Frustration, and maybe progress, as Paris climate talks near

With a global climate conference only months away, preparatory talks have been moving at a 'snail's pace.' But talks this week may have yielded progress.

Andy Wong/AP/File
A passenger airliner flies past a coal-fired power plant in Beijing, China, Nov. 13, 2014. UN climate talks are plodding ahead toward a worldwide deal to fight global warming, with negotiators agreeing to start work on a draft agreement. A weeklong session in Bonn finished Friday, with the two officials leading the talks getting the green light to turn a sprawling negotiating text into a coherent draft by the next round of talks in October.

With an international summit on climate change in Paris only a few months away, the talks-before-the-talks are gaining increasing importance as negotiators struggle to refine language and craft a coherent agreement that the world’s nations can all agree to sign at the December conference.

The Paris meeting runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, and negotiators just finished a week of talks in Bonn, Germany. The two lead negotiators in Bonn were given the green light to present a streamlined version of the 83-page draft agreement in October.

There is only one more negotiation session before the Paris conference: a four-day meeting, also in Bonn, starting on Oct. 19.

There are also signs that negotiators may have made progress on the thorny issue of loss and damage resulting from extreme weather events. The issue has long divided rich and poor nations, with poor nations demanding compensation for extreme weather events they link to the effects of climate change – like typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013, causing over $5.8 billion in damage, The Guardian reported – and rich countries fearing the such an agreement could saddle them with endless liabilities running into the billions of dollars. 

In the wake of typhoon Haiyan, the World Bank – citing multiple reports – noted that weather-related losses and damage have risen from an annual average of around $50 billion in the 1980s to almost $200 million over the last decade.

“Weather-related disasters are most crippling for smaller and lower-income countries that are least able to cope,” the World Bank wrote. 

The United States has now agreed to discuss extending and making permanent an agreement forged at climate negotiations in Poland in 2013.

Julie-Anne Richards, manager of International Policy for the Australia-based Climate Justice Programme, told the BBC that the Bonn talks have resulted in some “positive moves,” including the progress on loss and compensation.

“I think [they] give us hope that loss and damage [negotiations] can be successfully concluded and we can agree a successful climate agreement in Paris,” she added.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the BBC that he thinks there’s enough time left to have a deal ready for the start of the Paris conference.

“This is their shot to get it right,” he added. 

But many sticking points remain – including nation-specific plans to limit carbon emissions after 2020, and a timeline for a global phase-out of fossil fuels – and others are concerned that negotiators will arrive in Paris with lots of work left to do—and less than two weeks to do it in. With a group of protesters standing outside the Bonn negotiations singing “It’s the final countdown,” negotiators voiced frustration with the process in the media.

Perhaps the most prominent was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who has recently criticized the negotiations as moving at a “snail’s pace.”

The Algerian negotiator co-chairing the Bonn meetings, Ahmed Djoghlaf, fired back at the United Nations chief. From his office on the 38th floor of the UN building in New York, he said, “you don’t see what is going on in the basement.”

“We are making progress,” he told a news conference. “We will be on time in Paris.”

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, also said negotiators are “on track” to have a global agreement concluded in Paris this year.

“Of course we are all impatient, of course we are all frustrated,” she told a news conference. “We all would want to see this baby born.” 

This report used information from Reuters.

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