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Slow progress at climate summit

World leaders kicked off the Paris climate conference with lofty speeches. But four days into the event, negotiations are hardly moving forward. An agreement looks very unlikely, Andrea Rönsberg reports from Paris.

"There is an enormous gap between the visionary statements delivered by heads of state and government on Monday, and the sluggish progress of negotiations," says Christoph Bals of NGO Germanwatch.

"If we continue at this rate, there will be no agreement at the end of the conference."

The goal of the Paris climate conference is to conclude a universal agreement aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Veteran observer Bals is not alone in his critical assessment of progress in Paris.

"This conference is progressing as slowly as per usual at any climate conference," says Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. "But this is not just any climate conference."

Fervent appeals a distant echo

Kicking off the conference on Monday,

world leaders from French president Francois Hollande to US president Barack Obama and Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel

had all stressed the need for an agreement to be negotiated in Paris.

"Let's rise to the moment," Barack Obama had said.

And French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, presiding over the event, had mandated that "progress must be made every day."

Divisive issues remain

But on day four of the conference, negotiators and observers alike seem disappointed. There have been no significant steps to resolve the major stumbling blocks to an agreement.

Questions like what the long-term goal of the agreement should be, what forms a review mechanism could take to ensure countries make good on and even increase their pledges to reduce emissions in certain time periods, how industrialized countries plan to support developing nations financially in their efforts to choose low-carbon growth, all remain as divisive and unresolved as ever.

"There are some countries, like Saudi Arabia, that block things systematically," says Bals. "In other cases, like that of India, it has become apparent that countries cannot budge from their positions without others budging from theirs at the same time."

A new draft of the agreement, however, released on Thursday morning, is only slightly more concise than a prior version.

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"We still have very divergent options in this version of the text," says Tasneem Essop, WWF's head of delegation at the conference. "But it is good to see that despite some fears, the text has not ballooned further with lots of new insertions."

France attempting to streamline negotiations

In light of the sluggish progess, the French presidency has taken first steps to make the negotiation process more effective.

But for Christoph Bals, that is not enough. He says bilateral, high-level talks have to be held among parties in Paris.

"We need the heads of state and government to involve themselves in the background," says Bals. "Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, will have to start making some calls."

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