Two days before the scheduled close of the UN climate summit in Paris, its organisers produced a draft Paris agreement without any resolution of the most contentious issues. As it stands on Thursday morning, there is no agreement on whether rich countries will pay for the climate impacts of the fossil fuels they have burnt for the last few centuries; nor is there commitment from any country – rich or emerging – on long term ambition to reduce greenhouse gases.
Instead, the chairs of the drafting committee have kept all the different options on the table, while clarifying that there is no agreement on most of them among the 194 governments assembled for the summit.
A new draft is expected on Thursday, but doubts persist that this version will make major headway on the most problematic issues.
The negotiations moved into a plenary session late Wednesday and negotiations continued into the early hours. A few hours before the Wednesday draft text was made public, US President Barack Obama telephoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reportedly, there were many similar telephone calls between capitals around the world.
With such hectic diplomacy, it is still very likely that there will be a Paris agreement. Many observers are afraid the agreement will not be strong enough to combat climate change, which is already impacting farm output worldwide, affecting rainfall patterns, making storms, floods and droughts more frequent and raising sea levels.
In fact, adaptation to climate change effects is one of the weakest sections in the draft. Meanwhile, details on ‘loss and damage’ – compensation from rich countries to those nations that aren’t able to adapt to climate change – is almost non-existent. Developing country negotiators – especially those from vulnerable island nations are not even saying much about these issues. They know that in the absence of money from rich nations they cannot carry out significant adaptation actions anyway.
With most governments now agreeing that much of the money needed to combat climate change will come from private investors, observers are hoping the Paris agreement will at least be strong enough to send the right signals to boardrooms across the world.
However, there are important areas of convergence in the draft. Most countries now seem to agree that the national climate pledges made for the 2020-2030 period will be reviewed sometime between 2023 and 2025. Negotiators have also worked out how to calculate the relationship between deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions or conversely between planting trees and capturing carbon. There is also a possibility of agreement on the issue of green technology transfer without poorest countries having to pay full patent costs.
But, as a veteran climate negotiator has put it, “nothing is final till everything is final.” Settled parts of a deal can unravel if there is no agreement on other parts. The shape of the Paris agreement is becoming clearer, but the overall strength of a deal remains uncertain.
Observers and NGOs reacted to the draft in different ways. Sanjay Vashisht, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia, said: “The new draft negotiation text fails to narrow down options on crunch issues, especially on climate finance and on differentiation across key elements. In the next 24 hours ministers need to engage and ensure that they retain ambition while being accountable to the most vulnerable peoples.”
Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid said: “We really need countries to fight to keep in the high ambition options on climate finance, the long term decarbonisation goal and a ratchet mechanism to ensure the agreement evolves to meet the needs of a changing world."