Air of compromise despite divisions

Core issues like funding and timelines still dog Paris talks, but most disputes settled in latest draft of climate pact

PARIS • After 11 days of face-to-face negotiations in Paris, a slimmer but still-troubled draft of a global climate agreement was released, revealing that countries remain divided over several core issues.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is chairing the talks, unveiled the latest draft yesterday that followed three days and nights of backroom negotiations aimed at breaking some of the thorniest problems.

Foremost among them is who shoulders the cost of moving the world to a low-carbon energy system and how often nations should be prompted to accelerate their efforts.

"On these issues, I ask you to scale up your consultations to speedily come to compromise solutions," Mr Fabius told the conference.

He said the new draft text was 29 pages long, against 43 on Saturday, and three-quarters of the points of dispute had been settled.

"We've made progress but still a lot of work remains to be done," he said. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

But they have many different visions of how to do so.

The talks that began on Nov 30 in Paris have drawn negotiators from 195 countries, a record 150 world leaders and celebrities from Alec Baldwin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in support of the biggest agreement on global warming since 1997.

While friction remains over everything, from a US$100 billion (S$140 billion) aid package to when pledges to rein in emissions will be reviewed, even the countries with the biggest demands say they are working in a spirit of compromise.

"We have only green lines - we don't recognise red lines," Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said in Paris on Tuesday.

Delegates are keen to underscore how different this gathering is from the last time they tried to reach a global deal on climate in 2009. Those talks in Copenhagen dissolved in finger-pointing between industrial and developing nations on who should move first on the problem.

"Everyone has learnt the lesson of Copenhagen," said Ms Claudia Salerno, the envoy from Venezuela who was one of the people who blocked a deal in 2009. "We have never seen at this stage of the conference such a feeling of comfort and pleasantness."

Careful diplomacy by France's envoys and rapprochement between the two largest emitters, the United States and China, have helped defuse many of the tensions that brought down Copenhagen.

The deal is shaping up as one in which national targets on emissions will not be binding internationally - an approach that is drawing support from almost all nations instead of just the industrialised ones that were assigned limits under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. So far, 185 nations have submitted pledges, with just 10 missing.

"To a large degree, the sting has been taken out of what is being negotiated," Mr Yvo de Boer, the UN diplomat who oversaw the summit in the Danish capital, said in an interview before the Paris talks began. "It's much less threatening than what people had in mind at the time of Copenhagen."

But significant differences still remain on issues such as measuring and verifying emissions reductions and how the rules should apply to the poorest nations.

"Differentiation is a key political issue that pervades the entire structure of the proposed agreement," Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, told delegates in a meeting late on Tuesday. "It is very clear that the fault lines remain."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Air of compromise despite divisions'. Print Edition | Subscribe