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World Approves Historic 'Paris Agreement' to Address Climate Change

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached an agreement Saturday on what they say signifies the most important international pact to address climate change since the issue first emerged as a political priority decades ago.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who headed up the United Nations conference, commonly known as COP 21 , said the final deal successfully resolved points of contention that had taken negotiations into overtime and called the agreement "the best possible text."

"We have come to a defining moment on a long journey that dates back decades," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon before passage of the agreement. "The document with which you have just presented us is historic. It promises to set the world on a new path to a low emissions, climate-resilient future."

Read More: What to Know About the Historic ‘Paris Agreement’ on Climate Change

The deal, known as the Paris Agreement, represents remarkable compromise after years of negotiations in which developing countries wrangled with their developed counterparts and failed to come to agreement on several key occasions. Supporters say the agreement will help define the energy landscape for the remainder of the century and signal to markets the beginning of the end of more than one hundred years of dependence on fossil fuels for economic growth

Observers had feared that a negotiated text could result in a lowest common denominator to meet the differing needs of all the parties present in Paris. But climate policy experts appeared largely satisfied with the draft adopted Saturday at the Le Bourget Airport just outside of Paris.

A strong long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions, provisions explaining how developing countries will receive financing for their efforts to adapt to climate change, and a transparency system to ensure that countries meet their promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were among those key goals. The text includes provisions addressing all those key points.

The agreement includes a long-term goal of holding global temperature rise "well below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 and recognizes a maximum temperature rise of below 1.5°C (2.7°F) as an ideal goal. The 2°C target is needed to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, according to climate scientists, but it would not be enough to save many of the world's most vulnerable countries. Those nations, largely small Pacific Island countries, launched a large-scale push for the more aggressive 1.5°C target to be included in the agreement. The draft text also calls for "global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" and for the continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century as science allows.

Measures to finance efforts to fight climate change in the developing world had also been a key sticking point in negations. The agreement renews a commitment by developed countries to send $100 billion a year beginning in 2020 to developing countries to support their efforts to fight climate change. The deal describes the sum as a "floor," which may presumably be increased.

The agreement also requires all participant countries to assess their efforts to reduce carbon emissions every five years and expand upon those efforts as they are capable. Some countries had previously expressed reluctance to promise to increase their goals so far in advance without knowing their economic situation.

The responsibilities of developed countries are distinguished from those of their developing counterparts throughout the text, a key demand of large developing countries like India and China that worried the agreement might require them to take actions that would slow their economic growth.

"It has all the core elements that the environmental community wanted," said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns.

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