COP21: How one word nearly killed the climate deal

COP21: How one word nearly killed the climate deal

‘It took hard work, grit and guts’ 

The proposed accord was just hours from a final vote when the glitch was spotted. Someone had changed a single word in the draft text — from a “should” to a “shall” — and suddenly the entire climate deal appeared at risk of faltering.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry phoned his old friend, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in exasperation over a tiny revision that implied huge new legal and financial obligations.

“We cannot do this,” Kerry warned.

Less than four hours later, the accord was approved with the bang of a gavel. A bit of diplomatic finesse had excised the troublesome word and helped clinch a historic agreement.

The formal adoption of the accord late Saturday was greeted with applause and cheers by thousands of weary delegates to the climate talks here. But the happy conclusion was preceded by days and weeks of tough bargaining, along with occasional flashes of drama.

Over the 13 days of the climate talks, and for months beforehand, negotiators faced the daunting task of forging consensus among government officials from nearly 200 countries — some of whom had been initially sceptical or even hostile to parts of the proposal.

U.S. and European officials prepared the ground for an agreement during months of heavy lobbying and deal-making in scattered capitals around the globe. But while the talks were far calmer than past climate negotiations, closing the deal was at times a diplomatic high-wire act, the success of which was never assured until the final moments.


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