Will The World Reach An Agreement To Avert Climate Disaster This Week?

The next few days will decide the planet's future.

08/12/2015 8:40 AM AEDT | Updated 09/12/2015 3:14 AM AEDT

The negotiations at COP21 in Paris are halfway over, and the world will have a new universal climate agreement by the end of the week. But just how vigorous those commitments will be remains to be seen. 

After whittling down a four-years-in-the-making draft agreement to 48 pages last week, negotiators will spend the remaining days of the conference compromising on a final agreement to be signed by more than 190 parties. 

"A week ago, 150 world leaders stood here and pledged their full support for a robust global climate agreement that is equal to the test we face," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. "Never before have so many Heads of State and Government gathered in one place at one time with one common purpose."

Negotiations are expected to conclude Wednesday and the agreement be adopted on Thursday and Friday, though the formal signing ceremony won't happen until early 2016.

The current draft contains more than 900 square brackets, which are used to identify disagreements, the BBC noted.

"We have a new universally accepted basis for negotiations. Now we need to write the next," French negotiator Laurence Taubiana said Sunday. "The work is not complete, and major political issues need to be decided on. We will need all our energy, intelligence, capacity for compromise, and ability to think long-term if we are to achieve our result." 

One of the biggest points of contention in the draft is whether negotiators should update the oft-cited 2 degrees Celsius threshold -- the maximum amount of warming by 2100 that the planet can take before climate conditions are permanently altered -- to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Last week, both France and Germany joined 43 other nations in stating that 2 degrees doesn't go far enough and that the tougher goal of 1.5 degrees is necessary to protect the most vulnerable countries.

Achieving that goal, Reuters reported, will require bringing carbon emissions down to zero and relying 100 percent on renewable energy by 2050.

Negotiations over that will be challenging due to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which has emerged as one of the staunchest opponents to the more difficult goal.

"Saudi Arabia has been playing a very negative role in Paris, objecting to any processes to consider a 1.5C goal, or encouragement of divestment from fossil fuels," E3G, a sustainable development nonprofit, said in its preview for the week ahead at COP21. The group added that Saudi is using its influence with the Arab bloc to bring it "along with it in an increasing bitter confrontation with the Vulnerable Countries."

Negotiators will also spend the week hashing out which countries should foot the bill for developing nations' climate projects. When the UN climate convention was signed in 1992, the BBC explained, negotiators identified participating nations as either developing or developed and agreed that the latter should should provide funding support to the former to help them meet their climate goals and cope with the effects of climate change. 

Now that some of those developing countries, such as China, India and Saudi Arabia, have emerged as stronger nations over the last two decades, the richer developed countries want them to step up their financial contributions. But in a stern letter released last Wednesday, the G77, which represents the world's developing nations, condemned such an action.

"Any attempt to replace the core obligation of developed countries to provide financial support to developing countries with a number of arbitrarily identified economic conditions is a violation of the rules-based multilateral process and threatens an outcome here in Paris," the letter read. 

Sorting out those financial disagreements should be the priority, Oxfam International director of advocacy and campaigns Celine Charveriat said at a press conference Monday, France 24 reported. 

"We have 24 hours left to get a convincing finance package on the table," Charveriat said. "We know what happens when something this central to the negotiations is left for the last day."

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