Vast draft text won’t derail Paris talks, says UN climate chief

Christiana Figueres confident with progress at Geneva climate talks as draft deal expands from 38 towards 100 pages

ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, and ADP Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder (Pic: IISD/Geneva)

ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, and ADP Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder (Pic: IISD/Geneva)

By Ed King

Climate diplomats face wading through a huge and rambling set of proposals in their hunt for a UN deal to slow global warming, after officials allowed countries to add extra ideas to a draft text.

After two days of talks in Geneva, what was a 38-page document outlining the fundamentals for a global climate change pact – due to be signed off later this year – may have doubled or tripled.

“I would say we would probably reach 100 [pages] or maybe a little more than that,” the UN’s climate chief Christiana Figueres told media in a press call on Tuesday.

“It’s not a showstopper – what it means that every single view is on the table and it’s very possible if you look at these texts – it’s possible there are duplications that can be streamlined relatively easily.”

The US and Algerian officials co-chairing the talks officially closed the text to any new ideas on Tuesday, stating their intention to start exploring ways to make it more concise.

Figueres admitted its huge size will “increase the challenge for June” in Bonn, where countries are next scheduled to meet for negotiations.

But she said the process was on course for final agreement in December, when world leaders will attend a Paris summit to finalise a deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Ministerial meetings in April and May, together with the G7 in Germany and G20 in Turkey would be important stepping stones towards a consensus, she added.

“What’s absolutely key is to have vertical integration – each country must ensure from the head of state level through the various ministerial levels down to the negotiators that there is a very clear integration of both the position, but perhaps more importantly the options countries see to come to common ground,” Figueres said.

Ballooning document

Observers in Geneva spoke of a scramble from national delegations on Tuesday to insert as many suggestions and recommendations into the draft Paris text as they could.

These included ideas on policies to encourage carbon cuts, rules to boost the flow of climate finance and plans to ensure adaptation strategies receive more support.

Scientists say carbon emissions need to be radically cut, otherwise the world faces an increase in floods, droughts together with the wider threat of rising sea levels.

“Some [countries] are calling for positions they know have no chance of passing, but are just creating negotiating chips at this stage,” said Kat Watts, a climate consultant attending the talks.

Jonathan Grant, a director at accountants PwC said the main objective of UN officials appeared to be the creation of a document that could be called a “text”, no matter its size.

“What they have managed to do is that they have achieved that – it doesn’t really matter what’s in it and how long it is. Now there are no more procedural obstacles to an agreement in Paris,” he said.

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s climate advisor, said most countries now felt they had a text they could work with and trust, despite its length.

“They can all identify ideas and proposals in it – that’s what we needed – now we can start building on it,” he said.

But Alden Meyer, from the US Union of Concerned Scientists warned that despite the goodwill generated by two days of calm discussions where few real negotiations have taken place, major problems still exist.

These include longstanding questions over how developed and developing countries should share carbon cuts, climate finance flows, technology transfer and the ambition of governments to accept tough carbon cuts before and after 2020.

These “big political showstopper issues” had to be resolved by heads of state and further mediation by UN, Peruvian and French officials, who are charged with running the process this year.

“If you get those right – I think negotiators can work out the structural and textual issues,” Meyer said.

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