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Climate deal still up in air

With two days left at COP21, a new draft agreement is on the table. There is optimism a consensus will be reached, but major sticking points remain as negotiations enter crunch time, Andrea Rönsberg reports from Paris.

Half an hour to grab a sandwich – that was all the time French foreign minister Laurent Fabius granted negotiators late on Wednesday evening before urging them to reconvene for discussions that were expected to go through the night.

Some five hours earlier, Fabius had presented negotiators with a streamlined draft for a global climate agreement.

At just under 30 pages, it is more concise than an earlier version containing more than 40.

Taking the floor on behalf of India, a negotiator acknowledged that the draft was "a good starting point for the final push."

Frankreich Cop21 Klimagipfel in Paris - Laurent Fabius

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius presented a modified draft climate agreement on Wednesday

'Ingredients for agreement are there'

"The new draft is clearer, but there are still different options on all the big issues," said Lutz Weischer of NGO Germanwatch.

"I think it is positive that all the ingredients needed for an ambitious agreement are still there. It is simply a question of how the puzzle is put together."

For his part, foreign minister Fabius noted there had been progress, but that work was needed on several major issues.

"The aim is to come back [on Thursday] afternoon with a new version of the text that is as close as possible to a final agreement," Fabius said.

'Lack of differentiation'

But while observers and negotiators alike found praise for the draft, consensus on crucial issues remains elusive.

Speaking on behalf of a group of all developing nations, South Africa criticized "a lack of differentiation in the text."

Differentiation is short-hand for applying different rules to industrialized and developing nations.

It is a principle embedded in the UN climate change convention – one that industrialized countries are eager to overcome, and developing nations just as keen to preserve.

Watch video 01:16

Historical breakthrough in Paris?

Overcoming old divides

When it comes to the question of which countries are supposed to financially support developing countries in making investments in technologies for renewable energies, and in adapting to the impacts of climate change, industrialized countries have demanded that the circle of donors become larger.

"They have never said it should be mandatory for any non-developed countries to make contributions," Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists told DW.

"But they are trying to make a moral argument that countries like Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Qatar whose gross national product per person is in some cases greater than that of many developed nations should also contribute to helping vulnerable developing countries."

Who reports what emissions - and how?

The question of whether the agreement can bridge the deep divide between developed and developing nations appears in another issue as well, namely the rules governing the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

Frankreich Cop21 Klimagipfel in Paris - Protest Greenpeace

Scientists have warned of catastrophic consequences if global warming isn't limited

"Right now, there are separate reporting regimes for developed and developing countries," said Alden Meyer. "The regimes for developed countries are much more rigorous in terms of frequency and detail, and even major developing countries like China don't have to report as frequently and in as much detail as industrialized nations."

"So the goal is to try to have all the major countries up to the level the developed countries are on now by the middle of the next decade."

On track to limiting global warming?

Another sticking point is the question of when countries should first review their emissions and put forth new pledges to reduce them.

A first in the history of climate conferences, more than 170 parties had submitted voluntary pledges to reduce emissions in the run-up to the Paris conference.

But even if all pledges were implemented unconditionally, the rise in global emissions would likely cause global temperatures to rise by three degrees by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Scientists warn that such a temperature rise would have catatstrophic effects.

Frankreich Cop21 Klimagipfel in Paris - Rede Laurent Fabius

Negotiators have until Friday to conclude a pact to prevent Earth's climate from becoming inhospitable

Coalition of countries pushing for early assessment

The EU and the US have therefore pushed for a global assessment of emissions even before 2020 so that pledges can be adjusted.

"We need clear cycles for countries to communicate their targets, and we need that to start early," said US-chief negotiator Todd Stern.

To this end, the US aligned with the EU, Mexico, Colombia, the Marshall Islands and with African nations in a grouping called "high ambition coalition."

"The question is whether there will be a moment before 2020 when everybody sits down together to review their climate pledges," said Lutz Weischer. "If the pledges that are on the table now are set in stone until 2030, then limiting global warming to two degrees, or even 1.5 degrees, will really become an illusion."

Praise for French presidency

Despite all these stumbling blocks to an agreement, countries' reactions to the new text were on the whole rather constructive, with almost everybody praising Fabius for how he has led negotiations so far.

Saudi Arabia, notorious for blocking progress, lauded the draft saying they would "engage on this."

More than two hours after Fabius had reconvened negotiators to hear their comments on the new draft, he ended the plenary session with an urgent request to negotiators embarking on all-night negotiations in smaller groups.

"Please don't reopen compromises that have already been found," Fabius said.

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