Scramble for treaty on climate change

Ministers to give Paris talks new impetus as French govt paper says deal edging closer

PARIS • Foreign and environment ministers and other high-level officials from 45 countries meeting in Paris this week are hoping to energise climate talks mired in technical details and political squabbling.

Just four months ahead of a United Nations conference in the French capital tasked with producing a historic climate pact, countries are scrambling to avoid a repeat of the last big summit on the issue in 2009 in Copenhagen, which ended in acrimony, with no formal treaty.

According to a French government document prepared for this week's talks, a ground-breaking deal is edging closer.

Diplomats are making more progress than they have formally disclosed in public, although important differences remain over the costs, legality and timing of a deal, the five-page paper seen by The Financial Times shows.

It says there is an understanding that any legal agreement will be "short and concise" while more detailed rules on how it will operate will be set aside in separate decisions. There is also a recognition that countries should not have to negotiate a new agreement every five or 10 years, but rather that any Paris accord will form the basis for future action.

OPTIMISTIC

I see far greater convergence on the broad outlines of the deal than we ever saw in the time preceding Copenhagen.

MR ELLIOT DIRINGER, executive vice-president of US non-profit group C2ES, on the chances of a climate deal

The 195-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has embraced a goal of limiting average global warming to just 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Scientists say that disastrous climate change can be avoided at this threshold, but warn that the planet is on target for double that, or more.

Ministers meeting in Paris for this week's two-day talks, which began yesterday, "have to take ownership of the content of the negotiation, otherwise their negotiators will not really be able to engage on the key political issues", said Ms Laurence Tubiana, France's chief climate negotiator.

Poor nations say the West, which has polluted more for longer, should carry more of the burden for emissions cuts, but the US and other rich countries insist on equal treatment and point the finger at emerging economies such as China and India that are now among the top emitters.

This week's political discussions will be followed by technical negotiations in Bonn at the end of August, with another ministers' gathering slated for September.

Some observers say that a deal is likely in December because so few governments want a repeat of the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

"I see far greater convergence on the broad outlines of the deal than we ever saw in the time preceding Copenhagen," said Mr Elliot Diringer, executive vice-president of the US non-profit group C2ES that has just finished a year-long consultation with climate negotiators from more than 20 countries.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Scramble for treaty on climate change'. Print Edition | Subscribe