Negotiators in Paris planned to work into the weekend to conclude an historic climate agreement after receiving a draft text late Thursday that pledged an effort to hold global warming to 1.5-degrees and provide massive aid to developing countries to cope with climate change.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is acting as party whip at the conference, said the negotiators from 195 countries were closing in on a deal, but warned that key differences had to be resolved, including questions of ambition, financing and differentiation between the obligations of developed and developing nations.

Mr. Fabius presided over a tough overnight session that ended around 5 a.m. Friday Paris time, as key items in the draft were revisited. He told parties he would continue closed-door negotiations through the day Friday and deliver a new text at mid-day Saturday, when he hoped to conclude the deal.

The French foreign minister urged the negotiators not to let their national priorities get in the way of a deal that would benefit the entire world. “Compromise does require us to forget the ideal solution,” he said. “It’s time to come to an agreement.”

The Canadian negotiating team, led by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, was one of the early promoters of the 1.5-degree ambition. The draft text also included provisions that would require countries to respect human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, causes championed by Canada.

The initial view of many scientist and environmental groups was that the draft text eliminated enough obstacles to make an agreement likely, but that hard slogging remained to conclude a deal. Chinese media reported that President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama late Thursday, and the two leaders agreed to push for a successful conclusion of the talks.

“All countries have to be ready to do the maximum they can to get a truly ambitious and fair agreement in Paris,” Jennifer Morgan, global director for climate at Washington-based World Resources Institute, said Friday. “This is a gut-check moment. Negotiators must be ready to go further than ever before to enter into a new form of international co-operation.”

The draft agreement commits developed nations to “take the lead” in providing massive aid to developing countries to confront climate change, but adds that all parties to the agree share that responsibility.

One of the big wins was the new wording around the temperature goal, said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists of the United States. It pledges to hold global temperature increases to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C.

“To meet that aim, countries will have to eliminate the emission of greenhouse gas in the second half of the century,” said Mr. Meyer. “So this is a very powerful signal to the financial sector, to the business community that the age of fossil fuels is drawing to a close, the dawning of the age of renewables is upon us.”

Michael Jacobs, senior advisor of the New Climate Economy, a group led by former Mexican president Felipe Calderón that promotes the economic benefits of a low-carbon economy, said negotiations bogged down overnight but that he was “reasonably confident” of a deal over the weekend.

“There’s still a lot of negotiating to do,” he said. “You cannot get an agreement by leaning one way or another. You’ve got to give everyone something to go home with.”

While divisions remain on the issues of financing climate change mitigation and adaptation in the developing world, and transparency – the monitoring and reporting of emissions – Mr. Jacobs and other observers in Paris said the Thursday night text revealed that several key issues had been overcome.

They include the goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5 C, the five-year reviews of national carbon-reduction commitments and the pledge to reach “carbon neutrality” after 2050. “The package as a whole is a package to transition to a low-carbon economy,” said Edward Cameron, managing director of development and research at BSR, a New York consultancy that helps business adapt to sustainable development.

Oxfam and other charities noted that there is no provision for funding for climate change adaptation before 2020. Environmental groups also condemned the lack of a clear target for the elimination of fossil fuels and achievement by developed countries of a carbon neutral economy.

Some 180 countries have submitted to the United Nations plans to reduce and limit greenhouse gas emissions in their so-called nationally determined contributions. But those commitments fall short of the longstanding pledge to keep average global temperatures from rising less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, let alone the new goal of 1.5 C.

Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurers – the companies that insure other insurers – is skeptical about the inclusion about a 1.5 C goal. “We cannot expect an agreement which will ensure that we stay below two degrees,” said Peter Hoeppe, head of Munich Re geo risks and corporate climate centre, which has been tracking natural disasters and climate change since the 1970s.

Climate change scientists generally agree that average global warming of over 2 C over pre-industrial levels risks catastrophic climate change. Already atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, are at 400 parts per million, the highest level in several hundred thousand years. Already, global average temperatures are 1 C over pre-industrial levels.

But Mr. Hoeppe is not ready to declare the Paris summit a failure, even though he thinks any agreement struck this weekend will not stop temperatures from rising. “You have to start somewhere,” he said. “Paris is not the end. There will be some kind of agreement in Paris that, after five years, in 2020, there will be a revision of the national target, perhaps stricter targets, then perhaps we will get closer and closer to the 2 degrees.”

Paris — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Dec. 11, 2015 5:28AM EST
Last updated Friday, Dec. 11, 2015 5:32AM EST