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Global deal reached to limit powerful greenhouse gases

Nearly 200 nations have reached a deal, announced this weekend, to limit the use of greenhouse gases far more powerful than carbon dioxide in a major effort to fight climate change.

The talks on hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, were called the first test of global will since the historic Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions was reached last year. HFCs are described as the world’s fastest-growing climate pollutant and are used in air conditioners and refrigerators. Experts say cutting them is the fastest way to reduce global warming.

President Barack Obama, in a statement Saturday, called the new deal “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis.” The spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “critically important.”

The agreement, unlike the broader Paris one, is legally binding. It caps and reduces the use of HFCs in a gradual process beginning by 2019 with action by developed countries including the United States, the world’s second-worst polluter. More than 100 developing countries, including China, the world’s top carbon emitter, will start taking action by 2024, when HFC consumption levels should peak.

A small group of countries including India, Pakistan and some Gulf states pushed for and secured a later start in 2028, saying their economies need more time to grow. That’s three years earlier than India, the world’s third-worst polluter, had first proposed.

“It’s a very historic moment, and we are all very delighted that we have come to this point where we can reach a consensus and agree to most of the issues that were on the table,” said India’s chief delegate, Ajay Narayan Jha.

Environmental groups had hoped that the deal could reduce global warming by a half-degree Celsius by the end of this century. This agreement gets about 90 percent of the way there, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

Zaelke’s group said this is the “largest temperature reduction ever achieved by a single agreement.”

The new agreement is “equal to stopping the entire world’s fossil-fuel CO2 emissions for more than two years,” David Doniger, climate and clean air program director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

It is estimated that the agreement will cut the global levels of HFCs by 80 to 85 percent by 2047, the World Resources Institute said in a statement.

Experts said they hope that market forces will help speed up the limits agreed to in the deal.

HFCs were introduced in the 1980s as a substitute for ozone-depleting gases. But their danger has grown as air conditioner and refrigerator sales have soared in emerging economies like China and India. HFCs are also found in inhalers and insulating foams.

Major economies have debated how quickly to phase out HFCs. The United States, whose delegation was led by Secretary of State John Kerry, and Western countries want quick action. Nations such as India want to give their industries more time to adjust.

“Thank God we got to this agreement that is good for all nations, that takes into consideration all regional and national issues,” said Taha Mohamed Zatari, the head of Saudi Arabia’s negotiating team.

Small island states and many African countries had pushed for early timeframes, saying they face the biggest threat from climate change.

“It may not be entirely what the islands wanted, but it is a good deal,” Mattlan Zackhras, the minister-in-assistance to the president of the Marshall Islands, said in a statement. “We all know we must go further, and we will go further.”

The U.N. says the next meeting in 2017 will determine how much of the billions of dollars needed to finance the reduction of HFCs will be provided by countries.

HFCs are less plentiful than carbon dioxide, but Kerry said last month that they currently emit as much pollution as 300 coal-fired power plants each year. That amount will rise significantly over the coming decades as air conditioning units and refrigerators reach hundreds of millions of new people.

HFCs don’t harm the ozone layer like chlorofluorocarbons and similar gases that were eliminated under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The entire world ratified that agreement, helping to repair holes in the ozone that helps shield the planet from the harmful rays of the sun. The aim of this meeting was to attach an amendment to that treaty dealing specifically with HFCs.

“This is about much more than the ozone layer and HFCs. It is a clear statement by all world leaders that the green transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable,” Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said in a statement.

Environmental groups were already turning attention Saturday to other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

“Acting on HFCs does not exempt us from acting on CO2 or other important greenhouse gases like methane. We emit considerably more carbon, and it lingers in the atmosphere for more than 500 years,” Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said in a statement.

Record 155 countries to sign climate agreement

A record 155 countries will sign the landmark agreement to tackle climate change at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 22.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that five countries — Barbados, Belize, Tuvalu, Maldives and Samoa — will not only sign the agreement reached in Paris in December but deliver their ratification.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French President Francois Hollande and French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, who is in charge of global climate negotiations, have invited leaders from all 193 U.N. member states to the event. The U.N. says more than 60 heads of state and government plan to attend.

The current record of 119 signatures on the opening day for signing an international agreement is held by the Law of the Sea treaty in 1994.

The Paris agreement will take effect 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the secretary-general.

