PARIS — A deadline to reach a global climate agreement today has now been punted to Saturday as negotiators from more than 190 countries work through remaining “red line” issues and climate activists prepare to violate a government ban on public protests.
“I will be able to present a new text to parties tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” said Laurent Fabius, the sleep-deprived chair of the two-week Conference of Paris, known during this summit as COP21.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna issued a statement mid-day pointing to “good cooperation around the table” on many issues that Canada has pushed for, including the idea of “ratcheting up” country emission-reduction targets every five years and assuring transparency of each country’s efforts.
She pointed to a reference in the text to limiting temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees C” while “pursuing efforts to limit increase to 1.5 degrees.”
“Canada has advocated for this recognition of the urgency of the threat to small-island states, like the Marshall Islands, with whom we now stand as part of the High Ambition Coalition,” said McKenna, referring to a coalition of more than 100 developing and developed countries, including the U.S., cooperating as a block toward common climate goals.
Late Friday, Brazil made the announcement that it has also joined the High Ambition Coalition, a move that Greenpeace said could improve the dynamics of the negotiations. “With this move, Brazil can become a bridge builder to the others.”
Fossil fuel phaseout
Whether a strong or weak deal — or any deal — will be reached remains uncertain, but increasingly clear is that civil society groups have no intention of backing down from one simple demand: a complete phase-out of all fossil fuel burning by 2050 in concert with a dramatic shift to renewable energy.
To amplify that message, thousands of protesters are expected to gather at noon Saturday, Paris time, for a public demonstration that will test the tolerance of French authorities. A ban on such marches was imposed shortly after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people at various locations throughout the city.
An organizer of the protest, 350.org, said the demonstration will start at the famous Arc de Triomphe at the grave of the unknown solider. Nearly two kilometers of bodies, painted in red, will form a line along the main avenue.
“The action will be a reminder that there is no complete triumph in the battle against climate change – too much has already been lost – but that any progress will be led by the people, not our politicians,” the organization said.
350.org and Greenpeace International warned Thursday they plan to significantly bolster civil disobedience actions around the world in 2016 — starting with a week of protests in May – and they named Canada as one of several countries that would be targeted.
“You can imagine human chains peacefully blocking oil exports, ordinary people walking arm in arm on to coalfields and defiant marches heading towards the headquarters of fossil-fuel companies,” said Payal Parekh, global managing director of 350.org.
If Canada’s fossil fuel industry, particularly companies in the oil sands, thought the Alberta government’s ambitious new climate plan would convince environmental groups to ease up on their criticism, climate activists here say the opposite is assured.
Emboldened by U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection in early November of the Keystone XL pipeline project, groups such as 350.org say they’re going to step up and expand their activities. Oil and coal developers will be targeted, but so too will the financial institutions that keep financing their multibillion-dollar projects.
“Irrespective of what they deliver (in Paris), the movement towards a clean, just, renewable energy future has started, and this future is unstoppable,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.
Naidoo said it was ridiculous that countries were negotiating seriously about limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees C yet the option of freezing all new fossil-fuel development has never been on the table.
Another Greenpeace spokesperson, Martin Kaiser, said weak language within the latest draft of the agreement sends the wrong signal.
“Right now, if you were planning on investing in a new coal mine this deal might not be enough to make you put your chequebook away. The negotiators have got 24 hours to change that simple fact,” he said.
Canada has been constructive during negotiations but hasn’t escape criticism. Many environmental groups are angry the Trudeau government backed U.S. language within the latest draft that protects rich countries from future liabilities related to climate impacts. Instead, there is a vague commitment to “enhance action and support” for addressing losses and damages.
Inclusion of special protective language where none was needed represents a gesture of bad faith that could further frustrate negotiations, observers said.
Several weak spots in the agreement still require compromise. On the issue of transparency, rich countries want all nations to follow a single, standards-based approach to verifying their commitments; and on the issue of differentiation, rich countries want some emerging economies, such as China, to take on more responsibility and burden, with less developed countries demanding that their unique circumstances and capabilities be recognized throughout the agreement.
“What you see in some parts of the text is that the small guys are moving the big guys, and this is a very important thing,” said Monica Araya of Costa Rica-based environmental group Nivela.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the negotiations Friday as “most complicated, most difficult.” Fabius said he was sure the text to come Saturday morning would gain approval.
– This article is part of a series produced in partnership by the Toronto Star and Tides Canada to address a range of pressing climate issues in Canada leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, December 2015. Tides Canada is supporting this partnership to increase public awareness and dialogue around the impacts of climate change on Canada’s economy and communities. The Toronto Star has full editorial control and responsibility to ensure stories are rigorously edited in order to meet its editorial standards.