By Megan Rowling
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ministers working towards a new U.N. deal to tackle climate change, due in December, need a negotiating text that is shorter and more manageable than the current draft, the Marshall Islands' foreign minister said after informal talks in Paris.
"It should be something that people can understand, be able to work with and negotiate from," chief diplomat Tony de Brum told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from France.
The current version of the draft text is a bewildering 85-page list of options, incorporating the demands of the nearly 200 nations participating in the process.
At the last round of formal U.N. talks in June, negotiators slimmed the document down by only a few pages and tasked the co-chairs with preparing a new version, to be published on Friday.
This unofficial document is expected to streamline the text, and may provide more structure aimed at sorting the elements of the draft into a potential core legal agreement and an accompanying set of decisions.
The message from this week's two-day gathering in Paris of around 40 countries' delegations, including 26 with ministers, and an earlier meeting of the world's major economies was that the negotiating text should be short - around 40 pages - and ambitious, de Brum said.
"The ministers should have something that they feel comfortable moving forward with," he added.
The co-chairs will find it hard to chop the text by half, as they have no mandate to weed out options.
But they can set them out more clearly, said Liz Gallagher, leader of the climate diplomacy program at London-based consultancy E3G.
"The co-chairs have a very delicate balance to keep - they can't cut large swathes of the text because they don't want to alienate countries, but we do need manageable options for ministers to choose from," she said.
France is undertaking a major diplomatic push to avoid a repeat of the 2009 U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, where leaders were not ready to seal such a complex deal, and were forced to stitch together a voluntary accord at the last minute.
De Brum said the Paris meeting this week had been useful in helping ministers get to know each other and building trust.
They had discussed substantive issues including a long-term goal to curb climate-changing emissions and how to share the burden of doing that fairly, he added.
He noted growing support for a five-year cycle of assessing and strengthening the national emissions reduction pledges that will be part of the Paris agreement, to ensure they are enough to keep global warming to an internationally agreed limit of 2 degrees Celsius.
This week, the Marshall Islands became the first small island developing nation to submit a contribution to the new global climate change agreement, committing to cut economy-wide emissions of greenhouse gases by 32 percent below 2010 levels by 2025.
It also included an indicative target to further reduce emissions to 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030, in line with a longer-term vision of net zero emissions by 2050.
De Brum said it was key that the Paris deal - slated to take effect from 2020 - should include a pathway for countries to ratchet up their emissions-cutting ambition "in short spurts" of five years.
"Small island countries need that confidence ... to accept a treaty that does not have 2 degrees guaranteed anywhere," he said. "It has to be flexible enough to allow for greater ambition, that's what all the component parts must add up to."
E3G's Gallagher said that while general consensus was building on a five-year cycle, there was a lack of agreement over what it should aim to achieve.
Some countries with a 2025 emissions reduction target, including the United States, wanted it to serve as an opportunity to decide fresh goals for the coming five years, while others with 2030 targets such as the European Union would prefer it to be a review, she said.
French President Francois Hollande made it clear this week that offers of emissions cuts so far would not be sufficient.
"With the accord that we could have based on the current state of negotiations and the contributions submitted by governments, we are still above 2 degrees, probably 3 degrees," he told another conference in Paris.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement after the informal ministerial meeting that participants "are committed to finding compromises on the major political issues".
Those include fresh funding to help developing nations adapt to climate change impacts and green their economies, which was not discussed this week in Paris.
"We're all conscious of what is at stake and resolutely geared towards searching for the essential solutions," Fabius added.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Tim Pearce; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)