The list of countries planning to sign the Paris agreement includes the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming: China, United States, Japan, India, Brazil, Australia and many European Union countries including Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

The agreement sets a collective goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It requires all countries to submit plans for climate action and to update them every five years, though such plans are not legally binding.

Secretary-General Ban has stressed that the signing ceremony is just a first step in accelerating efforts to tackle climate change.

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Waukesha’s water grab should be rejected

If the city of Waukesha has its way, a dangerous precedent will be set for the entire Great Lakes region.

This Wisconsin community wants the Great Lakes governors to sign off on a first-of-its-kind diversion application that fails to meet the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, a much heralded regional agreement signed into federal law in 2008.

In recognition that the Great Lakes remain a critically important natural resource to the region at large, the compact categorically bans diversions of Great Lakes water except under extremely limited circumstances and then only to communities that have no other reasonable options. This is not the case with Waukesha.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified Waukesha as one of more than 50 Wisconsin communities with too much radium in its water. These committees were asked to take action to make their water safe to drink by 2006. Most did so, but not the city of Waukesha.

Unlike the dozens of other Wisconsin communities that invested in radium treatment and other reasonable solutions, Waukesha chose to look to the Great Lakes, one of our region’s most precious and fragile freshwater resources, to bail it out.

What’s more, Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes diversion option promises to cost $150 million more than a non-diversion alternative, which would enable Waukesha to meet its drinking water needs by adding common-sense, available treatment technologies to its deep groundwater wells, while continuing to use its shallow wells.

Moreover, it appears that Waukesha’s diversion application is based not on the needs of its current city residents, but rather on the purported needs of households, and portions of other neighboring communities, included in a far larger water supply service area created by a state planning law. This expanded water supply service area almost doubles the size of the city’s current water supply service area.

Nowhere does the Great Lakes compact allow for a diversion based on the possible future needs of expanded service areas. And the households and commercial entities located within this expanded area fail to meet two of the compact’s central requirements: they have not shown any real need for Great Lakes water nor demonstrated significant water conservation efforts to date.

Wisconsin’s reliance on a state planning law designed to foster growth as justification for this contentious, expanded water supply service area is equally misplaced, because the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact inarguably trump state law.

Finally, beyond its failure to comply with core compact requirements, Waukesha’s diversion application shows a blatant disregard for the people of Racine, a city struggling in a different and far greater scale than the city of Waukesha. It is Racine that will be forced to bear the public health risks and clean-up costs relating to Waukesha’s return of partially treated wastewater through the Root River, which runs through the heart of Racine and empties into the city’s Lake Michigan harbor. This is simply wrong.

In order to secure the protection and viability of our magnificent Great Lakes for generations to come, the Great Lakes governors on the Compact Council must ensure that the core principles of the Great Lakes Compact are fully and truly honored. For its shortcomings and missteps, Waukesha’s application must be denied.

Jodi Habush Sinykin is an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based nonprofit group that works to protect water resources. The group is a member of the Compact Implementation Coalition.


TransCanada sues United States over KXL rejection, wants $15 billion

TransCanada Corp. on Jan. 7 sued the United States seeking $15 billion in compensation after the Obama administration rejected its request for a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“TransCanada was wrong to try to ram the dirty tar sands pipeline down our throats — and it’s wrong to try to force American taxpayers to pony up for its mistakes,” said Anthony Swift, director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Canada project. “This is about a foreign company trying to undercut safeguards that protect the American people. Its attempt to bully us deserves to be rejected.”

Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org, one of the environmental groups that led the effort against the pipeline, added, “This won’t actually help build the pipeline, too late for that. It’s just a greedy and desperate move by TransCanada to try and salvage some of the money they wasted on this ridiculous boondoggle.”

The company alleged Barack Obama exceeded his constitutional authority in denying the pipeline, claiming the president’s denial of the pipeline permit was a symbolic gesture to show his support for action against climate change.

TransCanada also is using a provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement to sue the United States. The provision — the investor-state dispute settlement — gives corporations the power to sue governments for decisions taken in the broader public interest.

Kowalski said the lawsuit “is a reminder that we shouldn’t be signing new trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership that allow corporations to sue governments that try and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

A big resolution: The world’s carbon diet starts

The world is about to go on a carbon diet. It won’t be easy — or cheap.

Nearly 200 nations across the world this month approved a first-of-its-kind universal agreement to wean Earth off fossil fuels and slow global warming, patting themselves on the back for showing such resolve.

