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Lima Update: Draft Climate Pact Balloons To 52 Pages

LIMA, Peru — For a sense of the frustrating tenor of climate negotiations underway here, which aim to agree on a clear outline of a new international climate-protecting agreement, consider this: One of the two draft documents being thrashed out had, by Wednesday morning, with just three days of a fortnight of talks remaining, ballooned into an unworkable 52-page opus.

And not a single paragraph within the latest iteration of that 52-page draft had been agreed upon by the troop of international climate negotiators.

The 52-page draft is due to be pared down and agreed upon by the end of this week, helping to form the basis for a pact to be formalized during talks in Paris in a year. Next year's agreement will detail steps that countries agree upon to slow down climate change, with the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, or 3.6°F.

European officials address reporters in Lima on Wednesday.
Credit: John Upton

Negotiating teams led by high-level government officials are huddling behind closed doors in giant tents on a Peruvian military base in an effort to slim down the drafts and to agree on alternative options. Talks began last week and high-level negotiations began Tuesday.

So far, though, negotiating teams have mostly been adding new options and digging in on their preferred alternatives. Some paragraphs in one document currently include as many as 11 options to be chosen from.

"Countries are expanding, not shrinking the options," said Jake Schmidt, a Natural Resources Defense Council official involved with the talks.

The ballooning text is a manifestation of what has become normal practice during annual climate negotiations, with nations posturing for days before finding some middle ground just as the talks wrap up.

“This, believe it or not, is typical at this stage,” Robert Stavins, a Harvard University environmental economist, and a veteran of the climate talks, said.

To hurry the talks along, the main negotiating body, known in negotiator lingo as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform, or ADP, has split into two to focus on different issues.

A main point of difference between negotiating teams is whether the main text of the climate agreement should cover climate adaptation, financial support for developing countries and also pollution-reducing measures — or whether it should focus solely, or heavily, on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Significant division also persists between the European Union and the U.S. around whether national commitments to reduce their pollution levels should be legally binding under international law.

The drafts were described and discussed during a press conference in Lima on Wednesday held by European officials.

“The negotiations under the ADP are still on track, but progress is much slower than we want and need,” European Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete told reporters. “We will need a simple text for political decisions to be taken. It is now high time to pick up the pace.”

Correction: This story initially discussed just one of two drafts being negotiated, and it included misinformation about the contents and public availability of one of those drafts.

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