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A Frantic Scramble to Make Headway in Paris

At the conference's midpoint, climate negotiators are sweating the details.

Alain Jocard / Getty

We’re halfway toward a strict deadline on climate change, in more ways than one. The world this year officially reached 1 degree Celsius of warming above preindustrial times, halfway to politicians’ agreed-upon goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees. And the climate conference that’s supposed to put us on a path to meet this target is already at its halfway point, with one week left.

Now, the fanfare of the opening conference days in Paris is long gone. A lower-level group of negotiators must hand over their final text to top ministers Saturday at noon. As of Friday, they have a slimmed-down draft, but nearly every one of the major debates is still on the table, with countries having difficulty setting aside long-held differences. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to return to Paris on Monday for the next portion of the negotiations.

Here’s our progress report on COP21. Blue bars indicate progress toward the goals, compared to yesterday, red bars indicate backward momentum, and gray bars indicate no change:

Progress Report   December 4, 2015

Commit to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.

Turns out, the U.S. isn’t the only country that would have problems ratifying an agreement. In another roadblock, Poland only plans on endorsing a climate deal that meets a high minimum threshold, accounting “for 90 percent of global emissions,” said a member of the Polish environment minister’s cabinet.

Establish reporting and transparency requirements.

“Transparency is one of the most important parts of this agreement,” U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said Friday. And debate on the issue has come a long way, it seems. A large number of brackets in the draft text dealing with transparency have already been resolved.

Create a payment system to finance climate adaptation.

We may be close to an agreement on including a section acknowledging the “loss and damage” vulnerable countries face, despite playing little role in creating climate change. Many questions remain, but a climate delegate from Luxembourg said “loss and damage will be one part of the package.” Todd Stern added: “I think that we’ll land this one.”

Put past disagreements aside.

In order to keep the talks moving forward, negotiators may end up sidestepping tougher matters. “Negotiators, pressing to reach a deal quickly and pleasantly, may take many of the toughest issues out of the text entirely,” the New York Times reports.

Agree to return to the negotiating table regularly.

China, India, Middle Eastern countries, and Latin American nations want their targets for 2030 to stand, as opposed to committing to a five-year review process that ratchets up their ambitions before 2030. One delegate told The Guardian, Developed nations are standing firm, however. We don’t want to lock in modest ambition [by dropping five-year reviews],” one delegate said.

Rethink the 2-degree target.

How likely is a long-term target to decarbonize the economy? “My sense is that this is one of the toughest issues parties will address and will probably go late into the end game,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. Meanwhile, Germany and France have both backed an even more aggressive warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, though Saudi Arabia and India will block it.

Here’s a roundup of the biggest news from around the conference:

  • Jonathan M. Katz, reporting from Paris, explains the feeling of hopelessness that threatens to overtake the talks. As usual, countries are struggling with who will pay for climate change adaptation. (New Republic)
  • Conservatives see Paris as a waste of time, but their lame arguments against the conference reveal they’re out of touch. (New Republic)
  • In the newly released draft text, brackets still litter the remaining 46 pages, and countries are having disagreements about sections as seemingly innocuous as associating climate change with “human rights.” (New Republic)
  • Deluges of rain and flooding, likely symptoms of climate change, continue in Chennai, India. (India Today)
  • Take this quiz to test whether you can call yourself a true COP21 wonk. (The Guardian)
  • Some envoys prefer to meet in open and noisy spaces, fearing their rooms are bugged. It’s happened in the past, by the NSA during the Copenhagen conference, and at the Tianjin conference by Beijing hackers. (Climate Change News)
  • The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of small states and low-lying islands, is not backing down from its desire for a 1.5 degree limit. Even though this goal is all but impossible, the group has even come up with a hand signal to demonstrate solidarity. (Slate)
  • From an environmental justice framework, the wealthiest countries, especially the U.S., should pay for climate change and drastically cut their disproportionate emissions. If these nations take responsibility, developing countries are more likely to follow. (Grist)
  • An interview with Susheel Kumar, chief climate negotiator for India. (Climate Change News)
  • Obama went to the climate conference and all we got are these lousy energy-efficient lightbulbs. (The Onion)

Read our previous progress reports: