COP21: US joins ‘coalition of high ambition’ at Paris talks

With three days to go until 195 countries are set to finalise a global warming pact, there are big divisions over ambition, finance and fairness

Activists call for a 1.5C warming limit (Photo by IISD/ENB)

Activists call for a 1.5C warming limit (Photo by IISD/ENB)

Updates from Megan Darby and Ed King in Paris – all times CET


  • New draft text delivered shortly after 3pm
  • Rich and poor make ‘high ambition’ pincer movement – but is the US part of it?
  • Countries hold back positions on fairness
  • China, India, Saudi Arabia resist clean finance language

2100 – Here’s a final recap for today:

Most country groups have registered their unhappiness with the new proposed deal on the table but all say they are willing to work with it as a basis for now. Key differences on differentiation, finance, loss and damage and the temperature goal remain. But the talks are still on track, and a new draft is due on Thursday afternoon. Scroll down for reactions from governments and civil society.

  2030 – Countries are responding to the draft climate text released earlier today. Most appear to think it offers a satisfactory basis for talks to continue. Here’s a flavour…

1920 – The “high ambition coalition” held a press briefing to explain what they are about. Marshall Island’s lead envoy Tony de Brum chaired the panel with representatives from more than 90 countries including the EU and US in an informal grouping. It’s a play to break gridlock in talks with two formal days of negotiating time left. They agree on the need for recognition of 1.5C, a long-term goal, five year reviews and a mechanism to raise ambition. Tony de Brum, Marshall Islands

“This is not a negotiating group, it is rather about joining the voices of all of those who are committed to joining an ambitious agreement and a safe climate future. Big and small, rich and poor.”

Miguel Arias Canete, EU

“All of us here will work together very hard to improve this text substantially, but we have a long way to go… We all share the highest level of ambition.”

Giza Gaspar Martins, Least Developed Countries

“We recognise the tremendous vision and share a goal to achieve an ambitious agreement here in Paris… By ambitious, the LDCs particular refer to the need to have an agreement that provides for sufficient mitigation to keep us safe and to reduce our adaption efforts.”

Pablo Abba Vieira Samper, Colombia

“We will not accept an agreement that just accepts the lowest common denominator. We need and we will get a highly ambitious agreement.”

Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, Mexico

“I’m speaking on behalf of a country that is a developing country, that has a very important oil industry, but I’m also speaking on behalf of a country that has a very special vulnerability to the effects of climate change and that’s why Mexico is fully supporting this high ambition coalition.”

Barbara Hendricks, Germany

“I will support the goals of this coalition in the nights and days to come. What unites us is our fight for an ambitious climate agreement with a strong long term goal and strong reference to 1.5C. This agreement must lead us towards five-yearly political moments to raise ambition.”

Pa Ousman, Gambia

“We are happy to join with all countries rich and poor to ensure that the livelihoods of millions of people are going to be saved. The territories are going to be saved, and humanity will be saved.”

Todd Stern, USA

“The high ambition coalition is exactly what we need right now. There are a great many countries in this coalition, there are some countries that are not in this coalition and indeed seek a more minimal outcome. “We need a very strong and balanced transparency article so everybody knows what we’re doing with respect to those 184 or 186 INDCs that have been put forward.”

Tine Sundtoft, Norway

“[A Paris agreement should] set a clear direction of travel for a low-emission society and promote the systematic strengthening of effort over time.”


1833 – Shipping and aviation have been slashed from the draft text. Holding warming to 2C this century is “close to impossible” after the French COP presidency removed proposals to rein in carbon emissions from the sectors. That is according to advocacy group Transport and Environment, which said if they were treated as countries, shipping and aviation would both make the list of top 10 emitters. Emissions from international transport have grown 80% between 1990 and 2010, and are projected to grow up to 270% by mid-century, the NGO said. The dropping of international aviation and shipping emissions from the draft Paris climate agreement makes keeping a temperature increase under 2 degrees “close to impossible,” said policy officer Andrew Murphy. “Those parties calling for an ambitious agreement must insist that language on international transport be reinserted.”

1800 – Australia and Argentina have won the much coveted ‘fossil of the day’ award – for talking up coal projects in Paris. “The Australian Government is all talk, no action. Australia is dragging its feet here in Paris, desperately spruking the fossil fuels of the past, whilst we miss out on the opportunities from clean energy,”  said Jaden Harris, from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition in an emailed statement.

1730 – Big day of protests… here’s Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo leading the chants inside the conference venue…

1715 – Pacific islanders announce “Marshall Plan” for surviving climate change

Kirabti, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu make up the “Pacific Rising” initiative which lays out strategies to adapt to rising sea levels and more ferocious storms. It evokes the US aid programme to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

The new version seeks to develop climate-resilient technology, empower businesses to prepare, and preserve island culture in the face of forced migrations.

