The true measure of the work ahead here in Paris revealed itself at 8 a.m. this morning. After three days of negotiations and closed-door line edits, a new draft agreement was released for public consumption. And while the flaws and shortcomings of this latest incarnation are hyper dependent on whom exactly you are speaking with, one thing is certain; progress towards a real and meaningful deal is actually happening. It is certainly baby stepping along, but it is getting there. Well, maybe.
First and foremost, the draft has managed to both grow and shrink from its pre-conference size. The overall length has been reduced to just 50 pages, and the total word count has been cut by about 8 percent, both metrics providing glimmers of growing consensus among the nearly 200 countries trying to negotiate the deal. The number of “options” in the draft — areas representing more significant issues of discord between parties — has been similarly reduced from a total of 228 just a few days ago to some 205.
Even more demonstrative of inching towards a compromise is that certain big-ticket sections of the document have been successfully hashed out to the point where they no longer have any brackets left to be resolved. (Brackets within the draft treaty’s 26 “articles” signify established points of contention between countries, and all of them must be figured out or stricken before a vote on the agreement can be called for).
The section devoted to detailing how a new climate deal would be implemented around the world had been successfully worked over to the point of zero brackets remaining, while the section dedicated to transparency and how exactly countries will be monitored for their efforts in achieving CO2 reduction mandates — an area that was the primary sticking point six years ago in Copenhagen — has been significantly reduced to the point that even the pessimists think this article will not be a deal breaker this time around. “For a Thursday of the first week, there has been some great progress made,” observed John O. Niles, a veteran of more than a dozen COP climate talks, Director of the Carbon Institute, former UCSB lecturer, and current Board of Directors member for the Tropical Forest Group.
On the less than ideal side of the spectrum is the growing number of brackets present in the overall document. At the conference’s kickoff, that figure was at 1,617. Today it was at 1,718. Folks well versed with this process, however, are quick to point out that an uptick in brackets during week one is to be expected when you consider the myriad of national views seeking to be memorialized in any potential agreement. But still, that increase only works to further complicate an already cartoonishly tedious process that is, in Niles’ description, akin to “trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube as fast as possible with 190-plus other sets of hands on the same cube.”
Easily the most disturbing — and potentially fatal to the process — development here on day four was the late in the afternoon power move by the G-77 plus China group, an affiliation of the 134 less developed and wealthy nations, including India. Coming just shy of a diplomatic version of giving the middle finger, the group collectively accused heavyweight developed nations like the United States — and European powers like Great Britain and Germany — of undercutting the negotiating process, violating conference protocol, and trying to introduce language into the draft agreement that allows them to wiggle out of certain and critical carbon reduction requirements and add conditions to the funding pledges to less fortunate countries. The latter providing a lynchpin element to any possible deal that would help poorer countries’ individual efforts to meet treaty goals and adapt to a changing planet without going bankrupt.
In other words, the U.S. and company are trying to force all nations into one box, when the widespread feeling for days has been that such an effort would be hugely obstructive to a successful deal. Su Wei, the head of China’s delegation, said sternly, “The basic facts do not change. The problem has been caused by developed countries. They need to take their historical responsibility into account and take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas.”
The head of the G-77, South Africa’s Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, added in an official statement, “Any attempt to replace the core obligation of developed countries with a number of arbitrarily identified conditions is a violation of the rules-based multilateral process and threatens an outcome here in Paris…This narrative serves narrow national interests of developed countries and says little about reality.”
Things only got more dramatic from there when, at the end of the day’s open negotiating session on the draft text, the G-77 hastily requested a 20-minute break and then proceeded to walk out for over an hour. That is more than two-thirds of all the countries present choosing to walk away in anger. Upon their return, they requested that all language in the draft about the contested funding issues be pulled from the main draft and be tackled in a separate document going foreword, an added degree of difficulty that only ups the ante of brokering a deal on time.
That is it for today from the front lines of The Paris Project. Tune in tomorrow as the class warfare between the world’s have and have-nots continues to rear its head in our collective effort to save the only home our species has ever known…