Now the reality sets in. The numbers — like calorie limits and hours needed in the gym — are daunting.

How daunting?

Try more than 7.04 billion tons (if you really want to have your eyes bug out, that’s 15.5 trillion pounds). That’s how much carbon dioxide needs to stay in the ground instead of being spewed into the atmosphere for those reductions to happen, even if you take the easier of two goals mentioned in the deal. To get to the harder goal, it’s even larger numbers.

In the pact, the countries pledged to limit global warming to about another degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) from now — and if they can, only half that.

Another, more vague, goal is that by sometime in the second half of the century, man-made greenhouse gas emissions _ which includes methane and other heat-trapping gases as well as carbon dioxide — won’t exceed the amount that nature absorbs. Earth’s carbon cycle, which is complex and ever-changing, would have to get back to balance.

In practice, that means the world has to emit close to zero greenhouse gases by 2070 to reach the easier goal, or by 2050 to reach the harder one, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Oh and by the way, the harder goal — limit warming by another half a degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) — is probably already  impossible, said Joeri Rogelj at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Most likely the best the world can hope for is overshooting that temperature by a few tenths of a degree and then somehow slowly — over decades if not centuries — come back to the target temperature.

That may involve something called negative emissions. That’s when the world — technology and nature combined — take out more carbon dioxide from the air than humanity puts in. Nearly 90 percent of scenarios of how to establish a safer temperature in the world involves going backward on emissions, but it is also so far not very realistic, said Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Britain.

Negative emissions involve more forests, maybe seeding the oceans, and possibly technology that sucks carbon out of the air and stores it underground somehow. More biomass or forests require enormous land areas and direct capture of carbon from air is expensive, but with a serious sustained research effort costs can probably be brought below $100 per metric ton, said engineering and policy professor Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University.

Leading up to the Paris Agreement, nearly every nation formed an individual action plan to cut or at least slow the growth of carbon pollution over the next decade or so. Richer nations that have already developed, like the United States, Europe and Japan, pledged to cut now. Developing nations that say they need fossil fuels to pull themselves out poverty pledged to slow the rate of growth for now, and to cut later.

“The EU and U.S. are all on Slim-Fast,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate official. “China’s still hitting fast food, but will have to stop soon.”

China, the world’s top carbon polluter, will eventually have to make the biggest cuts. Overall, for the world to hit its new target, global carbon dioxide emissions will have to peak by 2030, maybe earlier, and then fall to near-zero, experts said. Those levels have been generally rising since the industrial revolution. A new study suggests emissions may have fallen slightly this year, but that may be a blip.

Without any efforts to limit global warming, the world would have warmed by 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) from now by 2100, according to Climate Interactive. But China’s submitted plan alone would cut that projected warming by 1.3 degrees, according to Climate Interactive. The U.S. plan trims about six tenths of a degree of the projected warming without a global deal.

And while China is now the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter with more than a quarter of the world’s emissions, carbon dioxide stays in the air for at least a century, so historical emissions are important. Since 1870, the U.S. is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s carbon pollution, compared to 13 percent for China.

That all sounds good, but the goals the nations have set aren’t enough. Taken together, they would still allow temperatures to rise 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century from now, so to reach the goals agreed on this weekend countries will need to do more, Climate Interactive found.

Another climate modeling group, Climate Action Tracker, is slightly more optimistic, but still finds the nations’ plans would miss the goal of limiting temperature rise to one more degree. It says the current proposals would allow a rise of 1.7 degrees Celsius (1.25 degrees Fahrenheit).

Countries agreed Saturday to take another look at their goals every five years.

“Clearly countries must be exercising their low-carbon muscles more,” said Rachel Cleetus, climate policy manager for the Union of Concern Scientists.

French President Francois Hollande took the first step as he praised the Paris Agreement. He said France would ratchet up its goals and efforts earlier than required and challenged other nations to do the same.

Details of the ‘Paris Outcome,’ a landmark accord for the environment

After four years of global negotiations, two weeks of intense talks and more than a few sleepless nights, climate officials from almost 200 nations meeting in Paris are on the cusp of a landmark accord to arrest climate change.

On Saturday, hosts France released the final text of a “Paris Outcome,” this one devoid of the bracketed text that represented the sticking points yet to be resolved.

Written in the opaque legal language that has evolved from more than two decades of U.N. climate talks, the pact sets the world a roadmap for breaking away from the fossil fuels that have powered the global economy since the Industrial Revolution.

