Weary climate envoys stumble toward last stretch at U.N. talks
The meeting in Katowice will finalize the rules that parties to the 2015 Paris climate accord need to follow, including how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions
KATOWICE, Poland – Bleary-eyed and pale after almost two weeks of negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries gathered Friday to discuss the first comprehensive draft agreement to emerge at the U.N. climate talks in Poland, mindful that the clock was ticking to reach a deal.
Preparing for more lengthy debate, organizers extended the close of the meeting by two days, until Sunday. Some of the key issues at the talks remain unresolved, but European diplomats and campaigners expressed hope that an agreement was in sight.
“We are heading for the final stretch,” said Germany’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze. “There’s still some dissatisfaction. It’s not the case that we can say everything is concluded. But it looks good. I believe that we will be successful in the end.”
The meeting in Katowice is the 24th U.N. climate summit. Its main purpose is to finalize the rules that parties to the 2015 Paris climate accord need to follow, including how they transparently report their emissions of greenhouse gases and efforts to reduce them.
Scientists say emissions need to drop dramatically by 2030 and reach near-zero by 2050 in order to prevent average global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times. A recent scientific report found that capping global warming at that level would prevent many potentially catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.
The current draft text presented overnight by the Polish diplomat chairing the talks avoids “welcoming” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on the 1.5-degree target – a possible concession to United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who had blocked endorsement of the study Saturday, angering other countries and environmentalists.
“This is a start, but far from finished business,” said Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of campaign group Greenpeace International. “Compromise texts are paid for in human lives lost and the poor and vulnerable are calling for so much more.”
She noted that while the draft text includes reference to the 1.5 C-target and the need for countries to step up their efforts to achieve it, “we need a clearer signal of ambition.”
One issue that has come back to haunt negotiators concerns the question of how to establish an international market in carbon credits.
Dubbed the ‘Zombie of Kyoto’ by some, it pits emerging economies, such as Brazil, that amassed large piles of carbon credits under the 1997 treaty’s rules, against industrialized blocs like the European Union, which believe the older credits aren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
Economists believe a functioning carbon trading system could be an effective way to drive down emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.
“The rules of Kyoto can’t apply any longer,” said Alex Hanafi, lead counsel at the New York-based Environmental Defence Fund. “We are in a new world now and we need to learn from the mistakes of the past, not just cut and paste them into the new rules.”
Financial support for poor countries, and whether they could benefit from a levy on the carbon market, is another key issue at the talks.
Poor countries insist that they should get support not just to lower emissions and adapt to climate change, but also to make up for the damage already caused by global warming.
The draft text relegates that issue to a footnote, but a senior European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was likely to get promoted again over the coming hours to ensure poor countries’ support for an overall deal.
U.S. President Donald Trump waded into the debate over the cost of tackling climate change Thursday, saying in an interview with Fox News that if he had remained in the Paris accord “we would be paying trillions of dollars, trillions of dollars for nothing, and I wouldn’t do that.”
Trump announced last year that the U.S. is pulling out of the accord unless he can get a better deal – a possibility others such as the EU and China have dismissed.
Germany’s environment minister said failure to curb climate change would cost the world a lot more than the trillions Trump claims he’s saving.
“If we let entire stretches of this planet become uninhabitable then it will trigger gigantic costs,” Svenja Schulze told reporters. “I’m firmly convinced that if we invest in protecting the climate now it will be an enormous advantage, a competitive advantage, for industrialized countries like Germany.”