UN Climate Deal Stuck at `Low End of Ambition' as Talks Resume

Updated on
  • Negotiators in Bonn for last meeting before Paris conference
  • Risk `still dangerous but better than where we were before'

Climate negotiators are meeting today in Bonn to take a last crack at a draft plan aimed at nudging the world into a post-carbon era.

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The five-day gathering marks the final round of United Nations talks before envoys, ministers and leaders from around the world meet in Paris in six weeks to attempt what a 2009 summit in Copenhagen failed to do: reach a global agreement on how to cut fossil-fuel use.

UN officials this month issued the latest version of a negotiating text, but the draft document is probably “too stripped down” for many countries’ tastes, said Alden Meyer, a long-time observer of the climate talks for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The text ultimately must be approved in Paris by the biggest greenhouse-gas emitters, including the U.S., China and India, the most vulnerable nations, such as Vanuatu and Bangladesh -- as well as oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf.

Negotiators in Bonn this week are focusing on defining the long-term goals, and how to monitor and verify that promised reductions are actually occurring. In its current form, the latest negotiating document released in early October is about 20 pages, down from roughly 80.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the text,” Todd Stern, U.S. envoy to the climate talks, said today at a climate policy event at the White House. The current document being worked on this week in Bonn replaces a “sprawling and disorganized” draft text.

‘Low End’

“We won’t succeed in Paris unless 194 countries agree on the same document,” Stern said. “You have to ultimately get to that.”

While the proposed pact provides a solid foundation for the Paris negotiations, it is at the “low end of ambition” of what scientists say is necessary to ward off dangerous climate change, said Liz Gallagher, who leads the climate diplomacy project at E3G, a U.K.-based advocacy group. She said hopes envoys will come up with a refreshed document for heads of state and ministers to flesh out at the 12-day Paris summit starting Nov. 30.

Meyer said one gap in the latest text is that it excludes any call for countries to re-examine their goals before the 10-year mark. Reassessment is crucial because current national plans to fight climate change don’t go far enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Above that level scientists say the Earth could tip into the realm of dangerous climate changes.

“We can’t afford to wait until the mid-2020s,” Meyer said.

Christiana Figueres, who’s leading the UN effort to broker a climate deal in Paris in December, said the world has “progressed enormously” in battling climate change since the failed Copenhagen summit. Today, the risk is in the range of 3 degrees, “still dangerous but better than where we were before,” she said earlier this month.

— With assistance by Alex Morales

(Updates with comment from U.S. climate envoy in sixth paragraph.)
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