The new text is 31 pages, against 27 on Thursday and more than 50 at the start of the talks.

National delegations have broken up to review the text, with hopes high that they will return to a formal session to adopt it later on Saturday.

Following are details of the new draft:

FINANCE

Developed nations promised in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 from both public and private sources to help developing nations limit their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to more floods, heat waves and rising sea levels.

Enshrining that figure in legal language was one of the biggest sticking points of the talks as delegates said the U.S. Congress could never ratify a commitment for developing nations to keep on increasing that figure from 2020.

In non-binding decisions that accompany the binding text, the agreement says governments shall set by 2025 “a new collective quantified goal from a floor of $100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries”.

LONG-TERM GOAL (DEGREES)

In 2010, the U.N. climate summit in Mexico adopted a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, a level that scientists say could be a tipping point for the climate. Global average surface temperatures have already risen by about 1.0 Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit).

But many vulnerable, low-lying nations like the Marshall Islands say that a full 2 degrees Celsius rise would endanger their very existence as sea levels rise, and pushed hard for setting a goal to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They found support from more than 100 nations, including the European Union and the United States, which formed a “high ambition coalition”.

Saudi Arabia and other nations resisted, saying there was insufficient research to support a tougher target and that setting too ambitious a figure could endanger food security.

The final draft text sets an aim to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”.

It also seeks to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

LONG-TERM GOAL (EMISSIONS)

Negotiators have struggled with how to phrase an aspirational longer-term goal for halting emissions, a symbolic but still potent message about how they see the world’s energy system transforming over the rest of this century.

Some of the most vulnerable nations and non-governmental organizations had campaigned for a clear, quantified goal for eliminating or reducing fossil fuel use by the middle of the century.

China and India, heavily dependent on coal, are among those reluctant to set clear dates for giving up fossil fuels they see as vital to lifting millions from poverty. Saudi Arabia, whose economy also depends on oil, is also a clear opponent.

The European Union, although keen to lead on climate had a problem with the word decarbonization because of Poland, whose economy depends on coal.

As negotiations wore on, the options grew vaguer. By Thursday evening, the goal was greenhouse gas neutrality, a phrasing that confounded some climate experts, but avoided the word decarbonization.

The final text said nations must “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country parties”.

It said that to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out by the deal, parties will aim to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Analysts at the talks interpreted the text as implying net zero emissions.

LOSS AND DAMAGE

Developing nations want a long-term mechanism to help them cope with loss and damage from disasters such as typhoons or the impacts of a creeping rise of sea level rise. All governments set up a loss and damage mechanism in 2013, but it has so far done little.

Earlier drafts recognized the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage, but offered divergent options, including one that left out the mechanism.

An existing international mechanism to deal with the unavoidable losses and damages caused by climate change, such as creeping deserts and rising seas, is anchored in the draft final deal.

A promise that it will not be used as a basis for “liability and compensation” — a demand from the United States that proved divisive — has been moved to a set of accompanying decisions in a compromise.  

RAISING AMBITION

Well before the Paris talks began, it was clear that the promises made by 186 nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020, the backbone of the Paris accord, were too weak to limit rising temperatures to the agreed 2 degrees Celsius level.

Negotiators knew going in there would have to be a system for “ratcheting up” national measures, but how and when to do that has been a sticking point throughout.

Frequent reviews have been a major demand from negotiating blocs such as the European Union, but China in particular said it cannot commit to more aggressive action quickly because Beijing has already set domestic goals out to 2030.

In line with a date mooted in the previous draft on Thursday, the new draft text schedules a “first global stocktake in 2023” and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided.

CARBON MARKETS

The draft legal text contains no explicit mention of carbon markets, nor of the possibility of carbon penalties for aviation and shipping. It does, however, include a reference to the “use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes,” which could allow nations on a voluntary basis to offset their own emissions by buying credits from other nations.

DIFFERENTIATION

Developing nations say that rich nations, as defined in a 1992 Convention, should continue to take the lead in cutting emissions and providing finance. Developed nations argue that many of these countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, have since become wealthy and should do more.

The new text says developed countries shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries and “other parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily.”

World accord hailed as turning point from fossil fuels

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius presented a landmark global climate accord on Dec. 12, a “historic” measure for transforming the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy within decades and turning the tide on global warming.

