Paris, France—The long-running clash between climate science and climate politics again took center stage at the Paris summit on Friday as the talks headed into overtime and activists prepared an unauthorized march near the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday “because climate justice won’t wait for governments—it is up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Friday began with the French hosts, United Nations officials, rich nation governments, and US and UK media expressing confidence that an ambitious agreement will be reached, though not before Saturday, a day later than scheduled. “I’m optimistic,” the BBC quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying, adding that Fabius had told reporters he was “sure” the 196 assembled governments would approve a new text that would be “a big step forward for humanity as a whole.” The New York Times reported that the draft text “skates on the edge of historical significance,” adding that the biggest missing piece is “clear language on monitoring and verifying whether and how countries will follow through on their promises to cut emissions.”
At noon, however, an all-star international panel of climate scientists delivered a far harsher judgment, warning that the current text needs massive improvement to deliver on its stated goal of limiting temperature rise to “below 2 degrees C or 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.”
“The current text is weaker than the final agreement that came out of [the failed] Copenhagen [summit in 2009],” said Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the UK, to a packed-to-bursting press conference at the Le Bourget convention center. Noting that the text does not even contain the words “fossil fuels,” Anderson added, “It is not consistent with science. It calls for peaking greenhouse gas emissions ‘as soon as possible.’ That is not consistent with a 2 degrees limit. Negotiators are praising this text as ‘practical,’ but for whom? For poor, non-white people in the southern Hemisphere, it falls somewhere between dangerous and deadly. But we still have 24 hours here to pull something more serious together.”
China and the United States, as the world’s leading climate and economic superpowers, obviously will be critical to whatever outcome emerges over the next 24 hours. Many developing nations have been unhappy with the US position, which they charge does not reduce heat-trapping emissions anywhere near fast enough to honor a 2 degrees C goal (much less a 1.5 degree C goal) and does not provide the scale of financial assistance poor and vulnerable nations need to cope with intensifying climate impacts and shift to zero-carbon economic development. The US has pledged, in what is known in Paris summit lingo as its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) to reduce its emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.