Nations overcome last-minute divisions to forge climate deal

Our Foreign Staff

Nearly 200 countries overcame political divisions late on Saturday to agree rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, but critics say it is not ambitious enough to prevent the dangerous effects of global warming.

Eleventh hour disagreements over carbon markets almost derailed negotiations and delayed a final agreement by a day.

In the end it took two weeks of talks in the Polish city of Katowice to turn the aim of the Paris accord - limiting global temperature rises to well below 2C - into a more detailed framework.

"It is not easy to find agreement on a deal so specific and technical. Through this package you have made a thousand little steps forward together. You can feel proud," Michal Kurtyka, the Polish president of the talks told delegates.

After he struck the gavel to signal agreement, ministers joined him on the stage, hugging and laughing in signs of relief after the marathon talks.

Michal Kurtyka, who led climate talks in Katowice, Poland, shows his relief as an agreement is reached after marathon negotiations - Credit: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
Michal Kurtyka, who led climate talks in Katowice, Poland, shows his relief as an agreement is reached after marathon negotiations Credit: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Even before negotiators convened, many expected the deal would not be as robust as needed. President Donald Trump has already announced his intention to pull his country - one of the world's biggest emitters - out of the pact.

At the 11th hour, ministers managed to break a deadlock between Brazil and other countries over the accounting rules for the monitoring of carbon credits, deferring the bulk of that discussion to next year, but missing an opportunity to send a signal to businesses to speed up their actions.

Still, exhausted ministers managed to bridge a series of divides to produce a 156-page rulebook - which is broken down into themes such as how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions and update their emissions plans.

It allows flexibility for poorer nations, which claim they suffer greater impacts of rising temperatures triggered by more developed countries.

But richer nations have long rejected the idea of being legally liable for climate change.

As a result, several ministers conceded there was more work to be done but held out the framework as important progress.

"While some rulebook elements still need to be fleshed out, it is a foundation for strengthening the Paris Agreement and could help facilitate US re-entry into the Paris Agreement by a future presidential administration," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Some countries and green groups criticised the outcome for failing to urge increased ambitions on emissions cuts sufficiently to curb rising temperatures. Poorer nations vulnerable to climate change also wanted more clarity on how an already agreed $100 billion a year of climate finance by 2020 will be provided and on efforts to build on that amount further from the end of the decade.

A statement by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, who left the talks on Thursday, stressed the need for more work.

"From now on, my five priorities will be: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition," it said.

"And ambition must guide all member states as they prepare their (emissions cut plans) for 2020 to reverse the present trend in which climate change is still running faster than us."

A UN-commissioned report by the IPCC in October warned that keeping the Earth's temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C would need "unprecedented changes" in every aspect of society.

Last week, Saudi Arabia, the Unites States, Russia and Kuwait refused to use the word "welcome" in association with the findings of the report.

The decision text now merely expresses gratitude for the work on the report, welcomes its timely completion and invites parties to use the information in it.