As World Leaders Leave, Paris Climate Talks Turn to Work

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By Eric J. Lyman

Dec. 1 — The first two days of the United Nations climate summit were marked by strong calls for action from some 150 world leaders in Paris. But as President Barack Obama and others headed home, leaving the hard work for lower level delegates, some saw a wide gulf between the lofty words of political figures and the real-world options available to negotiators.

Obama called for an agreement that “builds ambition” with a “strong system of transparency.” China's Xi Jinping said, “Tackling climate change is a shared mission for mankind.” And French President Francois Hollande declared: “The future of the planet is in our hands.”

But at the talks Dec. 1, negotiations focused on details—some of them seemingly mundane—as they have in five previous UN climate meetings this year leading up to the Paris summit.

At one point during the day, delegates spent nearly an hour negotiating whether the agreement should say the global community “welcomes” or “takes note of” a published UN report on the aggregate value of individual national pledges for climate actions.

In the end, they decided they didn't quite welcome those Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and opted instead to take note of the commitments, which form an important part of the effort in Paris to reach a global agreement to fight and respond to climate change, a pact that would enter into force in 2020.

‘Still in Negotiation Mode.'

When the last set of pre-Paris negotiations concluded in October, the draft text contained around 1,500 contentious sections, indicated by brackets. Each is an issue delegates must resolve before the Paris pact can be finalized. As of late evening on Dec. 1, one delegate told Bloomberg BNA that only “around two-dozen” brackets had been removed.

“The statements from the leaders were good, strong,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development. “But delegates don't seem to be taking direction from their heads of state. They are still in negotiation mode.”

One Latin American delegate, speaking to Bloomberg BNA on the condition of anonymity, said there was a “disconnect between bold calls for action” from leaders and what was happening in text negotiations. “We are finally starting to see bridging proposals,” the delegate said, referring to the term used for compromise language that replaces two or more contentious sections. “But there is still little evidence of the spirit of compromise we will need.”

‘The Rhetoric Is Set.'

Liz Gallagher, program leader at the environmental lobby group E3G, said: “Despite all the positive energy and announcements … there weren't enough concrete offers and breakthroughs on key components. The rhetoric is set. The question now is whether the negotiators and ministers will deliver.”

The Paris climate talks, which officially began Nov. 30, are scheduled to conclude Dec. 11.

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

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