Last-ditch UN climate talks head into second night

Mariëtte Le Roux, Joshua Melvin
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Paul Watson (L) of the Sea Shepherd conservation group, Kayapo chief Raoni Metuktire (C) of Brazil, and Gert-Peter Bruch of Amazon Planet (R) help drive discussion on December 10, 2015 at the COP21 climate summit in Paris

Paul Watson (L) of the Sea Shepherd conservation group, Kayapo chief Raoni Metuktire (C) of Brazil, and Gert-Peter Bruch of Amazon Planet (R) help drive discussion on December 10, 2015 at the COP21 climate summit in Paris (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina)

Le Bourget (France) (AFP) - Sleep-deprived ministers tasked with saving mankind from a climate catastrophe headed into a second night of non-stop talks Thursday, battling to overcome a rich-poor divide in search of a historic accord.

Eleven days of UN talks in Paris have failed to achieve agreement on key pillars of the planned post-2020 climate pact, aimed at sparing future generations from worsening drought, flood, storms and rising seas.

After all-night negotiations failed to mend the rifts that have endured for more than two decades, French President Francois Hollande stepped in on Thursday morning, seeking to inject a sense of urgency.

"It is important in this last phase that we remind the negotiators why they are here," Hollande said.

"They are not there simply in the name of their countries... they are there to sort out the issue of the future of the planet."

The Paris accord would rally 195 nations in a quest to roll back emissions of fossil fuels -- which warm the Earth's surface and affect its delicate climate system -- and channel billions of dollars in aid to vulnerable countries.

- Delays -

In a sign of the difficulty and complexity of the talks in Le Bourget on the northern outskirts of Paris, carefully-crafted timetables began to slip Thursday, with the release of a planned new draft delayed twice and by a total of six hours.

French Foreign Minister and conference host Laurent Fabius said he was still aiming to forge the historic deal by Friday's scheduled close.

"I hope, I hope that tomorrow we will have finished," Fabius said.

But others were less sure, with senior Chinese climate envoy Li Junfeng telling reporters he thought a Saturday finish was the best-case scenario.

A second night of negotiations were scheduled for Thursday to debate the planned new text, although this had still yet to be released by dinner time.

As part of a carefully coordinated US diplomatic push for a deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Thursday with Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, a key player in Paris because his country has huge coal resources that it wants to burn to power its economic development.

"We want future generations to get a right and good deal from Paris," Javadekar said after talking with Kerry.

On the sidelines, a host of nations from all sides of the disputes continued to voice entrenched positions.

Still, delegates said that the mood was still positive, and the finger-pointing and back-biting of past climate talks were so far absent.

- Faultlines -

Developing nations insist the United States and other established economic powerhouses must shoulder the lion's share of responsibility as they have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.

Rich nations say emerging giants must also do more, arguing that developing countries now account for most of today's emissions and thus will stoke future warming.

One of the battlegrounds is what cap on global warming to enshrine in the accord, set to take effect in 2020.

Many nations most vulnerable to climate change want to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

However several big polluters, such as China and India, prefer a ceiling of 2C, which would allow them to burn fossil fuels for a while longer.

There was growing confidence within the vulnerable-nation bloc that they would win their high-profile campaign, and secure a reference to the 1.5C target in the key "purpose" section of the planned accord.

This was partly due to the emergence of an informal new lobby group that emerged this week in Paris dubbed the "High Ambition Coalition" that included the United States, the European Union and many vulnerable nations.

The group does not negotiate as a bloc, but has been seen to have had influence in the talks by heavily promoting "ambitious" benchmarks in the planned accord, such as a 1.5C reference.

- Deal-busters -

One of the biggest potential deal-busters remaining is over money.

Rich countries promised six years ago in Copenhagen to muster $100 billion (92 billion euros) a year from 2020 to help developing nations make the costly shift to clean energy, and to cope with the impact of global warming.

But how the pledged funds will be raised still remains unclear -- and developing countries are pushing for a promise to ramp up the aid in future.

Another flashpoint issue is how to compensate developing nations that will be worst hit by climate change yet are least to blame for it, as they have emitted the least greenhouse gas.

Most nations submitted to the UN before Paris their voluntary plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020, a process that was widely hailed as an important platform for success.

But scientists say that, even if the cuts were fulfilled, they would still put Earth on track for warming of at least 2.7C.

Negotiators remain divided in Paris over when and how often to review national plans so that they can be "scaled up" with pledges for deeper emissions cuts.