Global climate deal in sight though finance, timing gaps remain

Oxfam activists wear masks depicting leaders Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and Francois Hollande.
Oxfam activists wear masks depicting leaders Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and Francois Hollande.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - The chairman of global climate talks in Paris said on Thursday negotiators were on the cusp of an agreement, despite persistent differences on key issues dividing rich and developing countries in nearly two weeks of talks.

"We want an agreement, we are extremely close to that goal," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told an evening session of delegates now in the grip of almost round-the-clock negotiations in a conference centre on the outskirts of Paris.

"I think I will be in a position to give you a final text tomorrow."

Fabius has expressed a determined optimism throughout the summit in pursuit of an agreement that would establish a shared path among countries to cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the earth.

He unveiled a slightly trimmed 27-page draft text that removed some main points of contention. Most notably, the latest draft suggested a compromise on the once-formidable divide over how ambitious the deal should be in trying to control the rise in the earth's surface temperature.

Many developing countries are pressing for a deal that aims to keep temperatures below a 1.5 deg C rise over pre-industrial levels. Many scientists say this level is required to avoid grievous disruptions in the climate.

That target had been resisted by wealthier countries, which have argued for a less ambitious but more attainable 2 deg C limit, citing the huge costs and uncertain energy options of going further.

The draft language said countries would commit to keeping temperature rises "well below 2 degrees Celsius" and "pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees."

Whether that linguistic and legal compromise holds, and whether it is enough to unlock other issues, will not be seen until all countries reconvene in full session on Friday.

Fabius said the outstanding differences were "without mystery... the most complex."

Perhaps the biggest difference revolves around how to come up with the billions of dollars needed to help developing countries grow their economies without burning through vast reserves of fossil fuels.

But there are other areas of discord as well. The European Union and China have clashed over the timeframe for reviewing and strengthening the document.

The EU has asked for that review every five years from the early 2020s. European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said national plans for action should be reviewed every five years "so that when the treaty enters into force in 2021, we are able to raise the level of ambition".

"Without the five-year cycles, the agreement is meaningless," he told a news conference.

But China has balked at setting any conditions that would bring external pressure to step up its own measures before 2030.

Gao Feng, one of the Chinese negotiators, noted that Beijing had set out a national plan in June to start reducing its CO2 emissions by 2030.

"I cannot say that in the middle, 2025, we would be in a position to change it," he said.

Fabius has been resolute in his desire to get a deal done, pressing delegates to work with only a few hours of rest in fear that delays could produce political drift.

"What is now important is to seek landing zones and compromise," he said, telling delegates they would have two-and-a-half hours to review the draft before returning to work for another all-night session.

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