As global climate talks enter the final week, a number of issues are still up in the air - and could elude consensus until the final hours of negotiations that are to close December 11.
FINANCE: Funding from rich countries to help developing nations reduce emissions and adapt to increasing temperatures remains a top point of contention.
Developed countries have already informally pledged to provide 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, but in recent days have suggested that developing countries must also start providing finance. The suggestion is "holding negotiations on finance hostage," says Celim Charveriat of Oxfam. "It's brinksmanship to have this at the centre of talks in Paris - it's the wrong time."
Africa alone is expected to need 800 billion dollars a year by 2050 to adapt to rising temperatures. Egypt's environment minister, Khaled Fahmy, who represented the African continent's environmental efforts, said that as one of the most vulnerable areas of the world, Africa "cannot be expected to divert our resources away from development or to be excluded as a bloc from receiving climate finance."
AMBITION: The key element of the agreement will likely be aimed at limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial norms. Island nations that face rising sea levels due to ice melt want a 1.5-degree goal, and it will be "represented" in the final text. But even some in the scientific community say a 1.5-degree goal is needed to prevent increasingly worse weather catastrophes.
Saudi Arabia, whose livelihood depends on fossil fuels, objects to inclusion of the lower goal. Even with voluntary commitments by 186 countries covering most of global emissions, reductions would only keep warming to 2.7 degrees at best, the UN climate organization says, while UN Environmental Programme projects increases of 3 to 3.5 degrees even with reductions.
PERIODIC REVIEW: Most of the 195 countries at the talks agree there must be a five-year review of declared ambitions, which will likely be part of the final agreement.
But representatives of civic groups such as Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace say that's not enough. They want a commitment in the Paris agreement that the ambitions will also be scaled up for even more severe cuts after the periodic reviews.
Kaiser said the European Union has been particularly stubborn on this issue. "The EU is just hiding that they have locked in low ambition for the next 15 years and they don't want to touch targets until 2030."
Experts close to the talks say that both the United States and island nations support escalating targets for reducing emissions, and that Brazil - as one of the 14 mediators in the final round of negotiations - may have a bridging proposal that will keep both sides happy. "Brazil might help to define the middle ground," said Mohammed Adow of the Christian Aid organization.
LONG-TERM GOAL: Still up in the air is whether the agreement will send a signal about the overall pace of emission reductions. The alternatives under discussion include total decarbonization by 2100 or carbon neutrality by 2060-2080. But Kaiser of Greenpeace says that only total decarbonization by 2050 will prevent catastrophe: "The signal that needs to come from Paris is that the era of fossil fuels is coming to an end."
LOSS AND DAMAGE: The demand by developing countries, particularly island nations, that the agreement commit to loss and damage payments by developed countries is still somewhat key, but appears to no longer be driving disagreement. The United States has put forward an insurance programme, but opposes any legal commitments in the final agreement on the issue.
By Pat Reber
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