7 Dec 2015

Tough week ahead at climate talks

6:59 am on 7 December 2015

Ministers meeting at the climate change talks in Paris tonight have their work cut out for them as they start the crucial final week of the conference.

While delegates have agreed a draft text, at 48 pages it is still too long and contains hundreds of square brackets indicating sections that have not been resolved or options still to be chosen.

Read the draft Framework Convention on Climate Change here

Four main areas are unresolved.

1 - How binding should the agreement be?

New Zealand has long proposed that the overarching deal should be binding, but countries should not be bound to the emissions reductions targets they have submitted.

The United States supports New Zealand's position, but the United Kingdom, the European Union and Pacific Island nations do not.

New Zealand's climate change Minister Tim Groser argues the US will not sign up to a deal that binds it to its targets, and that would mean a collapse of the talks.

2 - How hot - 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees?

In the lead-up to the talks, the focus had been on getting a deal that would limit the warming of the planet to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

But tough negotiating by small island states and members of the G77 group of developing nations has seen both 1.5 and 2 degrees left as options in the text. Australia is reportedly also in support of the 1.5 degree limit.

Small island states, including New Zealand's neighbours in the Pacific, are adamant the limit must be 1.5 degrees, arguing their future is at stake.

3 - Who pays who and how much?

The long standing and thorny issue of finance is likely to be the biggest sticking point to cutting the deal and it boils down to the cumbersome word: differentiation.

This refers to common but differentiated responsibility. In plain English, while it is agreed that the whole planet has to take action on climate change, developing and poorer nations should be helped by developed countries to adapt to the changing climate and be able to grow in a way that does not damage the climate.

For some countries (including New Zealand) this means helping developing countries' transition to a low carbon future, but for others it means not only help to adapt but also payment for loss and damage as a result of climate change that they argue they did not cause.

4 - When should the agreement be reviewed?

Added up, all the pledges submitted to the UN to reduce emissions would not keep global warming to below 2 degrees of warming. In fact the current estimate is that they result in the planet becoming 2.7 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.

Many countries, scientists and NGOs argue that a review of targets should be written in to the agreement, and there should be some kind of ratcheting up of the pledges.

New Zealand supports the plan to include a review, perhaps five years into the 2020-2030 commitment period, but says having a compulsory ratcheting up may be hard to get over the line at the talks.

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