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Let’s Make a Deal: Climate Negotiators Eye the Endgame

"We’re talking about life itself," says France Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Kenzo Tribouillard / Getty

Countries cleared a major hurdle this weekend by pulling together a draft agreement that sets the groundwork for resumed negotiations in week two of the Paris conference. A more streamlined version of the text is now in the hands of ministers from some 200 countries to carry over the finish line. France is leading the push past traditional divides that have plagued past conferences.

“We’re talking about life itself,” France Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an emotional speech over the weekend. “I intend to muster the experience of my entire life to the service of success for next Friday.”

Fabius has given ministers until Thursday to hand over a negotiated draft that can be translated and formally adopted by Friday. There’s a lot left to do, but let’s not dismiss the progress made so far. The Paris talks are already much further along, compared to where negotiations stood in Copenhagen in 2009.

Here’s our progress report on COP21. Blue bars indicate progress toward the goals, compared to yesterday, red bars indicate backward momentum, and gray bars indicate no change:

Progress Report   December 7, 2015

Commit to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.

Say goodbye to any hope that a deal will have binding domestic pollution targets, and say hello to a name-and-shame approach. “Meeting national emissions pledges will emerge as a key measure of international moral and diplomatic standing after a Paris agreement, with countries reluctant to flout their targets and risk being treated as pariahs,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser.

Establish reporting and transparency requirements.

Semantics of the agreement matter, and “shall” is an important keyword to watch. Countries will fight this week over the use of “shall” (shorthand for legally binding) in the final text. The U.S. supports using “should” in many places instead, which would not be legally binding.

Create a payment system to finance climate adaptation.

India isn’t happy with the financial commitments it’s seen so far from developed nations, and it may be a roadblock to reaching other compromises. “The amounts that have been pledged are not enough,” said Ajay Mathur, an Indian climate change negotiator. “Finance is the easiest thing. All you have to do is write a check.” If only it were actually that easy.

Put past disagreements aside.

France has appointed 14 international ministers to facilitate compromises in the final days of the conference. One contentious issue is compensation for vulnerable states dealing with climate change, also called loss and damage—but a compromise is in sight.

Agree to return to the negotiating table regularly.

There’s an emerging consensus that there will be five-year review cycles to ramp up domestic plans, but not on when those cycles would start. They could begin before 2020 or 2025—the earlier the better for limiting global warming.

Rethink the 2-degree target.

In a surprise, rich nations—including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and European countries—have come around on a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. “We are working with other countries on some formulation that would include 1.5C,” Todd Stern, the U.S. envoy said. Though John Kerry sounded skeptical on Monday: “I don’t think it’s wise to embrace as the principal target of this agreement that kind of a goal.”

Here’s a roundup of the biggest news from around the conference:

  • Global corporations are realizing how climate change will affect their profits and are trying to gain advantage by influencing the climate talks. (New Republic)
  • Republican Senator James Inhofe told a room of climate change deniers they’re “doing the Lord’s work.” (New Republic)
  • After canceling concerts in Paris following the terrorist attacks in November, U2 took to the stage Sunday and Monday. (Vulture)
  • Three words that could make or break the talks. (Pacific Standard)
  • An infographic showing how states and regions across the world reduced and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. (The Climate Group)
  • Two New Zealand University students have started a Google doc to keep track of what’s being said behind closed doors at the conference. (Slate)  
  • Bernie Sanders released his new climate plan, which includes a pledge to cut carbon pollution 40 percent by 2030. (New Republic)
  • Laurence Tubiana, France’s top climate envoy, thinks details of conference organizing—like soft-lighting and delicious food—encourage progress at the talks. (New York Times)
  • As the second week of negotiations start, Obama’s top advisers arrive to demonstrate the United States is committed to cutting emissions, despite resistance from Congress. (E&E Publishing)
  • A run-down of the ten nations that did not submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, including Venezuela and North Korea. (Bloomberg Business)

Read our previous progress reports:

Monday, November 30

Tuesday, December 1

Wednesday, December 2

Thursday, December 3

Friday, December 4