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Paris Climate Change Negotiators Need More Time

Environmental activists form a human chain near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the sideline of the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

With a historic, planetwide pact on the line, hundreds of diplomats in Paris are preparing to extend the U.N. climate change conference into Saturday.

The deadline to reach consensus on a climate deal was supposed to be midnight Friday. But conference leader Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said there wouldn't be a finished text — let alone full approval — until Saturday morning.

The goal is for all of the nearly 200 countries involved — wealthy, developing and in between — to collectively lower greenhouse gas emissions, limit the extent of climate change and cope with the climate shifts that can't be avoided.

After two weeks of negotiation, the latest climate-accord draft, released Thursday, suggests agreement on a number of issues, such as:

  • Global temperature rise should be held below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • By midcentury, man-made climate change emissions should reach "neutrality," with a net zero amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being released.
  • Developed countries will offer money to poorer countries to help them grow their economies while also cutting emissions.

There's $100 billion on the table, NPR's Chris Joyce said on Morning Edition, promised by 2020 — which developing countries say is a start.

But sticking points remain. For one thing, developed countries want to verify how that money is spent, which has been "a tough negotiating issue," Chris says.

Delegates are also clashing over whether some emerging economies — such as China and India — should be contributing money along with wealthier nations, The Associated Press reports, and the latest draft doesn't discuss whether vulnerable countries will be compensated for damage caused by unavoidable climate change.

And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reported this week, small island states have been pushing for the agreement to set a bolder target: holding an increase in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the latest draft commits to "well below 2 degrees," and "to pursue efforts" to hold the increase to 1.5 degrees.

But the move toward consensus is visible in the various drafts the conference has released. Many disputed sections, marked in brackets, have been resolved — sometimes by dropping numbers or timelines in favor of broader statements. For example, one section of a draft six days ago read:

"... [Rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y- per cent reduction in global (greenhouse gas emissions][CO2][e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]] ... [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [ climate neutrality] [decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible over mid-century] ..."

By Thursday night, when the latest draft was released, that had become:

"... rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century ..."

Overall, the newest draft (which you can read below) has only 50 brackets remaining.

The delay of an extra day hasn't alarmed activists and analysts, according to the AP.

"We would rather they take their time and were patient with the right deal than rush it and get a breakdown," Sam Barratt of advocacy group Avaaz told the wire service. "Getting 200 countries to agree on anything is tough."

An up or down vote is expected Saturday, according to the AP. And Chris Joyce says a deal seems close.

"I really don't think that the developing world, for one, is going to walk away from the huge amount of money that could be transferred here from the wealthy countries to the less developed countries," Chris says.

"And as far as the developed world is concerned, they would look pretty mean-spirited if they walked away from this at this point."

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