John Kerry talks with China’s special representative on climate change Xie Zhenhua during the COP 21 talks north of Paris. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Media
At 11.30pm Paris time, a small group of White House officials dashed into a temporary plywood hut in the exhibition hall where, a few hours earlier, a historic legal agreement to cut emissions causing climate change was secured. They were just in time to catch a live feed of Barack Obama declaring “a turning point for the world”.
These were the officials who helped set the US negotiating position for the talks – or, perhaps more accurately, helped craft the deal according to US specifications in order to insulate Obama and the agreement from attacks.
When it came to Republicans in Congress, they wanted the agreement to be bullet-proof. That was no easy feat in a negotiation over an immensely complicated challenge involving nearly 200 countries, and half a dozen rival negotiating blocs.
“We met the moment,” Obama said in his address. The Paris agreement on its own would not end climate change, he said, but “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years”.