Paris Climate Summit Inches Toward Agreement

Energy and Climate Report provides current, thorough coverage of clean energy, efficiency, and climate change legislation, regulation, policy, legal developments, and trends in the U.S. and...

By Eric J. Lyman

Dec. 10 — The latest—and according to summit president Laurent Fabius, the last—draft text of 21st Conference of the Parties climate talks was released late Dec. 10 in Paris, a slightly shorter and significantly more focused document that key observers said cut out too much of the most ambitious language to fight climate change.

Unless there is a dramatic turn, the shape of the final Paris agreement is starting to come into focus, especially on key issues such as finance, a long-term climate goal and the so-called “ratcheting mechanism” that aims to strengthen national commitments over time.

But many environmental groups called it was too weak, and business leaders said the text lacked the “policy certainty” that investors need.

“If the final agreement ends up being a version of this text, it just amounts to a license to pollute,” Asad Rehman, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth, told Bloomberg BNA.

Fabius, the French foreign minister, convened the main plenary for less than 15 minutes late on Dec. 10 to announce the strategy over the rest of the summit, which is still officially scheduled to end Dec. 11.

His staff released the latest draft text and he told delegates to study the document and return for a second consecutive all-night negotiating session. Afterwards, he said he would draft a final text that he hoped the plenary would vote to adopt, based on the late-night negotiations.

If that turns out to be the case, it means United Nations delegates from nearly 200 nations will have solved in a few days some of the issues that have resisted resolution in months of negotiations. But they will have pushed the task of ramping up the level of ambition—national commitments and long-term goals—from countries further into the future.

Still, they would leave Paris and return home with the world's first truly global agreement to fight and respond to climate change.

Ratification Rules

One area that saw significant progress was on the language for implementation, which was tightened significantly.

In order for the Paris agreement to go into effect, it will require ratification from at least 55 countries representing either 55 percent or 70 percent—the two remaining options—of the “total” or “total net” global greenhouse gas emissions. Even at the 70 percent threshold, it would mean the agreement could theoretically enter into force without the support of one of the world's leading polluters such as China, the U.S. or India.

An area where a strong contrast still remains is loss and damage, an initiative meant to help compensate poor countries for damages suffered from climate impacts. It is significant that the initiative remains in a stand-alone section of the text—something poor countries pushed hard for.

‘Choices Could Not Be More Stark.'

Two main options for that section remain. The key difference between them is whether it should include a mechanism for rich countries to at some future point help pay compensation for climate-related damage in poor countries, or whether the industrialized nations should simply “recognize” the importance of “averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage” related to climate change.

Most developing countries and small island nations, plus France, favor the first option; most industrialized countries, including the U.S., favor the second.

“This draft has two vastly different approaches to deal with loss and damage, reflecting the tough negotiations that have occurred in the last days,” said Oxfam Australia Executive Director Helen Szoke. “The choices could not be more stark.”

On finance, the key development since the Dec. 9 text is that this version differentiates the role of rich and poor countries—another key goal for developing countries—although many options for the language describing the responsibilities of industrialized nations remain.

The text as of now says they “shall provide” either “new,” “additional,” “adequate,” “predictable,” “accessible,” “sustained,” or “scaled-up” “financial resources to developing country parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation.”

$100 Billion ‘Floor.'

The text also sets the $100 billion annual goal to be provided by rich countries to help developing nations adapt to climate change in 2020 as a “floor” for subsequent years, though it does not include specific financial targets beyond 2020.

During the last week, the long-term temperature goal has involved two options for limiting global warming compared to pre-industrial levels: either to a maximum of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius (2.4 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That is still the case and references to the more ambitious 1.5 degree goal remain peppered throughout the text.

But the 1.5 degree option is emerging as what one delegate called “an aspirational goal,” mentioned in every case in connection with the less ambitious 2 degree goal, which could emerge as the officially declared maximum level for temperature increases and thus influence the pace of future emissions reduction steps.

Fossil Fuel Future

Language calling for the phaseout of fossil fuels was reduced in this version of the text to a call for “net-zero” emissions or similar language that critics say will allow offsets or relatively unproven technologies to be used to compensate for continued fossil fuel use. Previous versions said fossil fuels should be completely or nearly phased out by either 2030 or 2050.

Language on the “ratcheting mechanism” or “ambition mechanism” was refined. It seeks to set up regular periods for reviewing and strengthening national commitments. In previous versions of the text it was unclear when such periods would start and how they would work. That is now clearer, with a stocktaking session tentatively scheduled for 2019, with countries “invited” to resubmit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the national pledges they sent to the UN before the Paris talks began.

But it does not include an element that would require such resubmissions or to say that new INDCs should be stronger than the versions they replace.

Lacking ‘Policy Certainty.'

Environmental analysts were very critical of the newest draft.

“What's on the table now just isn't good enough,” said Greenpeace's Martin Kaiser. “It's an enormous problem that the emissions targets on the table will not keep us below 1.5 degrees of warming and this draft deal does absolutely nothing to change that. Right now we're witnessing a display of international impotence.”

Business leaders were similarly critical: Speakers from the We Mean Business Coalition told reporters the negotiating text lacks language that would give “policy certainty” to private sector investors.

“What we want to see is policy certainty and that policy certainty still eludes us. [However,] it is still very much within our grasps over the course of the coming … hours, represented by a long-term goal,” said Edward Cameron, managing director of Business for Social Responsibility.

On long-term goals in the text, “the more certain and clear they are, the more time frames they have, the more they will allow all of the private sector to act to the limit of their capabilities,” said Nicolette Bartlett, senior program manager at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership & Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group. “What is needed is a signal that clearly says we are decarbonizing economies and it's going to happen as soon as possible.”

—Rick Mitchell in Paris contributed to this report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at