With barely two days left to reach an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming, a new version of the draft agreement was released Wednesday in Paris. But outstanding disputes remain over how much nations will be prepared to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which emit the most carbon dioxide, and how much richer nations are willing to pay to get the job done in the developing world.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, who is directing the conference, known as COP21, which is taking place in a refitted Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of Paris, warned as the new draft agreement was released that there was still a lot of work to do.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he told delegates from nearly 200 countries and other entities taking part in the talks. The United Nations, with its often disputatious delegations, is well known for encountering stumbling blocks late in the day that push meetings into overtime or, worse, fail to take the final steps to agreement.
Delegates from around the world were reviewing the new draft late into the evening in Paris.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry struck a more positive note, saying in Paris that “the fact is we can accomplish so much more in the next few days, in the next hours, here at this conference.”
But he added: “Now, I know that in the meetings we’ve all been having the decisions are tough, and the debates are complex sometimes. If they weren’t, this problem would have been solved a long time ago. But, ladies and gentlemen, the situation demands — and this moment demands — that we do not leave Paris without an ambitious, inclusive and durable global climate agreement. And after decades of work, half-measures, and flawed attempts at galvanizing global action, we know, all of us, exactly what an effective agreement must include.”
To move the process along and sweeten the agreement, Kerry pledged more money into the fund that is meant to help poor countries cope with climate change effects, doubling the amount of pledged grants by 2020 to $860 million, from $430 million.
The new draft agreement has been reduced from 43 to 29 pages with the deletion of disputed (bracketed) language, removing about three-quarters of the contested points, according to news reports based on information released with the new document.
While the “cleaner” draft clarifies many points of agreement, there are still concerns among governments and nongovernmental activists on the margins of the diplomatic talks about how any accord among scores of countries with their own priorities and red lines can be implemented and monitored. Developing nations were reported to be holding out for more concrete promises on who will pay for the switch from carbon-emitting coal through direct financing or the transfer of energy technologies. Coal is the most important producer of energy in many countries.
The goals hovering over the talks are relatively clear, though exact numbers may still be disputed after national delegations have had time to read the new draft carefully. Essentially, the aim of the agreement would be to hold the increase in the global average temperature to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases.
The proposed accord, drawn up under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also looks toward development policies and practices to foster climate-resilient economies without jeopardizing food production and distribution.
The troublesome wording that will remain in any accord allows governments to decide on their own responsibilities and capabilities “in the light of different national circumstances.” As in the new Sustainable Development Goals, this pledge, while welcome as a means of creating “bottom-up” decisions on climate policy, allows for a wide range of actions among nations, not all of which are ready to make substantial emissions cuts.
When Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, addressed the Paris conference on its opening day, she spoke to both developing and industrial countries, saying that a final agreement “should not be the sum of well-intentioned plans, they should state the paths we should take. The implementation of the new agreements, financing and transfer of technology should assure that all countries have the necessary means to reach our common objective.”
Brazil has ambitious plans, Rousseff said, including reducing greenhouse gases by 43 percent by 2030 and reaching zero deforestation by the same target date. “During the last decade deforestation rates in the Amazon region declined by nearly eighty percent,” she said.
Nigeria, which has established a Department of Climate Change in its environment ministry, has also submitted an ambitious national agenda that includes not only the reduction of carbon emissions but also plans to spur economic and spending on social programs so that its citizens would be better prepared to withstand climate shocks. Nigeria, now Africa’s largest economy, has fostered active national debate on climate challenges involving many interested parties.
In Asia, the messages have been more cautious and less positive. It is a region heavily dependent on coal for energy production, the key to greater industrialization. Governments there have been less optimistic about their ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions without economic damage.
A few days before the opening of COP21, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, which has already been buffeted by unusually severe storms, said in an interview with the BBC that his country intends to build more coal-fired power stations to meet rising demands for energy. The plans have been criticized by Filipino environmental groups, but the president said in the interview that alternative to coal were not feasible in the near term.
The country generates almost half of its electricity from coal and that percentage is predicted to rise sharply with new coal-powered plants.
Aquino dismissed a major role for both alternative and renewable energy sources, saying that the country lacked the capacity to import large amounts of natural gas, and could not rely on enough steady sunlight for much solar power.
In India, an article in The Hindu newspaper (which is moderate and secular despite its name) quoted insiders saying that the government was not happy with discussions in Paris of introducing a review mechanism to monitor compliance, favored by President François Hollande of France and other leaders in donor nations that will be asked to pay for assistance to governments needing technological assistance and technology transfers to meet their own goals.
“India felt that a transparency and accountability regime should not treat rich and poor nations alike,” G. Ananthakrishnan wrote in the paper, indicating that developing countries should be given waivers. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed as much to President Barack Obama during their meeting in Paris. For example, India does not have the capacity to measure automotive emissions based on vehicle use accurately, while the US does that every year.”
In Delhi, now the most polluted city in the world, many Indians depend on air quality measurements made by the American embassy. A similar situation exists in Beijing. In both cities, in the days before the opening of the Paris talks, the air was declared hazardous to breathe.