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Paris summit climate delivers uncooked draft

The latest draft of the Paris agreement leaves most of the major issues unresolved

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French foreign minister Laurent Fabius is in charge of the UN climate talks, but Wednesday's draft hasn't managed to demonstrate much progress on the main issues Pic: UNFCCC

Two days before the scheduled close of the UN climate summit in Paris, its organisers produced a draft Paris agreement without any resolution of the most contentious issues. As it stands on Thursday morning, there is no agreement on whether rich countries will pay for the climate impacts of the fossil fuels they have burnt for the last few centuries; nor is there commitment from any country – rich or emerging – on long term ambition to reduce greenhouse gases.

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.

A new draft is expected on Thursday, but doubts persist that this version will make major headway on the most problematic issues.

The negotiations moved into a plenary session late Wednesday and negotiations continued into the early hours. A few hours before the Wednesday 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. 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 raising sea levels.

In fact, adaptation to climate change effects is one of the weakest sections in the draft. Meanwhile, details on ‘loss and damage’ – compensation from rich countries to those nations that aren’t able to  adapt to climate change  –  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 the right signals to boardrooms across the world.

However, 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 agreement 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 the overall strength of a deal remains uncertain.

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." 

Other campaigners urged negotiators to strike agreement on measures that would help shift decisively from the fuels blamed for causing climate change.
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.”

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Dr. Richard Hardiman

Without detracting from the importance of the efforts made to mitigate climate change, the public and governing authorities worldwide misses a critical point related to the environmental sustainability of the earth while preserving the essentials of mankind’s modern ways of life. It is proposed that products, processes and materials that impact directly or indirectly upon the environment be classified into a Sustainability Index (SI) based upon the summation of their carbon, energy and water footprints. The SI will induce increased efficiency in production and transport and reduce the anthropogenic impact on the environment. Each material and material combination will be identified by its carbon, water and energy footprint required for its production and completion. The footprints will be summated to provide an SI of the product. If the product is used in renewable energy or to improve efficiency of energy use, then the amount of energy that the product will save or will produce during its life time will be deducted from the SI. The SI will provide a guide for global WTO tariffs for materials and commodities and will vary from country to country depending upon production methods.