Wash Post: Draft climate deal offers balanced plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions

By Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney — LE BOURGET, France — Diplomats from 196 countries prepared to vote Saturday on a far-reaching climate accord that seeks to halt the rapid growth of man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and prevent a dangerous warming of the planet.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced to a gathering of delegates here that negotiators had reached a compromise overnight on an “ambitious and balanced” plan that would put Earth on a path toward sharply reducing emissions from fossil-fuel burning.

“Today we are close to the final outcome,” Fabius said to thunderous applause from delegates at a conference center north of Paris. He urged the delegates not to shirk from a “historic” chance to stave off an environmental disaster. “The citizens of the world – our own citizens – and our children would not understand it. Nor, I believe, would they forgive us,” he said.

After a delay of several hours to allow the draft to be translated and studied, the assembly reconvened for a debate and vote that was expected late Saturday evening.

The apparent breakthrough came during an unscheduled 13th day of U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations that involve representatives from nearly every country, from the industrialized West to tiny island nations that are seen at risk of being swamped by rising sea levels if global temperatures continue to climb.

Fabius said the compromise “affirms our objective … to have a temperature [increase] well below 2 degrees [Celsius],” as well as “to endeavor to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees, which should make it possible to reduce the risks and impacts linked to climate change.”

“The world is waiting with baited breath,” he said.

The Obama administration, which pushed heavily for the accord, signaled its approval of the compromise draft late Saturday. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in Paris to help push for a deal, expressed confidence that the agreement would be approved.

“It should be good, but we’ll see,” Kerry told reporters. “Little things can happen, but we think it’s teed up.”

Details from the draft text released on Saturday reveal an effort to strengthen the accord in the final hours of haggling. The decision to add an aspirational goal of keeping temperature increases “well below 2 degrees” and “pursuing efforts” to stay below a 1.5-degree warming reflected grave concerns of small island states at risk of disappearing as warming temperatures melt glaciers and polar ice around the world. The proposal also included accountability measures to discourage cheating on reported emissions cuts.

“We see the key elements that we’ve always said we needed for a strong agreement,” said Nat Keohane, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “We see good ambition, and we see ambition that all parties are to undertake effort to meet.”

While the final outcome was still hours away, environmental groups hailed the draft agreement as a turning point in the battle against climate change.

“A great tide has turned,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This agreement sets us on a course of verifiable gains we can build on over time. It provides real protection for people on the front lines of climate chaos. It speeds the global shift away from dirty fossil fuels and toward cleaner, smarter energy options to power our future without imperiling our world.”

The news of the compromise came after 48 hours of nearly nonstop bargaining as diplomats sought to resolve differences over a handful of thorny issues, including financial aid to developing countries hit hard by climate change, as well as rules and procedures for judging whether countries are honoring their commitments to cut pollution.

The basis of the agreement is a series of pledges made earlier in the year by individual nations to reduce or slow their emissions from fossil-fuel burning. The United States committed to reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2030. The draft accord debated by delegates here establishes rules to ensure that countries honor their pledges and also creates a financial mechanism that helps poorer countries adapt to effects of climate change and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Fabius, the presiding officer of the conference, indicated that the draft treaty has settled key issues, from the financial underpinnings to regular reviews every five years so nations can update their pledges and new technology becomes available. It was possible, however, that delegates could object to some of the measures and delay the approval vote.

Officials acknowledged that the compromise accord is insufficient, by itself, to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celcius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages, an increase that many scientists believe is the maximum amount of warming the planet can sustain without massive disruptions in natural ecosystems. But the treaty is structured to allow nations to adopt more ambitious cuts in emissions as new technology becomes available.

“There is an ambitious but necessary long-term objective,” Fabius said. “The reduction of greenhouse gases has become the business of all.”

Carol Morello in Paris contributed to this report.

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