Global climate change agreement within reach

16th February 2015

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Joo Peng Lim

Delegates from 194 countries meeting in Geneva have agreed the text that will form the basis for a new treaty at the UN Climate Change talks in Paris later this year.

The lengthy 86-page negotiating document covers every aspect of the potential new agreement, including climate change mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and "capacity building". The plan also includes five-year commitment cycles from all parties for mitigation.

"I am extremely encouraged by the constructive spirit and the speed at which negotiators have worked during the past week," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary at the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "We now have a formal negotiating text, which contains the views and concerns of all countries."

The text is open and transparent, she claims. "This means that, although it has become longer, countries are now fully aware of each other's positions," Figueres said.

Ambiguities remain, however, with some countries calling for a phasing out net greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, while others prefer a decline in GHG emissions "as soon as possible".

"Common purpose and goodwill resulted in a draft text for Paris," commented Tasneem Essop, WWF's head of delegation to the UNFCCC. "But tackling the difficult issues is yet to begin and our perception is that that traditional fault lines have not yet been breached.

"Negotiators face a tremendous task to reach agreement on the contentious issues and come up with an ambitious, fair science-based deal in the two or three negotiating sessions left before meeting in Paris," Essop said.

The UN insisted on the draft document being in place six months ahead of the Paris conference to allow time to iron out uncertainties, but Elina Bardram, head of the European commission delegation at the Geneva talks, insisted that negotiators should have started the harder task of streamlining the text. "We have lost an opportunity for progress," she argued.

The next step is for negotiators is to narrow down options and reach a consensus on the content of the final draft. Formal negotiations on the draft text agreed in Geneva will continue at meetings in Bonn ahead of COP21 in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. Meanwhile, a key issue yet to be agreed is how governments will scale up pre-2020 actions on climate change and how a new climate change treaty will be financed. Ministerial-level meetings at the G7 in May and G20 in September will include climate change talks.

"The 2015 climate negotiations are off to a promising start," said Jennifer Morgan, head of the climate programme at the World Resources Institute. "Much hard work remains."

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