Paris, France – Three days and counting to the official end of negotiations and the climate talks appear to be ahead of the game.
Since Saturday’s release of the newly honed draft text, progress has been made. But significant challenges remain.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister and president of COP21, released the latest version of the text on Wednesday, with the global airline and shipping industries appearing to win a symbolic reprieve.
The reference in the text to two of the world’s fastest-growing emitters appeared to be one of the first significant changes in an agreement still riddled with much bigger, more contentious issues.
The text will now form the basis of the ongoing negotiations ahead of Friday’s deadline for a deal.
So far, Fabius has met every one of his deadlines, set to expedite this usually laborious process of indecision and inaction.
His final deadline is for the gavel to go down on this agreement at 6pm on Friday night.
Typically these talks overrun by hours, well into the weekend.
Fabius is determined. “I intend to muster the experience of my entire life to the service of success for next Friday,” he said at the weekend.
Praise for his stewardship of these talks has been unreserved.
The French presidency of COP21 has created the so-called Paris Committee, the climate “musketeers” – ministers charged with facilitating compromise when needed.
And on Tuesday the musketeers reported significant improvement in most areas.
Among the areas of clear division is how to deal with the issue of differentiation – the differing responsibilities between developed and developing countries, chiefly over finance. Here the ministers reported that “very clear faultlines remained”.
Some progress was made on Tuesday when it came to light that more than 100 countries had come together to push for a truly strong, ambitious agreement. The so-called High Ambition Coalition includes 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the European Union and the United States.
The question is whether this broad coalition can succeed in its goal of securing a strong agreement.
The EU has agreed to pay $519m to support climate action until 2020. And the alliance has agreed there must be a transparent mechanism in the text which tracks nations’ progress on climate pledges.
Another major challenge is to find agreement on what target to set in the long term.
Small island nations want to push for a deal that will limit warming to 1.5C in response to evidence from many scientists that 2C is insufficient.
“Many leaders say they support a 1.5 degree temperature limit, and we’re heartened to hear that,” said Ruth Davis, of Greenpeace.
“But that doesn’t change anything if you don’t have a map and a car to get to that destination. We feel that this map is in serious jeopardy.”
Among the key countries to watch is India whose negotiators want to avoid being tied into an accord that holds back the nation’s growth.
They have opposed wording which includes “developing countries in a position to do so” among those making contributions to climate finance. They also want to avoid the inclusion of 1.5C.
But India has also formed a Solar Alliance of 120 countries and promised to ramp up renewables to reduce coal usage.
The problem area of “loss and damage” – how developing countries are compensated for the effects of climate change – is as prickly as ever.
The US says it can be included in the text but there must be no mention of the word compensation.
Rich countries adamantly do not want the possibility of liability and compensation obligations for the effects of climate change.
Back in the US, Congress would never buy into such an agreement.
But John Kerry, the secretary of state, remains optimistic.
“Though we have some tough issues in the next few days to resolve, I am confident that we have the ability to do it,” he said.
There is doubtless a new spirit of cooperation and we do seem to be headed for an agreement. But the question of how strong and binding any accord will be, will only be answered once that gavel goes down.