Activists of the Young Ecologists group take part in a symbolic swimming competition under the slogan ‘If we don’t get COP21 right, we will have to swim to COP106’ at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Le Bourget.
Le Bourget, France
Negotiators from 195 nations delivered a blueprint yesterday for a pact to save mankind from disastrous global warming, raising hopes that decades of arguments will finally end with a historic agreement in Paris.
The planned deal would aim to break the world’s dependence on fossil fuels for energy, slashing the greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil, coal and gas that are causing temperatures to rise dangerously.
Tortuous UN negotiations dating back to the early 1990s have failed to forge unity between rich and poor nations, and the Paris talks are being described as the “last, best chance” to save mankind.
They began on Monday with a record-breaking gathering of 150 world leaders who sought to energise the process, and the next crucial phase ended yesterday with the adoption of a draft text of an agreement.
Negotiators finalised the draft following an often tense week of talks at a conference centre in Le Bourget on the northern outskirts of Paris.
And while many extremely contentious points still have to be resolved by ministers during a scheduled five days of talks starting tomorrow, delegates said they felt the foundations had been laid for success.
“We are very happy to have this progress. The political will is there from all parties,” China’s chief climate envoy, Su Wei, told reporters.
After the draft was adopted to loud applause, South African negotiator Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko drew on her nation’s revered democracy icon in a bid to inspire others.
“In the words of Nelson Mandela, it always seems impossible until it is done,” she said.
More than 50 personalities committed to fighting climate change, from US actor Sean Penn to Chinese Internet tycoon Jack Ma, also gathered at the conference yesterday to help build momentum.
“Perhaps this is the most exciting time in human history,” Penn told a special event at the conference. “Those illusions of having too many difficult choices have always created chaos. Now we live in a time where there are no choices. We have certainty.”
Scientists warn that our planet will become increasingly hostile for mankind as it warms, with rising sea levels that will consume islands and populated coastal areas, as well as catastrophic storms and severe droughts.
Small island nations most vulnerable to rising sea levels and stronger storms, which are often railroaded by the powerful in the UN talks, also expressed cautious optimism about the draft agreement.
“We would have wished to be further along than we are at this point, but the text being forwarded so far reflects our key priorities,” said Thoriq Ibrahim from the Maldives and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.
“The group had hoped that our work would have been further advanced at this point to put us in a position to forward a streamlined text to the ministers, with clear options for political decisions,” South Africa’s Mxakato-Diseko said.
No one in Le Bourget is under the illusion that a December 11 deal is guaranteed.
“Let’s be frank: all the difficult political issues remain unresolved,” European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said. “Next week is the week of compromise.”
Greenpeace climate expert Martin Kaiser said that there was cause for some optimism after feuding sides had showed some willingness to compromise.
“But that doesn’t guarantee a decent deal. Right now the oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry will be plotting how to crash these talks,” he said.
One of the reasons for optimism in Paris has been the submission by most countries of voluntary plans to curb their emissions from 2020, when the pact would come into force.
Scientists say these pledges, if fulfilled, would still fall far short of what is needed to cap warming at 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) below pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
But they have taken the world away from a trajectory of even more dangerous warming.
Now, though, there is deep disagreement on how to structure an envisaged review process for these national plans.
The stocktakes would take place every five years but there is division over when they would begin and if they would seek to strengthen countries’ commitments, or just review them.
Another fundamental issue still up for debate is what temperature limit to aim for.
A majority of nations, mostly the smaller ones, want to aim for 1.5°C.
But the United States, China, India and some of the other biggest polluting nations want to enshrine 2° C as the goal, which would allow them to emit more gases for longer.
Money has long been one of the biggest sticking points in the UN negotiations, and it remains so in Paris.
Poorer countries are demanding finance to pay for the costly shift to renewable technologies, as well as to cope with the impact of climate change.
At stake is hundreds of billions of dollars that would need to start flowing from 2020. But developing nations are complaining that rich countries are refusing to honour previous commitments to mobilise the cash.
“The draft negotiating text, while more clear in terms of options, still reflects most of the divergences amongst countries,” said Tasneem Essop, head of WWF’s delegation.
Despite the apparent logjam on some of the finer issues, observers and negotiators expressed optimism that the negotiations in Paris had already outstripped what had been achieved during talks in Copenhagen in 2009 when hopes for a global agreement floundered.
“With the closure of the Durban platform, a page turns,” said France’s climate ambassador Laurence Taubiana, referring to the format of the first week’s talks. “Now it’s about creating what follows, all together ... We are closer than ever.”
“This text marks the will of all to reach an agreement,” he added.
“The situation couldn’t be more different from Copenhagen ... when delegations were more interested in grandstanding,” said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence unit think-tank.
He said the chances of a deal next week “now look pretty good”.
“Two years ago the discussion was whether loss and damage existed,” Saint Lucia’s Environment Minister James Fletcher said. Now, he noted, options on loss and damage were part of the core draft text.
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