With no firm money commitment on the table and no agreement on the long term ambition to control carbon emissions, the Paris agreement draft leaves most issues unresolved

(Image by Carlos Garcia Granthon)

(Image by Carlos Garcia Granthon)

Two days before the scheduled close of the UN climate summit in Paris, its organizers have produced a draft Paris agreement without any resolution of the most contentious issues. There is no agreed commitment from rich countries to pay for the carbon pollution they have been causing for over 250 years; nor an agreed commitment from any country – rich or emerging – on long term ambition to stop the pollution that is changing the climate.

Instead, the chairs of the drafting committee have kept all the different options on the table, while clarifying that there is no agreement on most of them among the 194 governments assembled for the summit.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of rich and poor countries to control greenhouse gas emissions is also up for negotiation.

The negotiators now move into a plenary session that is expected to go all night and perhaps beyond. Most veteran negotiators think that will be insufficient to resolve the issues – so small groups will have to be formed to strike deals behind closed doors.

Closed door negotiations have moved beyond the delegates at the summit. A few hours before the draft text was made public, US President Barack Obama telephoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reportedly, there were many similar telephone calls between capitals around the world.

With such hectic diplomacy, it is still very likely that there will be a Paris agreement. But with realpolitik trumping reality once again, many observers are afraid the agreement will not be strong enough to combat climate change, which is already impacting farm output worldwide, affecting rainfall patterns, making storms, floods and droughts more frequent and more severe and raising the sea level.

In fact, adaptation to climate change effects is one of the weakest sections in the draft, and the issue of loss and damage beyond the ability of people to adapt to is almost non-existent. Developing country negotiators – especially those from vulnerable island nations – are not even saying much about these issues. They know that in the absence of money from rich nations they cannot carry out significant adaptation actions anyway.

With most governments now agreeing that much of the money needed to combat climate change will come from private investors, observers are hoping the Paris agreement will at least be strong enough to send right signals to boardrooms across the world.

There are important areas of convergence in the draft. Most countries now seem to agree that the national climate pledges made for the 2020-2030 period will be reviewed sometime between 2023 and 2025. Negotiators have also worked out how to calculate the relationship between deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions or conversely between planting trees and capturing carbon. There is also a possibility of convergence on the issue of green technology transfer without poorest countries having to pay full patent costs.

But, as a veteran climate negotiator has put it, “nothing is final till everything is final.” Settled parts of a deal can unravel if there is no agreement on other parts. The shape of the Paris agreement is becoming clearer, but its strength remains to be seen.

Observers and NGOs reacted to the draft in different ways. Sanjay Vashisht, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia, said, “The new draft negotiation text fails to narrow down options on crunch issues especially on climate finance and on differentiation across key elements. In the next 24 hours ministers need to engage and ensure that they retain ambition while being accountable to the most vulnerable peoples.”

Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid said, “We really need countries to fight to keep in the high ambition options on climate finance, the long term decarbonisation goal and a ratchet mechanism to ensure the agreement evolves to meet the needs of a changing world.” May Boeve of 350.org said, “We need to see a firm commitment get off fossil fuels and move to 100% renewable energy by 2050.”

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “Ministers need to rise above their differences to create a final agreement that rapidly transitions the world to a clean energy economy and allows us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Adriano Campolina of ActionAid said, “Rich nations are still holding the purse strings, unwilling to commit to their fair share of action to save the people and their planet.”

Helen Szoke of Oxfam pointed out, “Despite women being most affected by climate change, any reference to gender equality has been dropped.”

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