As the clock ticked away, all the main actors at the climate talks here exited the stage on Thursday and moved backstage to strike last-minute compromises to reach the global agreement they had promised they would deliver in Paris.
With just one day to go for the scheduled finish of the two-week conference, that agreement seemed only slightly nearer to where it was when the conference began. None of the big issues had been resolved, and countries showed little flexibility in their public positions on these issues.
Late on Thursday evening, the conference centre, located at an old airport in Le Bourget in Paris, was still waiting with anticipation for a new draft agreement that was supposed to emerge following the backstage discussions throughout the day. The situation brought back memories of many previous conferences which had remained similarly deadlocked on key issues. But unlike Paris, those were not aiming for a full climate agreement.
“More than 150 leaders came here and promised an agreement. It would be deeply humiliating for them if the talks break down now. But my sense is that it will not. It is still possible to get an agreement in which all parties have at least some of the things that they want,” said Michael Jacobs, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.
The countries expressed optimism as they were engaged in hectic bilateral and multilateral meetings to look for convergence points. For the second time in less than 48 hours, US Secretary of State John Kerry had a meeting with India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.
Javadekar said during the one-hour meeting, all the key unresolved issues — ‘differentiation’ between developed and developing countries, provision of finance and technology, and nature of a review mechanism for climate actions — came up for discussion. He claimed that the two countries had discovered “new” convergence points.
“The meeting was productive and was aimed at finding solutions. Our negotiating teams are jointly working on languages. We are hopeful that more convergence points would emerge,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, Javadekar also had a meeting with France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is presiding over the conference. “We are engaging with all important countries. We are very hopeful that we will come out with an agreement on time,” said Javadekar.
Fabius had on Wednesday night arranged for two groups of consultations, one chaired by him to facilitate compromises on the most contentious issues of ‘differentiation’, finance and technology transfer, and raising the scale of climate actions. But a breakthrough on these issues remained elusive.
The other group, chaired by Manuel Pulgar Vidal, the Peruvian minister who presided over the previous climate conference in Lima, discussed issues related to loss and damage and the broader goals that need to be included in the preamble of the agreement. The results of this discussion will be reflected in the next version of the draft text.
France has been insisting that the conference must finish at its scheduled time on Friday evening. Negotiators were headed for another all-night show, just like the previous day when negotiations finished at around 4 am.
“Negotiations in the past have usually got bogged down in the final stretch, but the stakes are too high here. At this critical summit, the negotiations must be exceptional. Ten days ago, leaders came to Paris calling for a strong climate agreement. Now, those leaders need to start picking up the phone and work together to turn those words into action,” said Jennifer Morgan, global director of Climate Program at the World Resources Institute.