Renewing the shorter-term commitments in the Paris agreement will be key. As well as the overarching and legally binding limit of 1.5 C or 2 C, governments submitted nonbinding national plans at Paris to reduce their emissions, or to curb the projected rise in their emissions, in the case of smaller developing countries. The first round of those national plans—called nationally determined contributions—in 2015 were inadequate, however, and would lead to a disastrous 3 C of warming.

The accord also contained a ratchet mechanism, by which countries must submit new national plans every five years, to bring them in line with the long-term goal, and the first deadline is now looming on December 31. UN climate talks were supposed to take place this November in Glasgow, but they had to be postponed because of the pandemic. The UK will host the Cop26 summit next November instead, and that will be the crucial meeting.

The signs for that decisive moment are good, according to Laurent Fabius. The election of Biden in the US means it will be aligned with the EU and China in pushing for net zero emissions to be fully implemented. “Civil society, politics, business all came together for the Paris agreement,” Fabius told The Guardian. “We are looking at the same conjunction of the planets now with the US, the EU, China, Japan—if the big ones are going in the right direction, there will be a very strong incentive for all countries to go in the right direction.”

As host of the Cop26 talks, the UK is redoubling its diplomatic efforts towards next year’s conference. The French government brought all of its diplomatic might to bear on Paris, instructing its ambassadors in every country to make climate change their top priority and sending out ministers around the globe to drum up support.

Laurence Tubiana, France’s top diplomat at the talks, said another key innovation was what she termed “360-degree diplomacy.” That means not just working through the standard government channels, with ministerial meetings and chats among officials, but reaching out far beyond, making businesses, local government and city mayors, civil society, academics, and citizens part of the talks.

“That was a very important part of [the success] of Paris,” she said. The UK has taken up a similar stance, with a civil society forum to ensure people’s voices are heard, and a specially convened council of young people advising the UN secretary-general. The UK’s high-level champion, Nigel Topping, is also coordinating a “race to zero” by which companies, cities, states, and other sub-national governments are themselves committing to reach net zero emissions.

One massive issue outstanding ahead of Cop26 is finance. Bringing developing countries, which have suffered the brunt of a problem that they did little to cause, into the Paris agreement was essential. Key to that, said Fabius, was the pledge of financial assistance. The French government had to reassure poorer nations at the talks that $100 billion a year in financial assistance, for poor countries to cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of the climate crisis, would be forthcoming. “Money, money, money,” Fabius insisted, was at the heart of the talks. “If you don’t have that $100 billion [the talks will fail].”