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World & Nation

Climate negotiators have a plan, but it leaves major issues unresolved

Climate change conference

French President Francois Hollande, right, attends a meeting at the world climate change conference in Le Bourget, on the northern edge of Paris, on Saturday.

(Philippe Wojazer / Pool Photo)

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries on Saturday adopted a draft text that left many issues unresolved before high-level talks in the coming week aimed at reaching a global agreement to fight climate change.

The document approved minutes before a noon deadline was full of disputed language and competing options that will have to be disentangled when foreign and environmental ministers start their meetings Monday at Le Bourget, on the northern edge of Paris.

After years of talks, many negotiators had hoped to accomplish more in the first week of the United Nations conference that is scheduled to wrap up Friday.

“Major political issues must still be resolved,” French envoy Laurence Tubiana said at Saturday’s meeting. “It will take all our energy, intelligence, ability to compromise, ability to take a long-term view, to reach a result.”

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But negotiators said there was still time to strike an ambitious deal to slow rising global temperatures by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s certainly not the agreement we’re looking for in any number of ways,” Todd Stern, the lead U.S. negotiator, told reporters Friday as diplomats worked through the night to finalize the draft. But, he said, “I have high hopes it’s an agreement we will like in the end.”

China’s lead delegate, Su Wei, said the document provided a solid foundation for the week ahead.

In a bid to give momentum to this year’s negotiations, heads of state and government were invited to take part during the first days rather than at the end. Six years ago, that proved too late to salvage a binding deal.

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Leaders representing countries that account for more than 95% of global emissions arrived at the conference with proposals to reduce their output. But the plans fell short of a U.N. target of limiting temperature increases this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the threshold at which scientists believe most of the worst effects of climate change could be avoided.

Closing the gap is proving difficult.

Some developing countries that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions want to phase out the use of oil, coal and gas as energy sources, for example. But countries whose economies depend on fossil fuels are pressing for a more modest goal of a “low emissions transformation.”

Even the target of 2 degrees Celsius is being debated. Negotiators from island nations threatened by rising sea levels say anything less than a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius will spell the end of their countries, but they are meeting stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia, among others.

Many of the proposals currently on the table will depend on financial support for developing nations, but who pays and how much they pay remain sources of contention.

Wealthier nations, including the U.S., would like less industrialized countries to contribute to the extent they can.

Some have already committed funds to helping poorer counterparts cope with the effects of climate change and transition of their economies to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. But they argue the onus is on those that got rich using fossil fuels to shoulder the burden.

“That’s what makes sure the developing countries

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do not make the same mistakes which the developed countries committed,” said Susheel Kumar, the lead Indian negotiator. “I think that can be understood very easily.”

Another issue that will need to be resolved is how to verify whether countries are living up to their commitments.

Some developing nations — including India and China, two of the world’s biggest polluters — don’t want to be subjected to as rigorous reporting measures as wealthier countries.

That issue could be addressed by phasing in stricter requirements or providing financial support to developing countries to help them monitor emissions, said Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy at the Nature Conservancy, a U.S. environmental group.

“This is always a very difficult point in the negotiations,” said Marsh, who worked on climate issues for the U.S. State Department from 1997 to 2001. “This is when everyone is digging in their heels.”

Activists agree, however, that the atmosphere at the talks remains constructive — which was not the case in Denmark in 2009.

“At this point in Copenhagen, we were dealing with a 300-page text and a pervasive sense of despair,” said Martin Kaiser, international climate negotiations head at Greenpeace. “But that doesn’t guarantee a decent deal. Right now, the oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry will be plotting how to crash these talks when ministers arrive next week.”

Times staff writers Zavis reported from Paris and Megerian from Le Bourget.

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