When World Leaders gathered in Bonn, Germany for a landmark climate agreement this week, they were forced to find another way forward.
With a self-imposed March 31 deadline looming, their decision to extend the Paris climate agreement was only taken after days of haggling. If it had not been for a dispute over the legal form, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is playing a key role in efforts to combat climate change, would have fallen short in his own domestic audience. And UN delegates agreed to pause the Paris agreement on November 4, a date designated by the climate change accord for a global declaration of the world’s efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a threshold that will force governments to make sweeping changes to their economies.
Yet it was still largely an extended dinner that capped the development conference in Bonn, a slower-paced ceremony to which the leaders mainly came to celebrate the political gains — a string of summits that saw China, the United States and others agree to take on climate action for the first time — and reaffirm their commitments to the Paris accord.
“This is a turning point,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a press conference Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron. “We have made important progress.”
President Trump congratulated himself on Thursday for “working with President Xi to reach an historic agreement.” He said “the United States will not turn our back on this common cause.”
Other national leaders were eager to highlight the work that went into coming to this point.
“This agreement is a significant first step towards transforming our fossil fuel economy, transitioning to a sustainable one and upholding the morals of humankind and the sacred moral obligation to protect the Earth,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the conference.
Delegates were relieved not to face a crisis this week, but all signs continue to indicate that the issues surrounding what to do about climate change are far from settled. Some, like the president of Fiji, were discouraged that the region’s fastest growing economy still needed to prop up its economy at the expense of the environment.
“It will be hanging by a thread,” she said.
Others were reassured that the decision to recognize a 1.5 degree Celsius limit was a sign that leaders are not abandoning the climate change cause, but just waiting for the science to show that they should act faster.
“I think we saw a decision to step away from the cliff and to take a step down,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday. “But we don’t need to jump down — we need to take the necessary steps to re-adapt and to re-build.”