French negotiators furiously work the backrooms to secure a climate deal

The clock is ticking in Paris as the hosts encourage negotiating blocs to trade demands for more ambition on emissions pledges and financial help to fulfil them

French diplomacy is fighting 23 years of entrenched positions in international climate talks as backroom negotiations continue with the aim of pushing through a draft agreement by Wednesday.

In public, negotiators in Paris were staking out their positions on Tuesday, with the EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries demanding regular reviews to ramp up the ambition of greenhouse gas reduction promises, and the biggest developing countries demanding additional financing pledges and rejecting calculations of how much the rich world has already provided.

But behind the scenes the French presidency is conducting crucial ministerial talks – with each negotiating bloc in turn and in small groups – with the aim of producing a draft trade-off deal by Wednesday as the basis for the final spurt of diplomacy to crunch a final agreement by the Friday deadline.

Some recalcitrant countries – including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Malaysia – argued the talks should revert to the old all-in line-by-line negotiations, but the French stuck to their strategy. Negotiators expect that if the talks come down to just a few sticking points, the French could again involve world leaders by phone in the final hours to find a solution, reminding them of the promises they made in Paris last Monday.

On Tuesday the EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries issued a statement demanding a binding agreement with five-yearly reviews to consider more ambitious targets for the world and individual countries. Current promises – if implemented – would result in catastrophic global warming of least 2.7C.

The so-called ambition coalition also demanded clear rules for all countries to report on their emission reductions promises and have them reviewed.

But the biggest developing countries staked out their familiar stance, calling for extra financing and rejecting the idea that all countries should work towards a uniform set of reporting rules.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has been in the thick of the talks as chair of the so-called “umbrella group” of developed countries, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Norway. Australia’s priorities are to get a strong agreement that paves the way for all countries to report and review their promised emission reductions.

Ministers and lead negotiators from China, India, Brazil and South Africa – the so-called Brics group – have rejected claims by rich countries that they were already well on the way to meeting a promise to provide $100bn a year in public and private finance to help poor countries reduce emissions and cope with already locked-in climate change.

A recent OECD report suggested developed nations had already mobilised $57bn in aid and were on track for $62bn, but the Brics ministers and lead negotiators rejected that calculation and said the UN needed to establish a transparent system to keep track of commitments.

“Double accounting does not reflect the real number,” said Prakash Javadekar, the Indian minister of state for environment, forests and climate change.

China’s special representative for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, said a clear system for accounting for financing promises was “very important to enhance mutual trust”.

“Developed countries say we provided $62bn and developing countries say we are not seeing the money ... so it is important to be clear how much is provided and by whom ... If we had such a system there would be no more questions like this,” he said.

But the big developing countries were less enthusiastic about transparency on reporting emissions.

“Transparency must continue to differentiate between developed and developing countries, the guidelines can be improved upon ... but we must first implement them and then take steps based on lessons learned,” Javadekar said.

He said India did not intend to revisit its promised emissions reduction target until 2030. Other developing countries are willing to consider five-yearly reviews.

And Xie said while the Brics countries supported regular stock taking and review, “the process must be facilitative, so through such process countries can learn from each others’ best practices ... so during this process there should be a mechanism to provide incentives to parties and ... the voluntary process ... should be non-intrusive and non-punitive”.

A trade-off may emerge between developing countries’ demands for financing to reduce emissions and adapt to locked-in climate change, and the insistence by both rich nations such as the US and the EU and climate-vulnerable countries like the small island states that every country should be required to at least work towards the same reporting rules.

Civil society groups are also pushing for a clear commitment to tough five-yearly reviews. Celine Charveriat, Oxfam International’s advocacy and campaigns director, said the agreement could not be an “empty shell”.

“We cannot have a Paris outcome that does not provide a pathway [to more ambitious action necessary to limit global warming to 1.5C].

“The worst thing would be to give poor farmers around the world false hope that the leaders have listened to the science ... but at the end of the day to find there is nothing behind it.”

The divisions between the developed world’s historical responsibility for greenhouse emissions and the developing world’s continued need for industrial development and incapacity to cope with the impacts of climate change were a key part of the original 1992 UN climate convention. But developed countries argue that developing countries are now major emitters and that the Paris accord should acknowledge the new global realities.


Lenore Taylor in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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