UN climate blueprint agreed in Geneva

Mariette Le Roux

Geneva (AFP) - Negotiators in Geneva approved a climate-rescue blueprint on Friday, a symbolic milestone in the fraught UN process that must culminate in a universal pact in December.

Though described as unwieldy and filled with drastically opposing views, the 86-page draft plan for limiting manmade global warming was welcomed by parties and observers alike as a crucial confidence-building step.

But they also pointed to a heavy workload ahead to streamline the text without alienating any party.

"We now have a formal negotiating text, which contains the views and concerns of all countries," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) guiding the process.

"The text was constructed in full transparency. This means that although it has become longer, countries are now fully aware of each other's positions."

Assembled over the past six days, the framework was gavelled through to applause from delegates.

It will guide negotiations in the months leading to the November 30-December 11 UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris.

Ever since the 2009 Copenhagen conference failed to deliver a world agreement, the 195 nations gathered under the UNFCCC have been working on a new project for adoption by the end of this year.

The pact must enter into force by 2020 to further the UN goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Scientists warn that at current greenhouse gas emission trends, Earth is on track for double that, or more -- a recipe for catastrophic droughts, storms, floods and rising sea levels.

"We leave Geneva with a lengthy text to work on in the coming months, but it importantly reflects the views and enjoys support from all parties," said Ahmed Sareer, who represents the Alliance of Small Island States most at risk of climate-change induced sea level rise.

"After years of false starts and broken promises, restoring ownership and trust in the process is no small achievement."

Negotiators emerged from the last COP in Lima last December with a hard-fought framework text that remained hotly contested.

The February 8-13 Geneva talks, a special session added to this year's official UN climate agenda, was tasked with "streamlining" the Lima document.

- 'Huge lump of clay' -

Instead, the meeting's mandate was changed early on to seeking universal endorsement of the text, which more than doubled since Sunday until all countries were satisfied their views were included.

"We now have a huge lump of clay and countries must start to sculpt it into something beautiful which we can be proud of in Paris," said Mohamed Adow, senior climate advisor for Christian Aid.

"The tone of the negotiations here have been very optimistic but that's because we were only putting things in. The real fights will come when we start to take things out."

The Geneva text lists a variety of alternative approaches on most issues -- often reflecting country positions that diametrically oppose one another.

"We would have wished for more advancement" in Geneva, Elina Bardram, head of the EU delegation, told AFP.

"The introduction of missing elements in the text is an achievement, but it does mean that the tough negotiations lie ahead of us and we are running out of time. We need a step change between now and Paris."

At the very core of the pact, countries remain deeply divided on the issue of "differentiation" -- how to share responsibility for emissions cuts between rich and poor nations.

Developing countries also want their developed counterparts to commit to long-term climate financing, and compensation for climate change-induced losses and damages suffered.

"Traditional fault lines have not yet been breached," said green group WWF's head of delegation Tasneem Essop.

And Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said the crunch issues must be tackled by ministers in the coming months so as to give negotiators political guidance.

"When you get into that end-game process toward the end of the year it is essential that there only be a handful of remaining political issues to be resolved."

The meeting's co-chairman Daniel Reifsnyder announced that two text-streamlining meetings will be held in Bonn this year in addition to the traditional June session: one from August 31 to September 4, and the other from October 19-23.

Climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana of France, which will take over the presidency of the talks in November, added there would be several informal discussions throughout the year to find common ground.

"We don't want any nasty surprises in Paris, so we have a lot of work to do," she told AFP.