COP21: Fabius confident on climate deal

11th December 2015


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Emma Gale

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius was confident that agreement would be reached on a climate change deal as a new draft text was revealed and ministers began another night of negotiations.

Delegates spent most of Thursday recovering from a late-night session poring over the text that was published on Wednesday afternoon and waiting for the next iteration after all night talks by ministers. This was due to be published at 3pm, but was then delayed till 8pm and then 9pm.

Speaking at a meeting of all parties, Fabius, who is also president of COP21, said he would give parties 2.5 hours to study the new version of the text. After that, they were to reconvene in an indaba-style meeting, a format traditionally used in South Africa to resolve important issues.

The new text had only 48 brackets where issues have not been resolved, compared to 939 when ministers took over discussions from technical negotiators at the weekend. Climate finance, how to differentiate action between developed and developing countries and identifying a long-term goal for temperature reductions were the most bracketed sections. These issues are considered critical to a deal as they are cross-cutting throughout the draft agreement.

"Compromise requires us to forget the ideal solution for everybody so that we can attain what is desirable for everybody. We want an agreement; we are extremely close to the finishing line. We must in the forthcoming hours find common ground," Fabius said.

The minister imposed strict deadlines for the night's work. This followed Wednesday's discussions, where many ministers continued to restate positions on key issues, despite Fabius's instructions for them to focus on forging possible compromises.

A source close to the negotiations said that, although this was frustrating, many ministers left the room to discuss issues between themselves in private. "There was a definite shift in terms of engagement," the source said.

If there was a difficulty on a particular point, Fabius said he would invite heads of delegation to meet outside the main meeting room and identify a compromise within 30 to 45 minutes, after which they will present the solution to the rest of the parties.

Fabius concluded the meeting by saying that the final text should be ready by Friday. It then needs to be translated into the six official languages of the UN before it can be signed, a process expected to take at least 24 hours. To save time, a team of translators already started work on the eight "clean", or unbracketed, articles of the agreement on Thursday afternoon, he said.

"I think, dear friends, that we will make it," he said.

Early reaction to the new draft was mostly positive. South Africa, which chairs the G77+China group, has been very vocal about its concerns with previous texts throughout the negotiations. But, following last night's marathon session, which continued until almost 6am, Edna Molewa, South Africa's environment minister, tweeted: "SA is confident a favourable outcome will be realised at the intl climate talks."

The new text recognises the need to keep temperature rises lower than agreed at previous climate talks, using the phrase: "Below 2˚C or 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels." This follows a campaign by small island nations, which risk losing their territories to rises in sea level.

Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, said: "There is a clear recognition that the world must work towards limiting warming to below 1.5˚C, and that it would be much safer to do so. With this, I would be able to go home and tell my people that our chance for survival is not lost."

Tasneem Essop, head of WWF's delegation in Paris, welcomed the revised text but highlighted that, as it stands, countries are not being asked to review their emissions reduction pledges before 2019, which she said is too late.

But Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: "Campaigners would of course like things to be more ambitious; but assuming the deal does go through, this will be the first time in history at which virtually every country has committed to restraining its emissions of greenhouse gases. That alone marks this summit down as a very significant moment."

On financing, Jon Williams, partner at PwC, said: "The role of the private sector and private finance is now referenced in the preamble as requested by the business groups at the COP. When you consider that the private sector will fund the lion's share of the $1 trillion annual investment needed in clean energy alone, explicitly referencing their role in the deal is crucial."

Ministers will reconvene discussions at lunchtime, with a final text due Saturday morning, according a tweet by the Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna.

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