Chance of UN climate deal higher, but ambition lower than in 2009

PARIS: Near the halfway mark of a UN climate change conference in Paris, hopes for a deal are far higher than at the last, failed summit in Copenhagen, even if the agreement on offer is less ambitious this time.

Back in 2009, many had hoped for a sweeping treaty to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate. This time, nearly 200 countries will choose their own policies in the hope of binding both rich and poor into the effort to combat global warming.

With seven days of negotiations left before the conference closes on Dec. 11, two alternative draft texts are circulating, which all nations agreed on Friday to accept as the basis for talks.

At 38 and 48 pages long, they have shrunk from above 50 at the start of the week. At the same stage of Copenhagen, the drafts ran to 300 pages.

"I'm optimistic," said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University's Environmental Economics Program. "It's drastically different from Copenhagen."

But the text still has hundreds of brackets, marking points of disagreement on everything from finance for developing nations beyond 2020 to where to set the long-term goal for cutting or phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

"It’s hugely frustrating," EU chief negotiator Elina Bardram said.

But she said there was no comparison with Copenhagen as China, the world's biggest emitter was determined to be part of the deal and the presence of 150 heads of state at the start of the talks on Monday had shown strong political will.

The idea is that the text will be cut and sent to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius by midday (1100 GMT) on Saturday. After that, it will be up to ministers to try to hammer out a deal next week.


Still, many say the price of this relative harmony is the conference's lack of ambition to set steep, binding emissions limits and create the legal tools to enforce them.

"We're at the halfway point of the summit but, in the push to get a decent deal, we are not yet halfway there," said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

The Copenhagen summit failed after developing countries including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Sudan blocked a deal accepted by others.

Of this group in Paris, Venezuela has been the most critical. Yet even Venezuela's delegation chief, Claudia Salerno, while accusing the conference chairs of being "hectic and stressed", said: "Relax, we are going to reach an agreement here."

Harvard's Stavins noted that both the United States and China, the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have twice jointly announced national policies for slowing global warming in the past year, smoothing over years of friction.

The business community has also shifted as investors weigh the financial risks of climate change.

Mark Carney, chairman of the Financial Stability Board, which drafts regulation for Group of 20 economies, on the sidelines of the Paris talks, announced a global task force to encourage business to make voluntary disclosures so investors can assess the climate change risks they face.

Even if Paris does not achieve a new global deal, 186 of 195 countries have already submitted national plans for combating climate change beyond 2020 and adapting to changes such as droughts, floods, desertification, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

All sides agree, however, that those plans are still far too weak to limit a rise in world temperatures to a U.N. goal of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Six years ago, Denmark angered many delegations by issuing its own draft text in an attempt to cut through hundreds of disagreements.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said on Friday that a similar surprise text this time was "completely ruled out". So were the talks looking more promising than Copenhagen at this stage? "Definitely."