Climate diplomats pay tribute to Pete Betts, EU negotiator who helped land Paris Agreement

Betts was the EU’s chief negotiator when the Paris Agreement was signed. He has died a year after being diagnosed with cancer.

Climate diplomats pay tribute to Pete Betts, EU negotiator who helped land Paris Agreement

Pete Betts speaking at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in 2015. Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin / IISD


Pete Betts, a veteran British climate negotiator and one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, has died aged 64.

His 35-years-long career in the UK civil service culminated in him taking on the role of the EU’s lead negotiator – at a time when the UK was still in the EU.

Widely praised for his ability to build bridges and challenge entrenched positions, Betts is credited by some as having laid the foundations of the Paris Agreement.

“He had a huge influence on international negotiations”, recalls Kaveh Guilanpour, who worked closely with Betts for nearly a decade. “If Pete had not been involved, it is questionable whether the Paris Agreement would have happened at all. He put in place the conditions to rescue the climate process at a critical time.”

Spain’s deputy prime minister Teresa Ribera, Germany’s deputy climate envoy Norbert Gorissen, the UK’s Cop26 president Alok Sharma and Venezuelan ambassador to Belgium Claudia Salerno Caldera were among many tweeting tributes.

Bridging divisions

Betts’ behind-the-scenes efforts were credited with putting international climate diplomacy back on track after the disappointment of the Copenhagen Cop in 2009, when countries failed to agree on basic targets to cut emissions.

As disillusionment began setting in, a small group of negotiators, including Betts, set up the Cartagena Dialogue, a network designed to help developed and developing countries heal deep divisions on tricky issues.

The initiative became one of Betts’ proudest achievements, as he himself told the Outrage and Optimism podcast earlier this year.

“We didn’t always agree, but we trusted the other side enough to know that if they said something, it was because they had reasons to say it and you had to listen,” Betts said. “And when you did listen, it was amazing how often you found common ground. Either you ended up being convinced by the other side or you could find win-win solutions”.

Road to Paris

In the lead-up to the Paris agreement, Betts played a role in the creation of a group calling themselves the ‘High Ambition Coalition’, founded by the Marshall Islands in 2014 to make sure the Paris Agreement was as ambitious as possible.

When the gavel eventually came down the following year to mark the approval of the landmark treaty, Betts was in the EU negotiator’s seat.

“I’m approaching the age Pete was at the time of the Paris Agreement and I wonder where he got his energy from,” says Guilanpour. “He had a huge amount of energy. He was always asking “how can we do more?” – that was always the question. He never settled on assumptions on how things could be done.”

Betts also had a great and very famous sense of humour that livened up the marathon-long negotiations, Guilanpour added.

Post-civil service life

After leaving the civil service in 2018, Betts advised a range of international bodies including the International Energy Agency (IEA) as it produced its landmark net zero report.

The UK government called him back in 2021 as a strategic advisor helping prepare for Cop26 hosted in Glasgow.

Alok Sharma, president of that climate summit, tweeted on Monday that “Pete was a hugely experienced source of wide advice and a good friend of the Cop26 team”.

Betts was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2022 and was given 15 months to live.

“Pete was always asking: ‘How can we do more to fight climate change?’, even up to a few weeks ago, despite being unwell,” says Guilanpour. “We owe it to him to make sure that COP28 answers that question.”

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