Latest Paris Climate Draft Text Brings a View of the Finish Line

Credit: David Sassoon/InsideClimate News

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Negotiators released what could be the next-to-final draft of a new Paris climate treaty late on Thursday night, with the presiding officer, Laurent Fabius of France, declaring that “we are very near to the finish line.”

But he also told delegates bluntly that the thorniest issues had not yet been resolved.

Among them are the respective burdens of richer and poorer nations in cutting emissions; the ambition reflected in the treaty’s long-term goals, and the pathways toward reaching them. And, as ever, the thorniest is who pays.

He then set in motion another all-night session of meetings, saying that this time, there must be less digging in of heels and more solutions.

“The only subject is compromise,” he declared.

“Compromise does require us to forget the ideal solution for anybody so that we can reach the best agreement for everybody,” he said, speaking in French. (Video with simultaneous translation is here.)

“This text is a good attempt to work through some of the options toward finding landing zones,” said Tony de Brum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands. “It forces countries to fight for what they really need to see in the final Agreement.”

The draft text already shows a considerable amount of compromise, and in the halls outside—as well as in rapid reactions posted online—not everybody was entirely pleased.

Lucy Cadena, Friends of the Earth International climate justice and energy coordinator, said: “Rich countries have moved the goal posts so far that a just deal in Paris is inconceivable. If this text indicates what will be agreed here, we will be left with a deal that fails humanity.”

But the negotiations did appear to be headed in the direction of a durable treaty that would apply to the whole world, even if it doesn’t impose the same demands on every nation. Optimists hope that would help raise ambition, escalate action against climate change year after year, and send a strong enough signal to mobilize trillions of dollars of new capital into green investments.

The language on how to verify performance under the treaty remains contested.

“Maintaining our common commitment to accountability and transparency will be critical in these final hours,” said Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists called it “some progress” to the basic goal: “to create an agreement that accelerates the transition to a global clean energy economy, allows us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and provides help to vulnerable countries to cope with the impacts they are already experiencing.”

Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, in a written statement, walked the line between hope and anxiety, but said the work so far put the Paris talks “within touching distance of the summit.”

“It’s great that we have widespread agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, but it’s useless without a way of getting there,” he said.

On the question of how much warming the pact would seek to avoid, a crucial touchstone, the draft called for “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2  degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change.”

Another passage, on how to reach that goal, called for the world to “aim to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.”

Yet another key passage was entirely in square brackets because it is still completely in play. It discussed financial commitments of the developed nations, which have already pledged to increase support to $100 billion a year by 2020, when this treaty would go into force.

It would declare that the Paris conference “[Resolves to enhance the provision of urgent and adequate finance, technology and capacity-building by developed country Parties in order to enhance the level of ambition of pre-2020 action by Parties, and in this regard strongly urges developed country Parties to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation, and significantly increasing adaptation finance from current levels and to further provide appropriate transfer of technology and capacity-building support.]”

Other elements of the text on finance were extensive, and encouragingly, without brackets.

But predictably, one of the most difficult issues to resolve is how to address what are called “loss and damages” provisions: establishing payments for the harm from climate change that is already inevitable and is sure to worsen.

There are several options remaining in the text for dealing with this issue. Basically, the 11th-hour question is how forcefully the agreement will require progress on the problem in the future. An idea that emerged several years ago at negotiations in Warsaw, it is unlikely to be wholly resolved this year in Paris.

Noting that this issue is a “key concern” for the most vulnerable nations, Sven Harmeling of CARE warned that “there is even the risk of losing it from the Paris Agreement, which would be a disastrous outcome.”

France’s Fabius told delegates that he had enlisted the president of the last conference, Peru’s Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, to work on the issue overnight. Like Fabius, he amassed considerable political capital a year ago while setting the course toward Paris.