COP21: Crunch issues delay historic agreement

United States joins ‘high ambition’ EU and developing countries coalition at climate talks

President of the Raoni Institute  Cacique Raoni Metuktire with a translator at the climate conference yesterday. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

President of the Raoni Institute Cacique Raoni Metuktire with a translator at the climate conference yesterday. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images


There are growing indications that talks on an historic global agreement on climate change will continue into tomorrow as divisions on the crunch issues remained no closer to resolution last night.

A new draft of a Paris agreement, originally expected yesterday afternoon, was pushed back several hours as negotiators at the summit continued to seek a breakthrough that would pave the way for an accord.

The draft was published after 9pm local time as negotiators braced themselves for another session of overnight talks.

The climate conference president and French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said the draft would be close to the final accord that should be signed sometime this weekend. But other sources said that there may be further drafts today.

The EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, Miguel Arias Cañete, expressed confidence that a deal would be struck but said he could not give an assurance about when it would happen.

“The challenge is so important, that if we need additional time it shouldn’t be a problem,” Mr Cañete told CNBC news.

“The important thing is to get out of Paris with a powerful instrument fit for purpose, and the purpose is to limit global warming below two degrees, far below two degrees.”

In another development, it was confirmed that the United States has joined the “high-ambition” coalition comprising the EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

Joint goals

At a longer than expected plenary session on Wednesday night, involving ministers from 195 countries, there was a high volume of criticism, suggesting many of the big gaps are still a long way from resolution. 

However, there was general acceptance among delegates that the 29-page text provided a strong basis for an agreement. The big issues include the amount of funding developed countries are willing to pay poorer countries to respond to climate change, and finding a way to ensure that every country in the world increases its commitment to lower emissions. 

The other big obstacle is “differentiation”. In the past, developing countries such as India and China did not have to cut emissions. But now the US and others are trying to put pressure on them to present ambitious long-term goals that include emissions tracking and reductions.

A source said differentiation remained the stumbling block as it affected all aspects of the agreement. If progress was achieved there, said the source, it would allow progress on other key areas, such as ambition and transparency. 

The source was unsure if there would be a lot of new material in the new draft agreement as much of the discussion through Wednesday night revolved around positions that were well-known. 


John Sweeney

Like many others in attendance, he said the atmosphere at this summit has been calmer and more collective than at previous UN climate summits. The French presidency has been widely praised for its handling of the process. 

“The faultlines are the ones that have always existed, namely the unwillingness of the developed world to take responsibility on a common but differentiated basis,” Prof Sweeney said. 

“Secondly, the unwillingness of the developed countries to ensure that when they receive funds they are properly monitored and spent wisely. That has been a stumbling block in the past.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said his sense is that the summit would run on until Saturday at least, but he said he was reasonably optimistic of a positive outcome.