Nations on cusp of climate pact

Nations on cusp of climate pact
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International negotiators in Paris are on the verge of a major new climate deal, working through their Friday deadline toward a global pact for action to counter climate change.

Officials, including an American delegation, were confident Friday that a sweeping deal was within reach, but it will take working into overtime to make that happen.

“There was a lot of progress made last night, a long night, but still a couple of very difficult issues that we're working on,” Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump: 'Iran is being given very bad advice by John Kerry' Trump removes sanctions waivers on countries buying oil from Iran Buttigieg to fundraise in DC with major Obama, Clinton bundlers next month: report MORE told reporters in Paris on Friday.

Sticking points remain, but the contentious nature of the talks underscore the scope of the questions under consideration: How much should rich countries pay to help poor countries adapt to climate change? Should governments aim to tighten the warming threshold that they consider acceptable?

Republicans in Congress continue to pressure the Obama administration on the climate work, but Democrats and negotiators around the world have mostly dismissed that while waiting for a deal to come together.

Reaching a climate accord this week is a major goal for environmentalists around the word. It’s also a key priority for President Obama, who as made climate change a major priority in his final term in office.

Obama sent a host of top officials to Paris to push the American agenda, including Kerry, UN climate envoy Todd Stern and several Cabinet-level officials. Obama himself visited the conference last week, and he spoke with the leaders of France, Brazil, India and China this week to make progress toward a deal.

Republicans have been hostile to Obama’s approach to Paris and continue to call for congressional review of any deal negotiators might hatch.

They repeated that again this week, saying Congress should have a say in at least the financial commitments Kerry and others have made in Paris. They said, too, that if a deal isn’t strong enough to require Senate ratification, it won’t be effective in stopping climate change.

“Nothing is happening over there now,” Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.) said in a Wednesday floor speech.

“Enjoy your party over there. Nothing is going to happen, nothing binding is going to take place on this issue.”
 
But congressional Democrats were bullish on the progress toward a strong agreement this week.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who had arranged a trip the climate conference before the House schedule blocked it, said she saw a good deal coming together.

“A clear plan, five-year review, and the very important aspect of this conference: transparency, transparency, transparency,” she said. “It is the key to ensuring that it will all work.”

Officials and Paris and some observers there agreed.

Negotiators have released several draft deals over the course of their two weeks in Paris, giving a glimpse into what they hope to agree on.

The core of the pact remains the carbon reduction targets from most world governments — the U.S., for example, has agreed to cut its carbon emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

But officials are building other provisions around those targets, including several that remain unresolved in the closing hours of negotiations.

First is the expansion of funding for countries that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. John Coequyt, the director of climate policy at Sierra Club, said negotiators are likely to earmark billions of dollars in new annual spending on climate mitigation measures in the future.

In a Thursday blog post, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted three remaining issues for finance negotiators: whether countries should increase their spending target of $100 billion annually by 2022, how that would impact developing countries’ carbon reduction work and how to promote climate financing in the private sector.

Greens have pushed negotiators to increased their spending targets, and some are concerned the U.S. and other countries could be weakening financial aspects of the deal by eliminating requirements that developed nations provide funding to vulnerable ones.

“We’re seeing an erosion of aspiration,” Friends of the Earth U.S. president Erich Pica said. Pica’s group put out a statement this week calling for an even bigger financial commitment from the U.S.

Officials are also grappling with transparency issues. The United States and others have said the climate deal should require regular reporting on countries’ progress toward their carbon reduction goals. They also want a stock-taking deadline: a point at which countries assess their work on climate and decide whether to update their goals based on what they’ve already done.

The provisions are a key aspect of the deal since it provides a window into carbon reduction progress, the central tenant of the climate pact.

“My expectation is that in the end, everyone is going to be reporting and everyone is going to be reviewed in their progress,” Coequyt said.

Officials are also considering boosting the overarching goal of international climate change conventions.

Right now, the work is designed to keep the Earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Draft versions of the Paris deal include references to a new goal of 1.5 degrees instead.

The switch wouldn’t require changes to climate plans right away: it wouldn’t force the U.S., for example, to abandon the climate action work Obama had committed to before the conference.

But such an “aspirational goal,” Coequyt said, could force tougher climate decisions down the road.

“It has real ramifications for decisions countries make,” he said. “You can pursue a path that has interim approaches, or you can move straight from coal and natural gas to renewable energy as quickly as possible, and those choices matter for what targets we hit.”