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The Geopolitics of the Paris Talks

The Web of Alliances Behind the Climate Deal

A woman walks past a map showing the elevation of the sea in the last 22 years during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 11, 2015. Stephane Mahe / Reuters

World headlines blare the news that negotiators in Paris have reached a global climate change agreement. Yet underneath the soaring rhetoric were hard politics that can tell a lot about the longevity of the deal.

As the Paris climate negotiations moved toward their final days, delegates’ focus shifted from the technical to the political. The negotiating text had been stripped of its most baroque complications, and what was left reflected core differences among countries.

Navigating this phase of the talks requires an understanding of the shifting alliances among nearly 200 countries, dramatized through the fierce public battles over how to even characterize the talks in Paris. India and South Africa tried to solidify developing country alliances by accusing the United States of undermining the fundamental negotiating principle of equity. The United States and the European Union talked up the emergence of an informal “High Ambition Coalition” among countries spanning the traditional

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