The new Paris Agreement on climate change is a remarkable diplomatic achievement – remarkable mainly for representing a consensus among 195 states. But is it a true breakthrough or was a consensus possible because the agreement asks countries to do very little?
The world doesn’t typically negotiate agreements by consensus. But the rule for decision-making on climate change was sealed in 1995, when the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change could not agree on another decision rule – and consensus was the default. Given this, the outcome of COP21 is significant: The world’s people agree on little, and in Paris, countries agreed that climate change is a real threat and that every country must play a role in addressing it.