Climate Change Conference Draft Text Leaves Major Issues Unresolved

PARIS (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries Saturday adopted a draft text that left many issues unresolved before high-level talks next week aimed at reaching a global agreement to fight climate change.

The document is full of competing options that will have to be disentangled when foreign and environmental ministers start meeting Monday at Le Bourget, on the northern edge of Paris.

“Major political issues must still be resolved,” French envoy Laurence Tubiana said at Saturday’s meeting. “It will take all our energy, intelligence, ability to compromise, ability to take a long-term view, to reach a result.”

After years of talks, many negotiators had hoped to accomplish more in the first week of the United Nations conference that opened Monday and is scheduled to end Friday. But they said there was still time to reach a deal to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s certainly not the agreement we’re looking for in any number of ways,” Todd Stern, the lead U.S. negotiator, said as diplomats were finalizing the draft Friday. But, he said, “I have high hopes it’s an agreement we will like in the end.”

The conference’s French organizers say they are determined not to repeat the failures of climate talks in 2009 in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

In an attempt to give momentum to this year’s negotiations, heads of state and government were invited to take part during the first days rather than come in at the end, when it might be too late to salvage a comprehensive and binding deal.

Leaders representing countries that account for more than 95 percent of global emissions arrived with proposals to reduce their output. But the plans fell short of the target of limiting temperature increases this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the threshold at which scientists believe most of the worst effects of climate change could be avoided.

Closing the gap is proving difficult.

Some of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change want to phase out the use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, for example. But countries whose economies depend on them are pressing for a more modest pledge to shift to a “low-carbon economy.”

Even the widely agreed-upon target of 2 degrees Celsius is being debated. Negotiators from island nations threatened by rising sea levels are pushing for a goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and are meeting stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia, among others.

“Anything less ambitious, say 2 degrees, is catastrophic and will spell out the end disappearance of my own country,” Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu said Saturday.

Many of the proposals on the table are conditional on financial support for developing nations struggling to cope with the effects of climate change and to transition their economies to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. But who pays and how much remain sources of contention.

Another issue that will need to be resolved is how to verify and measure whether countries live up to their commitments. Some developing nations — including India and China, two of the world’s biggest polluters — don’t want to be subject to as rigorous reporting as their wealthier counterparts.