Over the past 20 years, attempts to implement a lasting agreement to deal with rising greenhouse gas emissions have neither endured long enough, nor operated on sufficient scale, to bring about fundamental change.
But the global climate change agreement reached in Paris on December 12th 2015 might just put an end to this trend.
I watched the opening of the UN climate change conference live from afar – from my office in London, in fact. Some 150 world leaders spoke for well over their allotted times. They passionately called for a deal that would not just work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would also help countries adapt to a changing climate, shift their energy systems on to more sustainable pathways, and alleviate widespread energy poverty. The mood was dynamic, the omens good. They set the stage for a two-week cliffhanger.
By the time I arrived in Paris the following day it looked like any other UN climate summit: the usual contact and spin-off groups, the plenary sessions and the side events. A frenzy of activities, all endlessly scrolling on the LED screens dotted throughout the conference centre.
Negotiators scuttled from one meeting to another. No change there. I also noticed the odd movie star, like Alec Baldwin, in the midst of minders and photographers.
Despite the familiar set up, I soon sensed that there was something different about this event: both political optimism and techno-optimism abounded, with the latter perhaps helping drive the former.
Here was the Chief Sustainability Officer of a major global consumer brand telling one audience that he thought more than half of all cars sold by 2023 would be electric. There could be heard the CEO of another company calling for global emissions to be effectively zero in around 35 years; the potential career span of a new graduate starting in Shell today. The business community was present in force, encouraging the policy makers and negotiators to make a bold move. In the end, they did just that.