Paris Climate Negotiators Inch Toward Final Agreement With 24 Hours to Go

A new draft of the accord would keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, but other crucial issues remain to be resolved.

People attend a demonstration at COP21 at Le Bourget, near Paris, on Dec. 9. (Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

Dec 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The latest draft of a new international climate treaty backs away from a firm commitment to hold global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the draft resolves to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees to avoid an environmental catastrophe.

That and some of the most significant goals for the accord appear to be in flux as negotiators in Paris work around the clock to hammer out an agreement in the final 24 hours of the climate conference.

The 1.5 degree target—a core demand among the world’s least developed and island nations—has been omitted from the new draft agreement version, which now commits to keeping temperature rise “to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C,” or just under 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

The slight change in wording is seen as a concession because the stronger target would intensify pressure on major greenhouse gas polluters, including the United States, China, and India, to phase out the burning of fossil fuels more quickly.

The latest draft also calls for nations to make initial reports on their progress in cutting emissions in 2023 or 2024. Supporters of this “ratchet” or “ambition” mechanism hope that it will put pressure on nations to live up to and possibly increase their promised emissions cuts.

But they have argued that the ratchet must turn no later than 2018 for the process to make any real dent in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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“It’s great that we have widespread agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, but it’s useless without a way of getting there,” Mohamed Adow of the group Christian Aid said in a statement. “Without an ambition mechanism we only have enough fuel to drive ourselves half way to our destination. For a review and resubmission process to be worth anything, we need the review part to happen sooner rather than later. That’s why we must have a big political moment in 2018 where countries will be brought back to the table and forced to ramp up their climate action.”

Negotiators are grappling with the most deeply contentious facets of the agreement, including how fast the global economy will switch to renewable energy from burning fossil fuels—the leading driver of climate change—and how much financial assistance rich nations will provide to poorer ones to adapt to warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and other impacts of climate change.

However, a provision for providing such funding beyond 2020 has made it into the latest version of the treaty. “This is a very encouraging development,” said Helen Szoke, executive director of Oxfam Australia, in a statement, “and we strongly urge negotiators to keep this in the final agreement. The only caveat is that no firm target for funds meant to help vulnerable people adapt to climate change has been identified.”

References to human rights in relation to climate action appeared in earlier versions of the agreement. But by Thursday, that wording had vanished from the main body of the draft, remaining only in the treaty’s preamble, which is not binding.

The latest version of the treaty also keeps alive a provision sought by U.S. negotiators that bars lawsuits to recover damages from those countries responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas.

The provision “denies the world justice,” Adriano Campolina of the South African group ActionAid said in a statement. “By including a clause for no future claim of compensation and liability, the U.S. has ensured people suffering from the disastrous impacts of climate change will never be able to seek the justice owed to them.”