France moves at 'breakneck speed' to get Paris deal done by end of week

Ministers from countries including the UK appointed to head special working groups to produce a revised draft text of a possible agreement on Wednesday

The French hosts of the Paris climate change conference are moving “at breakneck speed” to reach a deal by the end of this week, incorporating targets on global emissions and financial help for developing countries.

Ministers from countries including the UK have been appointed to head special working groups with the aim of producing a revised draft text of a possible agreement on Wednesday.

The ministers, most of whom have flown here in the last few days, are expected to resolve the political decisions – as opposed to technical issues on narrow questions of the wording and architecture of a deal – that still need to be taken.

These political decisions include: the level of ambition to be set in terms of emissions limits; a long-term goal on limiting temperatures, potentially of 2C or 1.5C; mechanisms for reviewing emissions targets and financial flows every five years; and measures to ensure that all countries are transparent and accountable in their estimates of progress towards emissions goals.

Of the eight ministers appointed, the UK’s Amber Rudd has been charged with overseeing how countries will meet their longstanding goals on emissions and finance up to 2020. The main body of the Paris agreement will deal with goals from 2020 onwards, when current commitments expire.

“The French have started moving at breakneck speed,” one official said. “The text is the most manageable we’ve ever had in these proceedings. It’s clearly a step towards a landing ground.”

Negotiators and ministers were required to work on Sunday, traditionally a day off from formal talks at these annual conferences.

At Paris, governments are hoping to sign a deal on greenhouse gas emissions and finance for developing countries that will kick in from 2020. It is seen as a last chance for the UN process, which has been carrying on since 1992, as if an agreement is not reached then the world will have no plan for collective action to solve this global problem.

Miguel Arias Canete, the EU’s climate change commissioner, said: “This [agreement] will shape the future of the world for decades. We have made great progress, but it is not yet enough.”

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who is presiding over the fortnight-long talks, told ministers on Monday that they were approaching the end of four years of tough negotiations. “The time for decisions has come on this universal, essential and even existential challenge: climate change. It is up to you to take these decisions. You are responsible for providing answers. Our time is very limited.”

The talks are scheduled to end on Friday, but because of the cumbersome procedures required to pass a deal under the UN process, the French want to wrap up any remaining disagreements by Thursday.

One of the key questions will be over how legally binding any deal will be. All of the major countries have been considering the draft text line by line, to decide which parts can be legally binding and which will not.

One EU official told the Guardian that there had been no resolution yet of which parts of an agreement should be binding and which might have a lesser legal status, but nevertheless would be publicly stated commitments that any government would find difficult to renege upon.

The EU wants emissions targets to be legally binding, but the US is unlikely to agree to this, or to have financial commitments enshrined in law. The White House is in a constrained position where legal commitments are concerned: anything termed a “treaty” would have to be passed by the Republican-dominated Congress, which is unlikely.

But the US could agree to an over-arching architecture – including commitments such as a long-term goal on avoiding dangerous climate change – that is legally binding, with emissions and financial targets published in a separate document.

Such an architecture is already used in other international agreements, including the Minamata convention on poisonous emissions of mercury.

The Kyoto protocol of 1997, which required rich countries to cut their emissions by about 5.2% in total, was legally binding but was never passed by the US Congress. As a result, it only came into force in 2005 and many countries ignored its provisions, without sanctions.

The Copenhagen declaration in 2009 was not a legally binding document, but its provisions – by which the world’s biggest developed and developing countries jointly agreed for the first time to emissions limits – are still in force.


Fiona Harvey in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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