The Obama administration moved to unblock fraught negotiations on the new climate accord due to be struck in Paris on Friday with an $860m pledge to help poor countries deal with the heatwaves and fierce storms scientists say are likely to intensify as global temperatures rise.
But it was far from clear on Wednesday if the announcement would resolve the slew of stumbling blocks that are threatening to seriously weaken the first new global climate deal in 18 years.
Ministers worked late into Tuesday night to produce a revised draft text of the agreement that was nearly 20 pages shorter than the 48-page document negotiators had previously been working on.
But France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who is presiding over the Paris conference, conceded on Wednesday afternoon that three big stumbling blocks remained: the size and nature of the money wealthy countries would deliver to help poor nations deal with climate change; the temperature and emissions goals the agreement would aim to meet, and the extent to which rich countries should continue to lead efforts to combat climate change.
“We have made progress but still a lot of work needs to be done,” Mr Fabius told delegates as they prepared to work through the night on a new version of the text.
In an attempt to resolve the contentious issue of climate finance, John Kerry, US secretary of state, announced on Wednesday that by 2020, the US would double the $430m of public grants it provided in 2014 to help vulnerable countries adapt to the risks climate change posed.
“We will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to weather the storms alone,” he told a packed news conference.
The announcement was aimed at meeting a key demand of developing countries in relation to a 2009 pledge by wealthy countries to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries combat global warming.
Developing countries have long insisted this support should be mainly in the form of public grants, not private sector projects or loans they may struggle to repay.
They also want funds to help them adapt to climate change rather than lowering their own often meagre carbon emissions.
Mr Kerry’s announcement amounted to a “strategic play” to persuade other nations to back the US on the two key issues it wants in the agreement that China and India are resisting, said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser, attending the talks.
The two measures are to update countries’ pledges to cut carbon emissions every five years and the introduction of a more common system for the reporting and monitoring of nations’ greenhouse emissions that include developing as well as developed countries.
Mr Kerry’s move may also help alleviate concern about whether developed countries will meet the financial commitments they have already made. The Obama Administration is battling Republican Party legislators in Congress who want to torpedo a $3bn pot of climate finance money that President Obama offered ahead of the Paris talks.
A senior administration official said the new adaptation money pledge should be supported because it represented a sound investment that would help lower the cost of helping poor countries recover from devastating storms and other climate-driven disasters.
“We spend large amounts of money cleaning up after these disasters,” he said. “Smart, targeted investments we can make now will actually help reduce those costs over time.”
One of the other issues likely to remain unresolved until the final hours of the talks is a move to strengthen the main temperature goal of the new agreement.
Governments agreed at UN climate talks five years ago that global temperatures should not rise more than 2C from pre-industrial times, but a large group of developing countries want an even more ambitious 1.5C target to be agreed in Paris.
Many experts questioned the feasibility of the tougher target on Wednesday, which would require rapid and deep cuts in global emissions of carbon dioxide. They also point out that temperatures have already risen 1C since the industrial revolution, chiefly because of the large volumes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that is pumped into the air when fossil fuels are burnt.
According to scientists the existing emissions reduction pledges more than 180 countries have made for the Paris accord are not enough to meet the 2C goal and many large countries, including India and China, are resisting efforts by wealthy countries to ensure the agreement requires these pledges to be resubmitted every five years, preferably from 2020 or 2021.
Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, told reporters on Wednesday that if countries wanted to update their pledges they were free to do so, but this should be “a voluntary thing”.
That makes it hard to see how the 1.5C target could be met, said Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
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