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Paris Climate Talks: Only Four More Days for a Plan to Save the World

The draft agreement reached over the weekend still contains 900 statements in "square brackets" – flagging up all the statements that have not yet been unanimously approved.
Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA

Government ministers arrived in Paris for the climate summit today as negotiations entered their second week. Speaking Monday morning at the summit site in Le Bourget, French Foreign Affairs Minister and COP 21 President Laurent Fabius warned of the need for a universal agreement, and described the second half of the summit as "a week of hope."

Monday marked the opening of the "ministerial segment" of the conference, in which environment, trade and foreign affairs ministers from the 195 participating nations will review the initiatives outlined in the draft text that was approved this weekend.

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On Saturday, negotiators signed off on 43-page draft, which is published in full on the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website.

"The draft agreement we are working from today is a bit shorter than the text we had last Monday, at the start of the COP. It contains fewer options. The solutions are more clearly defined," said Fabius.

"The preliminary work undertaken by the negotiators is quite strong, and hasn't jeopardized the chances of reaching an agreement," explained Carole Mathieu, a researcher at the Energy Center of the French Institute for International Relations – an independent research institution based in Paris.

Related: Why the Paris Climate Summit Is a Really Big Deal

The draft agreement handed to Fabius over the weekend still contains 900 statements in "square brackets" – flagging up all the statements that have not yet been unanimously approved.

Despite the lack of consensus on some issues, Mathieu noted significant progress in three areas. Countries are closer to agreeing to "a five-year review process" to revise targets and update the agreement accordingly, she said. Officials are also edging closer to a shared long-term goal for emissions reductions and to pinning down the financial implications of climate initiatives.

Mathieu did, however, note that there was still some way to go when it came to agreeing on climate finance. For example, paragraph 10 of article 6 of the draft agreement suggests that, [The mobilization of climate finance [shall][should][other] be scaled up [in a predictable and transparent manner] [beyond previous efforts] [from USD 100 billion per year] from 2020 […]."

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Aside from the "scaling up" of financial aid "from 2020," most of the proposition is still up for debate – down to the tense of the verb. Paragraph 10 also sets out three options, one of which doesn't even mention the $100 billion annual fund pledged by rich countries to help developing nations adapt to climate change. Developing nations have made it clear that their adoption of the agreement will be conditional on this aid.

The clock is ticking for ministers, who have only four days to iron out their differences and agree on the bracketed text before Friday's vote. In order to be binding, the agreement must be passed by unanimous consent.

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While the vote is set for Friday, the text of the agreement still needs to be approved by legislators and translated into the six official languages of the UN. "Because of the procedural constraints you are familiar with, we have to be finished by Thursday," Fabius told ministers. "We should aim to have a first version of the final agreement ready on Wednesday."

According to Mathieu, the gathered ministers – also known as "facilitators" – will be discussing two parallel issues for the remainder of the conference – how to mitigate the effects of global warming and how to pay for this. "Without financial assurances, the countries we have asked to commit to this agenda won't, hence the need to address both issues simultaneously," Mathieu told VICE News.

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In order to speed up the negotiating, COP President Fabius has introduced four working groups, which will each be focused on one of four substantive issues – financial and capacity-building support, differentiated responsibility [i.e. which countries are most responsible for causing and tackling climate change], long-term goals and periodic review of the deal, and pre-2020 climate action.

The facilitators within these working groups have been tasked with meeting members of the international delegations for "informal consultations," to court their opinion and advice on these issues.

Among the "facilitators" are the foreign affairs ministers of Gabon and Singapore, and the environment ministers of Brazil, Bolivia and Sweden.

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Every night at 7pm, the various working groups will come together to present the outcome of these consultations at a single roundtable, which Fabius has named the Paris Committee. The debates will be streamed on the summit's website.

"Judging by the draft, the deal that will be signed will largely be a procedural agreement," said Mathieu. In other words, the agreement will not be sufficient to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, but will be a vital prerequisite for reaching that goal in the future.

"There is disagreement on all points, but there is no one country blocking negotiations," said the researcher. "Furthermore, none of the world's largest emitters want to be responsible for failure or even partial failure."

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray

Watch VICE News' On the Line: Robert S. Eshelman Discusses Climate Change: