Climate Envoys Prepare Broadest Deal Yet Limiting Pollution

  • United Nations talks in Paris heading for conclusion
  • Delegates from 195 nations have yet to endorse text of program

Envoys from more than 195 nations are poised to adopt the most sweeping deal on global warming ever, extending limits on fossil-fuel pollution to developing nations for the first time.

The delegates at United Nations climate talks on Saturday are considering a draft document outlining the agreement proposed by France, which is hosting the talks in Paris. They are scheduled to meet at 3:45 p.m. local time to discuss approving or revising the text, though delegates in the hall greeted the plan with thunderous applause.

Francois Hollande shakes hands with Ban Ki-moon after a statement at conference
Francois Hollande shakes hands with Ban Ki-moon after a statement at conference
Photographer: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

“This text will, if you should so decide, be the first universal agreement in the history of climate negotiations,” French President Francois Hollande told the meeting. “This will be a major leap for mankind.”

The pact would endorse the most aggressive target yet on containing the rise of temperatures, and take effect from 2020, with 185 nations so far coming forward with their own plans to tackle the problem. Scientists and environmentalists said the ambition outlined in the text isn’t yet matched by action in each nation, which is voluntary.

“We need to show the world that our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual actions,” Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who is presiding over the talks, said at the meeting in Paris on Saturday. “The time has come to focus not on the red lines but on green lines for universal commitment.”

Researchers say current pledges would only contain rising temperatures to 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than the 2 degrees sought by envoys. The full text of the deal was embraced by environmental groups, which said the deal is a step in the right direction.

“The agreement will send a powerful, immediate signal to global markets that the clean energy future is open for business,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. advocacy group. “It makes a moral call for dramatic action, and it moves us closer to the crucial turning point when global carbon emissions, which have been rising for more than two centuries.”

Years of Preparation

If approved, the deal would cap eight years of discussions on how to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first treaty to limit the emissions that are driving up temperatures. The U.S. never signed that accord because it exempted developing nations such as China and India from binding targets. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the delegates to back the deal.

“Nature is sending urgent signals,” Ban told the meeting. “We must not let the quest for perfection stand in the way of the common good.”

By limiting Kyoto to industrial nations only, its restrictions only ever applied to 38 countries, most of them in Europe. The EU and U.S. have insisted poorer countries be brought aboard, since without them, no deal would be enough to arrest rising temperatures that are set to reach a record this year.

The last time such a deal was attempted, in 2009, the meeting in Copenhagen dissolved in finger pointing about who should move first on global warming.

The Paris deal seeks to break divisions between richer and poorer nations by exchanging transparency on emissions cuts for a promise to mobilize $100 billion a year in aid for for the most vulnerable nations fighting climate change. Some key points in the draft agreement published Saturday:

TEMPERATURE -- Calling for temperature increases since the industrial revolution to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and for the first time challenging nations to work toward a more aggressive target of 1.5 degrees.

FOSSIL FUEL GOAL -- Says nations should work toward “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” That means that greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels must be equal to those absorbed by planting trees and the facilities capturing carbon for permanent underground storage.

TRANSPARENCY -- Seeks a single system for measuring the emissions of every nation, and for monitoring progress toward their voluntary targets. Every five years, starting in 2023, there would be a global assessment of whether combined efforts are sufficient.

LOSS AND DAMAGE: A key provision sought by island nations who say that changes are already occurring that they can’t adapt to. The new deal sets up a mechanism to provide expert advice, emergency preparedness and insurance. A clause in the decision text says that mechanism will not provide for liability and compensation, paying heed to a red line by the U.S., Japan and European nations.

FINANCE -- Developed countries pledged in 2009 to ramp up climate aid to vulnerable ones to an annual $100 billion by 2020. The draft agreement -- representing the enduring treaty, says that from 2020, “climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts,” without mentioning a numerical target. A separate so-called decision document says industrialized nations should continue the existing goal through to 2025, when they would set a new collective goal.

With 2015 on track to be the warmest year ever, scientists say the world already has warmed about 1 degree since the industrial revolution, the quickest shift in the climate since the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. 
 
The voluntary pledges put forward by 185 countries leave the temperature on track for a 2.7-degree increase, according to Climate Action Tracker, a group of four European institutions. That’s less than the 4 or more degrees that institutions such as the International Energy Agency have said is a risk without action.
 
Architects of the Paris deal hope that its goals “ratchet up” over time. The 
ambitions are currently framed in national commitments on emissions by 2030, or 
in some cases 2025. India and China avoided responsibilities under the Kyoto 
deal, since they were classed as developing nations in the 1992 treaty that 
set the UN process in motion.
 
Since then, China surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s biggest emitter of 
carbon dioxide, and India surged to just behind the European Union. With 
pollution in the industrial world already declining, it’s the developing 
nations whose emissions are catching up quickly.

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