Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

Climate Pledges Covering 70% of Pollution Mark Progress at Talks

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  • Envoys from 190 nations weigh long-term fossil-fuel curbs
  • UN official sees `concrete evidence' all nations cooperating

Countries responsible for almost three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution have submitted pledges to reduce emissions, indicating progress toward a historic climate deal the United Nations is seeking by December.

Envoys from more than 190 nations this week finished a round of preparatory discussions for the Paris climate summit in December, vowing to produce a new text outlining options for their agreement in October.

The delegates, who met in Bonn, are discussing what sort of long-term goals to set out in the Paris deal and are considering the option of calling for a phase out of fossil-fuel pollution as early as the middle of the century. They’re likely to endorse the previous target of keeping global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Some countries are seeking more detailed targets on finance and actions to adapt to climate change.

“Are we going to do individual goals across these things, or are we going to a common goal, are those goals going to differ from the convention goal -- this is the flavor of what we’ll see,” Daniel Reifsnyder, co-chair of the discussions in Bonn, told reporters at the end of the meeting on Friday. “We’re still elaborating these.”

National Pledges

Commitments from nations come in what the UN calls intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs. They’re supposed to contain voluntary measures for each country to cut emissions, pare back fossil-fuel use, accelerate renewable energy and adapt to rising seas. Most of the nations that have already filed their plans have set goals for 2025 and 2030.

Pledges submitted so far cover almost 70 percent of global heat-trapping pollution, said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agency organizing the global talks. The 28-nation European Union pledged to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels. The U.S. wants to a 26 to 28 percent cut by 2025 from 2005, and China promised to peak its emissions by around 2030.

The deal in the works would wrest commitments for the first time from both industrial and developing countries. It’s intended to build on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required pollution reductions only in industrialized nations and set no limits for developing ones like China and India, where emissions have skyrocketed.

“I continue to see and hear very concrete evidence that every single country is fully committed to an ambitious agreement,” Figueres said. “The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is going to come out of the oven in Paris.”

Slow Progress

World leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have urged an ambitious agreement to reduce the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming. Forging a landmark accord is a monumental task, with the talks bogging down in disagreements between industrialized and developing countries.

“In every country’s mind, the potential compromise is there,” said Laurence Tubiana, French special envoy for the Paris conference. “October is key because then we’ll have all the technical elements assembled in the picture.”

Points of contention in the talks leading to the conference that begins Nov. 30 in Paris include the principle enshrined in past agreements of “common, but differentiated responsibilities.” Countries including South Africa, China and India read that as placing a steeper burden to cut pollution on richer nations, while industrialized members object to that interpretation, saying the dispute has become an excuse by their developing peers to reduce their responsibilities.

Open Disputes

Other thorny issues involve rules on technology transfer, climate finance and provisions for a loss-and-damage mechanism that would help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change. UN’s Ban has complained repeatedly about the slow pace of the talks.

Reifsnyder said negotiators were achieving clarity on numerous issues and made huge progress given the “animosity among the parties, the bitterness and the deep distrust” that bogged the talks in the past.

Even the toughest measures already announced by governments across the world won’t be sufficient to limit the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius this century. That’s why envoys are planning for a mechanism to address revisions to these efforts.

“With the long-term goal, what is also important is the short-term action to get there,” said Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change for the environment group WWF and a former U.K. negotiator. “That’s why a lot of countries are very focused on pre-2020 actions, on what we have to do now to make sure that we’re on the right path and that we are as ambitious as possible.”