“While the deal coming from COP21 remains to be seen, it cannot provide immediate relief from the danger faced by atoll nations. “Pacific Rising”, however, will provide the path for the global action needed to ensure that it can be compared to the ‘Marshall Plan’ in the future in regard to its scope, and more importantly, its success,” read an emailed statement.

Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum said in a press briefing that a Republican lawmaker had warned him not to trust promises of climate aid by wealthier countries.

Responding to the remarks a Paris treaty wasn’t “going to fly at home” in the US, de Brum said: “It has to fly. There have be some commitments from the point of everybody… It’s a human survival issue.”

1700 – Is the US really part of this new ‘coalition of high ambition’ as advertised by John Kerry earlier today?

We understand European, African and small island leaders are asking the US meets a set of conditions before it can officially join a ‘high ambition coalition’ at UN climate talks in Paris.

“The US is moving but if they want to join [the coalition] then they have to sign it,” an EU source speaking on background told Climate Home.

The 124-strong group of countries has asked the US to agree to a form of legally binding climate deal, back a 1.5C warming threshold, ramp up climate finance from $100 billion in 2020 and target a stocktake in 2018/19 and a review in 2020/21.

The US is being asked to agree to wording that stipulates “each party shall pursue domestic measures aimed at implementing” carbon cuts, which EU officials believe will not require Senate ratification.

In negotiations on Wednesday afternoon lead US envoy Todd Stern was also asked to accept a long term goal “in line with science”, with emissions falling 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050.

The group announced its formation at a press conference on Tuesday, includes the 79 members of the African, Pacific and Caribbean group of states, the EU’s 28 members and a group known as the Cartagena Dialogue.

1655 – Our video reporter Jean-Baptiste nabbed co-chair Dan Reifsnyder and Austria’s environment minister Andrä Rupprechter outside the negotiating room.

1650 – At the same briefing, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said: “There is reason to be mildly and conditionally encouraged by the progress that has been made.”

In a reference to the punctuation used to show a part of the text has not yet been agreed, he added: “Put that in brackets.”

1638 – In cafes and seating areas all over Le Bourget, delegates are hunched over copies of the draft Paris agreement, highlighting and scribbling in the margins.

Climate Action Network held an impromptu briefing in the press centre, with journalists crowding around.

Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace welcomed the fact a 1.5C warming limit is still an option, but said it wasn’t backed up by a target to phase out emissions.

To hold temperature rise to that level, emissions need to reach zero by 2050, she said (some scientists say energy would have to be fully decarbonised by 2030). The strongest option in the text is a 70-95% emissions cut from 2010 levels by 2050.

Arrangements to review national pledges towards that long term goal are also “too weak,” she added.

“I have my baby here in Paris and by the time she is my age, there will be no more fossil fuels. Let’s hope governments have the courage to spell that out… and face the reality of these temperature goals.”

1555 – Some initial observations on the latest text:

  • After a concerted civil society campaign for a 1.5C warming limit saw the previous version drop 2C as an option, the looser target is back in the text. But “well below 2C” or recognising that 1.5C still brings risks is the central option.
  • There has been no change on loss and damage, clearly still a stubborn issue as rich countries seek assurances they won’t be liable for big payouts to victims of global warming.
  • “Mother Earth” – a favoured phrase of certain Latin American countries – is in the preamble. Claudia Salerno’s influence?

1534 – As everyone pores over the document, here’s a little gossip about how the French presidency is organising discussions.

Appointing Claudia Salerno as minister charged with creating the “preamble” of a global agreement is a stroke of genius, according to a source inside the UN climate body.

The Venezuelan has made some dramatic interventions at UN talks in the past: at the 2009 Copenhagen summit she cut her hand in protest at the way negotiations were proceeding.

That will be harder for her to do in Paris, as she is now inside a “circle of trust” and closely engaged in ensuring a deal is a success.

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1521 – Here is the 29-page text. Stand by for reaction.

1516 – COP president Laurent Fabius says the new text will be circulated shortly. It represents progress, having been cut down to 29 pages from 43, but is not the final version.

There has been progress on adaptation, transparency and loss and damage. Three cross-cutting issues remain to be resolved: differentiation, finance and the overall ambition of a deal.

The meeting will be adjourned for everyone to study the document and reconvene at 8pm.

1508 – Loads of people were following John Kerry’s speech. Here’s a round-up of some instant reaction. Meanwhile, the plenary is about to begin.

1447 – The US will double finance for adaptation to climate change in other countries by 2020, announces secretary of state John Kerry. It’s currently US$430 million a year.

“We will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to quite literally weather the storm alone,” he says.