At the tail end of the hottest year on record and after four years of fraught U.N. talks often pitting the interests of rich nations against poor, imperiled island states against rising economic powerhouses, Fabius urged officials from nearly 200 nations to support what he hopes will be a final draft.

Setting a broad goal of eliminating the net increase in man-made greenhouse gas emission this century, the agreement does not mandate specific measures or targets. Instead, it creates a system for ensuring countries make good on voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions, and provides billions more dollars to help poor nations cope with the transition to a greener economy.

“Our responsibility to history is immense,” Fabius told thousands of officials, including President Francois Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in the main hall of the conference venue on the outskirts of Paris.

“If we were to fail, how could we rebuild this hope?” he asked. “Our children would not understand or forgive us.”

Barring any last-minute objections as negotiators pore over the final text, they will reconvene at around 1545 local time (9.45 a.m. EST) to approve the agreement, a major breakthrough in global efforts to avert the potentially disastrous consequences of an overheated planet.

Calling it an “ambitious and balanced” agreement, Fabius said it would mark a “historic turning point” for the world.

Prior to the session, China’s top negotiator Gao Feng said there “there is hope today” for a final pact, while Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony De Brum told Reuters: “I think we’re done here.” Leaving the midday session, Secretary Kerry said an agreement seemed to be “teed up”.

A deal, if finalized, would be a powerful symbol to world citizens and a potent signal to investors – for the first time in over two decades, both rich and poor nations will agree to a common vision for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and a roadmap for ending two centuries of fossil fuel dominance.

NOT YET ENOUGH

From the outset, critics have said the emerging deal had serious weaknesses, most prominently the fact that envisaged emissions cuts will not be enough to keep warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, the level scientists say is needed to avert the worst effects of warming including severe droughts and rising sea levels.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the last major climate deal agreed in 1997, the Paris pact will also not be a fully legally binding treaty, something that would almost certainly fail to pass the U.S. Congress. Instead, it will be largely up to each nation to pursue greener growth in its own way, making good on detailed pledges submitted ahead of the two-week summit.

And in the United States, many Republicans will see the pact as a dangerous endeavor that threatens to trade economic prosperity for an uncertain if greener future.

Still, by charting a common course, officials hope executives and investors will be more willing to spend trillions of dollars to replace coal-fired power with solar panels and windmills.

“It will be up to business, consumers, citizens and particularly investors to finish the job,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

A deal in Paris would mark a legacy-defining achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has warned not to “condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair”.

DESTINIES BOUND

After talks that extended into early morning, the draft text showed how officials had resolved the stickiest points. Hollande cautioned that the pact would not be “perfect for everyone,” urging delegates to see the common need while reviewing key compromises that are certain to leave some nations unsatisfied.

“Faced with climate change our destinies are bound together,” he said.

In a win for a broad coalition of “ambitious” nations, the agreement would set a tougher goal for limiting the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

Nations would have to reach a peak in greenhouse emissions “as soon as possible” and achieve a balance between output of manmade greenhouse gases and absorption – by forests or the oceans – “by the second half of this century”.

“If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented,” said John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

It also requires rich nations to maintain a $100 billion a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025, providing greater financial security to developing nations as they wean themselves away from coal-fired power.

And most countries would review their domestic pledges for tackling greenhouse gas emissions every five years, though it makes an exception for those who have already committed to measures out to 2030, resolving a disagreement with China.

NOT ENOUGH, OR TOO MUCH?

While some climate change activists and U.S. Republicans will likely find fault with the accord – either for failing to take sufficiently drastic action, or for overreacting to an uncertain threat – many of the estimated 40,000 officials and environmentalists who set up camp on the outskirts of Paris say they see it as a long overdue turning point.

Six years after the previous climate summit in Copenhagen ended in failure and acrimony, the Paris pact appears to have rebuilt much of the trust required for a concerted global effort to combat climate change, delegates say.

“Whereas we left Copenhagen scared of what comes next, we’ll leave Paris inspired to keep fighting,” said David Turnbull, Director at Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization opposed to fossil fuel production.

Leaders of vulnerable low-lying countries – who brought together more than 100 nations in a “high ambition coalition” at the talks, striving for the strongest possible language – have portrayed the Paris talks as the last chance to avoid the catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures.

Without joining together for immediate action, they had warned, greenhouse gas emissions would be certain to push the planet’s ecosystem beyond the 2C tipping point. They appeared to have carried the day, as Fabius said the text would seek to keep the rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and if possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

While scientists say national pledges thus far are still too little to prevent that happening, the agreement should set out a roadmap for steadily increasing or “ratcheting up” those measures in order to head off calamity.

