Climate summit goes down to the wire

Already way past deadlines, the fortnight long UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, was going down to the wire on Saturday evening, as ministers and bureaucrats from 194 countries continued their meetings behind closed doors. Negotiators who took brief breaks said there may yet be a global deal to combat climate change.

They were debating a draft resolution to come out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit after a series of "Indabas" (Zulu word for an open meeting of elders, like a Panchayat in India or a Jirga in Afghanistan).

Coming out of an Indaba that had already gone on for five hours, Brazil’s chief negotiator Luiz Figueirdo Machado said he was “very hopeful and confident of a deal tonight”. The views were echoed by a delegate from Bangladesh. Todd Stern, chief negotiator of the US, however said: “We’re working really hard. We’re making some progress. But we’ll see.” Britain’s chief negotiator Chris Huhne said: “Everything has been said but not everyone has said it yet.”

The mood was more hopeful than in the early afternoon, when delegates coming out of the meeting said the US, China and India were not agreeing to a legally binding deal to cut emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) which are warming the atmosphere.

India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had earlier said India must have space to develop, but she was willing to look at a deal as long as negotiations started after 2015. China has also indicated it is willing to look at a legally binding deal to come into force after 2020.

Machado said later in the evening that there would be a “new legal instrument” obliging all countries to control GHG emissions, that negotiations for such an agreement would be concluded by 2015, and it would be implemented by 2020.

“In return, Annex 1 (rich) countries will make much stronger commitments during the second period of the (existing) Kyoto Protocol. The wording on the protocol text is being worked on right now to reflect this.”

Asked if any country was opposing this proposed deal, Machado said “no”. He added that there would be a programme to “increase ambition” to cut GHG emissions. Current pledges fall 40 percent short of what is needed to keep global warming within two degrees Celsius.

As delegates who could not change their flights home were leaving, the summit started its plenary session with procedural matters while the senior leaders remained inside the Indaba, with hundreds of observers and media personnel milling outside.

The draft resolution the delegates were looking at says countries are deciding to "launch a process to develop a protocol or another legal instrument applicable to all Parties (countries) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

The draft says at the next climate summit, a working group of the UNFCCC will present to all countries its work plan, including on mitigation, transparency, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer and capacity building. However, the word transparency is again within brackets. Developing countries have been demanding transparency about the mitigation efforts of developed countries.

The draft says the negotiations for the new treaty shall be informed "by the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the outcomes of the 2013-2015 review and the work of the subsidiary bodies with a view to raising ambition in light of the ultimate objective of the Convention."

Green NGOs from around the world have been charging that the governments are not being ambitious enough and the steps they are taking will be insufficient to combat climate change.