Issue: Keeping the warming of the planet within a “safe” range.
Agreement: The text calls for keeping the “increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.”
What it means: A big win for small island states and other developing nations that have said a temperature increase of over 1.5 degrees would be devastating because of rising seas, loss of coral reefs and other effects.
Issue: Ratcheting down greenhouse-gas emissions
Agreement: To reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” followed by “rapid reductions thereafter,” leading to “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”
What it means: Emissions won’t necessarily go to zero after 2050, but they will go low enough to be offset by natural processes, such as the growth of forests and plants, or by advanced technologies that are able to remove greenhouse gases from the air.
Issue: Getting more aggressive action (because current pledges don’t put the world on a path to limiting warming to 2 degrees C, much less 1.5 degrees).
Agreement: Each country will deliver, every five years, a new pledge to further reduce emissions. The pledge should represent a “progression” over the previous one and the “highest possible ambition.”
What it means: The hope is that an expansion in the clean-energy sector between now and when the next round of national pledges would come out will make it possible to cut emissions growth ever-more aggressively, in order to “bend” the emissions curve down and achieve the temperature goals.
Issue: Adapting to damage that will inevitably occur, even with the pact.
Agreement: Countries will step up “adaptation planning.” For effects that cannot be adapted to, the pact has a “loss and damage” section that calls for the use of “risk insurance facilities, climate risk pooling and other insurance solutions.”
What it means: The inclusion of the loss and damage section, while not as strong as some wanted, is a key win for small island states and other developing, vulnerable nations. How much adaptation and loss-and-damage insuring occurs ultimately will come down to one thing: money.
Issue: Who pays?
Agreement: Developed countries, such as the United States, will provide financial resources to developing ones to help them brace for the impact of climate change and also transition to cleaner energy systems. Wealthier developing countries can also contribute. Developed countries would have to communicate about their climate donations every two years.
What it means: Everybody gets something here. Developing nations get the commitment they were looking for from the developed world. And countries such as the United States will at least know that developing countries can also pitch in.