President Xi Jinping has promised that carbon dioxide emissions from China’s rapidly developing economy will start falling from around 2030, and does not want to revisit the target.

Scientists: Draft climate pact puts temperature limit out of reach

A deal to slow climate change being thrashed out in Paris fails to map out steep enough cuts in carbon dioxide emissions to limit global warming to the target of at least “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), scientists said on Dec. 11.

Negotiations on the draft agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions were extended by a day to Dec. 12 to try to overcome stubborn divisions among the 195 countries taking part.

The draft text, released on Dec. 10 and subject to revision, also proposes that emissions peak “as soon as possible,” with rapid cuts thereafter towards achieving “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.”

Neutrality refers to all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, and means net zero man-made emissions from all sectors.

Overall emissions would need to be reduced to as close to zero as possible and any remaining would have to be soaked up by forests and soils or buried underground by costly technology such as carbon capture and storage.

Scientists said the targets in the draft were too lax to achieve the goal of limiting global temperature rises above pre-industrial times to “well below 2C,” while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C (2.7F).

The rise in average global temperatures above pre-industrial times will exceed 1C this year, Britain’s Met Office has said.

‘WISHFUL THINKING’

More than 100 developing nations favor the 1.5C goal, saying higher temperature rises will bring more floods, droughts, decertification and sea level rise that could swamp low-lying islands from the Pacific to the Caribbean

“This is wishful thinking. You might call it pie in the sky,” Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters.

He said emissions neutrality would have to be reached by 2050 to achieve the 1.5C goal, yet the text was too vague by talking about the second half of the century — up to 2099.

To meet a 2C limit, global emissions would have to peak by 2020 with net zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2070, according to the U.N. panel of climate scientists.

Current national emissions cut plans put the planet on a far higher path, unless the world could abruptly shift to “negative emissions,” such as soaking up greenhouse gases from nature after 2030 with new technologies, Schellnhuber said.

So far, more than 180 nations have put forward plans to cut emissions but they put the world on a path to warming anywhere from 2.7C to 3.7C, according to scientific studies.

Scientists also said the language was weaker than in previous drafts.

“(This) has been replaced by rather vague formulations,” said Stefen Kalbekken, from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

Meeting a 1.5C limit would require higher energy prices to spur investment in cleaner energy sources, bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which captures carbon dioxide and stores it underground.

“It will need the development of a capacity for disposing of CO2 on a reasonably large scale, either captured from the air or from emissions from fossil fuels that countries or companies simply cannot bring themselves to leave in the ground,” said Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford.

CCS technology is still small scale and very costly.

There are currently 15 projects in operation worldwide. The International Energy Agency has said that by 2040, four billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions must be captured to keep global warming at bay, which is 100 times more than the total CCS projects expected to be online in the next 18 months.

UN officials warn of climate disaster if Paris pact fails

Talks on a universal climate pact shifted to a higher gear this week, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging governments to set off an “energy revolution” to rein in heat-trapping carbon emissions and avert disastrous global warming.

The European Union appeared to be softening its position on its demand that emissions targets in an eventual Paris climate accord need to be legally binding. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that even if it’s not legally binding, a deal could still change the way world business thinks about energy.

Foreign and environment ministers joined the talks outside Paris after lower-level negotiators who met last week delivered a draft agreement with all crunch issues left unresolved.

Warning that “the clock is ticking toward climate catastrophe,” Ban told ministers the world expects more from them than “half-measures.”

“Your work here this week can help eradicate poverty, spark a clean energy revolution and provide jobs, opportunities and hope for tomorrow,” he said.

The Paris conference is the 21st time world governments have met to seek a joint solution to climate change — and is aiming at the most ambitious, long-lasting accord yet. The talks are focused on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, primarily by shifting from oil, coal and gas to cleaner sources of energy.

Kerry, after arriving in Paris to join the talks, said that if the more than 190 countries in attendance agree to a plan, the private sector will then take the reins and create sustainable power technologies that will ease climate change.

“Even without a fixed number and a legal shell, we are going to see an enormous amount of movement without creating political obstacles that prevent us from being able to send that signal,” Kerry told a gathering on the sidelines of the climate conference in the French capital.

