LE BOURGET, France — A new draft agreement text emerged from the Paris climate meeting late Thursday that brought the process “extremely close to the finishing line,” said French foreign minister and meeting president Laurent Fabius. Extending the metaphor, he added that the proceedings were in their “final lap.”
While the text still featured some bracketed areas — denoting an ongoing dispute about language — and several sections noncommittally listed different options, considerable common ground also appeared to have been found, in comparison with a prior text released Wednesday.
Perhaps most notably, the draft agreement text set forward an undisputed temperature goal — vowing that countries will “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change.”
The language represents a significant victory for small island nations and a growing coalition of developing and developed countries who had suggested that a 2 degree Celsius temperature target wasn’t strong enough, in light of the risks of sea level rise and other severe impacts.
It also represents apparent progress over prior U.N. climate texts, like the 2010 Cancun agreements 0r the 2009 Copenhagen accord, which had made reference to the 1.5 C number, but only in the context of a review of the 2 degrees Celsius goal to determine whether it should be strengthened — not as something to pursue.
In another key part of the text, meanwhile, the new draft document appeared to resolve how the nations of the world will manage to keep temperatures down to safer levels. They would do so, the text said, by trying to achieve “the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.”
The language about “neutrality” implies a possible situation in which greenhouse gases are still being emitted, but are also being offset in some way, perhaps being sequestered by forests or plants.
“We can see an agreement in sight. Impressive progress has been made,” said said Nat Keohane, vice president of global climate for the Environmental Defense Fund, in reaction to the text. “Of course differences remain, but it’s clear that the countries here are very, very serious about the challenge before them. There is strong momentum as we head to the finish line.”
Disputes remained in several central areas of the text, including finance — which refers to determining precisely how adaptation to climate change on the part of poorer developed countries will be funded — and “transparency,” which denotes the mechanisms by which countries will clearly document their emissions and progress toward their goals.
Also still under contention was how to address “loss and damage” — severe and potentially irreversible climate change impacts, such as the loss of land due to sea level rise. The agreement’s “loss and damage” provision is a particular sticking point for highly vulnerable nations and small island states.
The negotiators had agreed on many matters, said Alden Meyer, policy and strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, but “on other critical issues, such as providing adequate climate finance to developing countries and addressing the loss and damage associated with adverse climate impacts, negotiators have yet to reach a consensus.”
In a key part of the text, the agreement would require countries to submit new greenhouse gas emission reduction plans every five years and would require, starting in 2023 and then every five years thereafter, an official taking stock of where the world is on achieving its emissions reductions.
While none of the text is finalized, the overall work appeared to represent substantial progress. Meanwhile, negotiators dove into another late night or overnight session to work on final areas of dispute.