1419 – The atmosphere is calm outside the meeting rooms where ministers have been working on the details of a Paris text.

And at the India pavilion, lead negotiator Ajay Mathur is relaxed about the progress of the text, dismissing the notion of delay.

Asked about five-yearly reviews, which India was reportedly blocking, he says: “We have nothing against it. We are here for the negotiations; we will negotiate.”

There have been no fireworks in the closed sessions, he adds. “The fireworks will happen when the text comes out!”


1306 – This might be a good time to eat a sandwich, then (hello Mum!). While we wait for more intel, enjoy this giant polar bear, which has popped up near the entrance to Le Bourget. It looks like the same Greenpeace emblem that was recently picketing Shell’s London HQ to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic.


1300 – We’re hearing the draft text promised at 1pm has been delayed and won’t appear for another couple of hours.

1256 – Brazil and the EU proposed a compromise text on carbon markets yesterday. It’s not one of the biggest points of contention in Paris, but important to multilateral businesses and a handful of countries.

The International Emissions Trading Association is welcoming the proposal. International policy director Jeff Swartz says: “Markets and the cooperation they foster can help get us to where we need to go faster and at a lower cost than alternatives, such as carbon taxes…

“We need to have a workable text, rather than no text – and this text is one we can work with. Paris should be about the spirit of compromise, and this text reflects this.”

Jonathan Grant, analyst at PwC, says it is “broadly in line with what business has been calling for” and shows the value of alliances between developed and developing countries.

1242 – What does the world’s biggest emitter want from a Paris climate deal? Megan Darby caught up with Greenpeace China analyst Li Shuo.

1236 – Is the US part of this “coalition of ambition”? Its lead negotiator Todd Stern said so earlier in the week, but EU sources did not mention its participation in a briefing on Tuesday.

They are on the same page on many issues, including a stocktake of national efforts every five years. But the legal form of a deal continues to separate the two sides of the Atlantic.

The EU insists on a legally binding deal. The US accepts that some parts could have legal force, like the monitoring and review framework, but not the emissions targets themselves. That stance is designed to allow President Obama to approve a deal without running it past a hostile Republican-dominated Congress.

1227 – There have been positive noises in the past week about progress on loss and damage – the part of the deal concerned with irreversible impacts of climate change.

US president Barack “island boy” Obama met island leaders on the front line of sea level rise and increasingly intense cyclones, to show solidarity.

Developing countries have dropped demands for an explicit reference to compensation for victims of impacts, which was a red line for the US. But rich states want them to go further and rule out lawsuits for damages.

“They are fighting a bogeyman that doesn’t exist,” said Julie-Anne Richards, campaigner with Oxfam and the Climate Justice Programme. “It’s ridiculous.”

1212 – What to make of the “coalition of ambition” – a mixture of small island states, African countries, the US and EU28 – that was born yesterday?

The group, which numbers over 100 countries, says it wants to see a deal which is legally binding, has a long term goal and a tough review mechanism.

But there’s little on financial commitments or an EU position on compensating vulnerable states for damage linked to global warming.

Raman Mehta, from the Indian Vasudha Foundation NGO, told a press conference this morning he was not convinced.

“A lot of it is optics. But where is the substance? Are the countries in the coalition doing more or is it a diversionary tactic? Cynics might suggest smaller countries are being bought off.”

Others disagree with this analysis. Christian Aid’s Mohamed Adow admits loss and damage is still a live issue, but says the push for 5-yearly reviews (aimed at India, China, Saudi Arabia) is important.

“We won’t be judging Paris on the money,” he says. “The point is it is giving a chance to stay below 1.5C (warming). For them to agree on this item is powerful.”

1200 – With three days until 195 countries are expected to sign a climate change deal, negotiations are hotting up in Paris.

Rich and poor countries are catching the likes of China and India in a “high ambition” pincer movement. The US, EU28, African and island states are among 100 calling for a long term carbon-cutting goal and early review of national commitments.

Where’s the rub? Well, with coal still a big part of emerging economies’ development plans, they are wary of over-committing to emissions curbs. And they argue it is unfair to expect them to constrain fossil fuelled growth when the industrialised world is responsible for most historic emissions.

Updates from a series of ministerial working groups last night showed the fairness question could be the last to resolve. “It is very clear that fault lines remain,” Brazil’s Izabella Teixeira and Singapore’s Vivian Balakrishnan reported back. “Quite frankly, at this point in time, Parties are not yet ready to place their final positions on the table.”

For an overview of the political dynamics at play, check out this analysis from Nick Mabey of think tank E3G.

There will be a new draft text at 1pm, the French presidency says, followed by an open discussion. We’ll be following all the developments and reaction. Stay with us.

Read more on: Breaking News | COP21