Climate Talks Nearing Consensus in Behind-the-Scenes Meetings

Publicly, the United Nations climate-change talks look mired in disputes over everything from money to the length of the proposed agreement.

Behind the scenes, a deal may be closer than it seems, according to a report today from two veteran negotiators who’ve organized a series of unofficial meetings among key countries.

With almost five months to go before a critical Paris meeting, nations are coalescing around a deal that would commit every country to restricting greenhouse gases but bind none to specific targets. While that may seem a tepid effort, given scientists’ warnings of catastrophic climate change, it’s still an improvement over the last big meeting, when talks in Copenhagen in 2009 ended without an expected global deal, and with finger-pointing among the U.S., China and other big polluters.

“There will not be a Big Bang in Paris, but hopefully there will be a big step in the right direction,” said Harald Dovland, a former Norwegian environment minister who co-chaired some of the unofficial meetings.

Dovland, who also participated in past UN climate talks, along with former South African environment minister Valli Moosa, led almost 100 hours of “informal discussions” over the past 16 months with officials from the U.S., China, the European Union, Brazil and other countries. The sessions were organized by the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, an Arlington, Virginia-based advocacy group.

‘Snail’s Pace’

The process left them optimistic about the chances of reaching a global deal this year, even as the UN’s public negotiating sessions have bogged down over issues including how much funding rich nations will provide to poorer states to deal with climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month bemoaned the “snail’s pace” of the talks.

While much remains to be hashed out, “I believe governments are more serious than ever about tackling this issue,” Moosa said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “We have the makings of a good deal in Paris.”

A “hybrid” structure, in which nations would be legally bound to make some climate pledge but free to decide the specific steps they must take, has helped bridge divides between developed and developing countries, Moosa said. While that leaves it to individual nations to follow through on their promises, it bows to political realities in places like the U.S., where legally binding cuts would face a tough sell in Congress.

“The biggest consideration here has been what is it that will make countries put forward ambitious plans,” Moosa said. “It’s very clear to everybody that the tighter the legal requirements, the less ambitious will be the plans.”

Copyright 2015 Bloomberg

Lead image: International flags. Credit: Shutterstock.

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