“I have absolute confidence in the ability of capital to move where the signal of the marketplace says `go’ after Paris,” he said.

The EU has been among the most outspoken advocates of binding targets.

However, EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters Monday that he understands “the political situation in the United States,” where Republicans in Congress would be unlikely to approve binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions. Many U.S. Republicans question whether climate change is happening and oppose emissions limits out of concern that it would hurt U.S. industry and jobs.

In a statement, Canete said the EU still favors internationally binding targets, but “at the same time, we have signaled our readiness to discuss alternative approaches which would ensure that the Paris agreement can provide a robust legal framework and maximum certainty in parties delivering on their targets.”

The envisioned Paris agreement is supposed to be the first deal to ask all countries to rein in their emissions; earlier pacts only required wealthy nations to do so.

“Developed countries must agree to lead, and developing countries need to assume increasing responsibility in line with their capabilities,” Ban said.

How to define those responsibilities is the biggest challenge in the Paris talks. India and other major developing countries insist on their right to use some fossil fuels to advance their economies _ just like Western nations have done since the Industrial Revolution. They argue the West therefore is historically responsible for raising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“India is here to ensure that rich countries pay back their debt for overdraft that they have drawn on the carbon space,” Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

Meanwhile, in China, Beijing issued its first ever red alert for smog, urging schools to close and invoking restrictions on factories and traffic. While that’s different from greenhouse gas emissions, much of the air pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions which also are key sources of carbon emissions.

Another major issue is helping poor countries cope with dangerous warming effects, from rising seas to intensifying droughts and heat waves.

More than 180 countries have already presented national pledges for reining in carbon emissions. But scientific analyses show that won’t be enough to meet the international goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), compared to pre-industrial times.

Many countries have called for a review of all targets within five years to see if there are ways of ramping them up. The draft, however, sets 2024 as the earliest date of such a reappraisal.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enela warned that his island nation and others face potential extinction if temperatures continue to rise.

“Let’s achieve a legally binding agreement,” he said. “Let’s do it for Tuvalu. If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.”

U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said she’s kept up at night by a vision of “the eyes of seven generations beyond me asking me, `What did you do?’

“The same question will be asked of each of you,” Figueres told the ministers. “May we all be able to stand tall and clearly say we did everything that was necessary.”

Kerry said he was hopeful that the negotiations would reach an agreement by a Friday deadline, but would not be surprised if the talks continued into the weekend.

“I think the stage is set, I think the attitude is currently there,” he said. 

Progressives fear Trans-Pacific trade pact jeopardizes climate talks

Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and 42 other House Democrats wrote the president in mid-October, cautioning him that the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact could undermine efforts to address climate change.

Pocan, a progressive Democrat from Madison, urged the administration to refrain from adopting trade rules, including those in the TPP, that empower foreign investors to challenge governments’ environmental regulations.

“In recent years we have witnessed an alarming rise of international trade and investment disputes related to renewable energy and climate policies,” the representatives wrote to the White House.

The letter was dispatched following news that the negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership had reached an agreement in Atlanta.

At the U.S.-based Sierra Club, executive director Michael Brune said the TPP “would empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts and would expand trade in dangerous fossil fuels that would increase fracking and imperil our climate. The TPP’s environmental chapter might look nice on the surface, but will be hollow on the inside.”

The White House says the TPP is intended to encourage trade among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, in part by reducing tariffs.

The deal is highly secretive and details have not been published, though WikiLeaks says it leaked a version of the agreement earlier in October.

As the president promotes the TPP to the American public and members of Congress, opposition continues to grow. Labor unions, environmentalists, social justice and human rights groups oppose the TPP. So do many Democrats in Congress and, as of October, all the Democratic candidates for president.

Hillary Clinton, who had previously promoted the TPP, announced on Oct. 8 her opposition to the deal. “I appreciate the hard work that President Obama and his team put into this process and recognize the strides they made,” Clinton said in a statement. “But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don’t believe this agreement has met it.”

Opponents of the TPP argue that the deal is great for corporations but bad for small business, family farmers, organized labor and the environment.

“Two-fifths of the global economy will be covered by corporate courts, meaning a huge rise in governments being sued for protecting the public interest from corporate greed,” said Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now, a democratic social justice organization in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called the TPP a bad deal that “will not bring economic stability to working families.”

Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy group, forecast massive opposition to the TPP in 2016, when it reaches a congressional vote and when election battles intensify.