Paris climate deal ‘close to finish line’ but talks set to overrun

French foreign minister calls for second all-night session to seal agreement on 20-year diplomatic process but admits talks will finish on Saturday

Governments trying to reach a climate change agreement in Paris have drawn “extremely close to the finish line” but will overrun into Saturday, according to the French foreign minister.

With an agreement in sight to keep temperature rises in check and avoid dangerous global warming, Laurent Fabius called for a second all-night session of negotiations to try to bring 20 years of rollercoaster diplomacy to a successful close.

Late on Thursday night, Fabius said the talks would finish on Friday as planned. But as overnight negotiations ran on, he admitted they would finish on Saturday.

“I will not present the text Friday evening, as I had thought, but Saturday morning,” he said. “There is still work to do. Things are going in the right direction.”

The latest version of a draft text, a slightly condensed 27 pages, retained a key demand made by low-lying and vulnerable states: to limit warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels and to seek to keep it to no more than 1.5C above.

But when it came to recognising irreversible effects, such as land loss and migration, the draft was a disappointment, campaign groups said. “The current options provide no hope for people who will suffer the impacts of climate change the hardest,” WWF said.

Christiana Figueres, the United Nations climate chief, said she remained confident that negotiators were closing in on a fair and ambitious agreement, but there were still big gaps.

“The political crunch issues, as expected in any negotiation, remain open,” she said. These included climate finance for developing countries, transparency, and the most divisive issue of all: how to share responsibility for climate change between developed and developing countries.

Key players in the negotiations, such as Brazil, insist a strong and durable climate agreement remains within reach. Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s environment minister, said countries had stumbled in translating political goodwill into the dry language of diplomatic agreements.

But she said she was confident countries would eventually arrive at an agreement strong enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

“The agreement is done at the political level,” she said. “Everyone knows: OK, we can do this. What is not done yet is the language: how we can translate this common understanding about the next steps, and the progress to a flexible and transparent process, from political language into agreement language. This is the challenge we have today.”

A 60-second guide to why the Paris climate summit will succeed

The deal taking shape in Paris has yet to assume its final form, but it has already delivered an important symbolic victory to vulnerable countries by recognising the 1.5C target.

Though a long shot given that the world has already warmed nearly 1C, the target was a key demand ofthose countries that would be devastated under the 2C internationally agreed target.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a bloc of vulnerable countries, said 113 countries now support the 1.5C goal including industrialised countries such as the US, Canada, France and Germany, as well as the Holy See.

“Over the last few days what I have seen is that we are getting more support to have 1.5C reflected in the agreement,” said Thoriq Ibrahim, the Maldives environment minister. “The bigger countries had not thought about it earlier, but I think because all the small island states have been saying: ‘This is what is happening to us. Recently we have been getting into so many disasters’, I think that is one of the reasons bigger countries are looking at it.”

He said he was upbeat about the prospects for a strong deal.

As midnight approached, Fabius and other officials continued their intense shuttle diplomacy, meeting key representatives of countries individually and in small groups to try to bridge the gaps between the various negotiating blocs. Negotiators also met in small informal huddles, or “indabas” as they are known in the climate negotiations.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, also played a hands-on role, meeting his Indian, Brazilian and Malaysian counterparts to try to win them over to a deal.

“We feel very good about the conversation we’ve just had,” said Kerry. “We need to work on language, and that is what most of today and tonight will be.”

However, countries still struggled to deal with the most vexing problem of the talks – acknowledging the vastly different economic histories of industrialised and developing countries and their respective responsibility for climate change.

“If you can untie differentiation then the other things can fall into place,” said Elliot Diringer, who follows the talks for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

There were also strong challenges in reaching an agreement that would satisfy rich countries’ demands for transparency about emissions cuts and financing, and developing countries’ need for finance to move to green energy and improve infrastructure.

Finding the exact language to unknot those problems as well as satisfy lawyers working for 196 countries – each with different economies and exposures to climate change – would be another challenge.

Last year’s meeting in Lima ran more than 36 hours over time – and negotiators were essentially working on a document intended mainly as a holding position. This time, negotiators are seeking a durable agreement that would start in 2020 and be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure countries were meeting their emissions-cutting goals into the middle of the century and beyond.

Draft text of climate agreement


Suzanne Goldenberg in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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