obama,theFrenchpresident,FranoisHollande,wantedtoforgea
legacyonclimatechange,andhewantedalandmarkaccordtobearthenameofhis
capitalcity.Giventhetroubledhistoryofclimatetalks,thehostgovernmentwas
widelyviewedasplayingacrucialroleintheoutcome.Frenchofficials,ledbyMr.
Hollande,ForeignMinisterLaurentFabius,andMs.Tubiana,theclimateenvoy,
wantedtoensurethattheyavoidedthemistakesoftheDanes.

Intheyearleadinguptothetalks,Ms.Tubianatraveledtheworldandmetwith
hercounterpartslongbeforetheyarrivedforthenegotiations.Mr.Fabius,thepoised
andgraciouspublicbrokerofthetalks,helpedsmoothoutdifficultiesbehindthe
scenes.

ThebiggestpointofcontentionwasoverapushbytheUnitedStatesforan
aggressivesystemtoverifythatcountrieswerelivinguptotheiremissionspledges.
ChinaandIndiaarguedthatoutsideverificationwouldbetoointrusive.

Developingcountriesinsistedthatrichcountriesberequiredtopaythemto
adapttotheravagesofclimatechange.Thatprovisionremainsinthetext,butina
preamblesectionthatisnotlegallybinding.

UnliketheCopenhagentalksthatweremarkedbyfrequentwalkouts,theParis
talksremainedonanevenkeel.Negotiatorsfromover100countriesrepeatedlysaid
thattheyhopedthatattheendofthetwoweeks,theywouldreachadeal.

TheFrenchwerealsomindfulthattempersflareanddecisionmaking

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deteriorateswhenpeoplearehungryandtired.Havingreleasedadraftofthe
agreementonThursdaynightprecipitatinganallnightnegotiatingsessionthe
FrenchsaidtheywouldnotreleaseanotheroneuntilSaturdaymorning,thus
guaranteeingthatnegotiatorswouldhaveFridaynighttocatchuponsleep.Andon
thebrinkofreleasingthatSaturdaydraft,whichturnedouttobethefinalone,the
Frenchsuddenlycalledalunchbreak.

Itwasaveryspecificconstellationofevents,saidMr.Kim,theWorldBank
president.ThisdoesnthappeniftheFrencharentworkingonthisforayear.It
doesnthappenifObamadoesntspendthetimebuildingrelationswithXi.It
doesnthappenwithouttheChineseU.S.announcement.Butitrepresentsthe
biggestshiftwehaveeverseenonthisglobalcrisis.

SewellChancontributedreporting.

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AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonDecember14,2015,onpageA1oftheNewYorkeditionwith
theheadline:AClimateDeal,6FatefulYearsintheMaking.

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