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Climate change

‘The next 24 hours may decide the fate of entire nations’

A display of flags at the UN Climate Summit

A display at the UN Climate Summit shows the flag for each country taking part in the negotiations.

The clock is ticking here in Paris as negotiators from over 190 countries attempt to produce an agreement to stop the world hurtling towards catastrophic levels of climate change over the coming decades. 

The UN Climate Summit is supposed to wrap-up on Friday evening, but with less than two days of negotiating left to go there remains no agreement on very basic and fundamental issues. 

What will be the upper limit of accepted temperature rises? What percentage of carbon emissions must we reduce by? What is the timeframe for this reduction? 

The most recently updated draft version of the agreement still has huge question marks over these very core issues, and that is without getting into the finer details. 

Worryingly, the most recent text is very disappointing on the issues of human rights and food security. Positive sections of earlier drafts enshrining human rights into the agreement have been removed, while there remains an emphasis on large scale food production rather than protecting subsistence farmers.

That is not to say that progress is not being made at the Summit.

The initial draft text had so many options listed under various headings that it ran to 54 pages. Agreement has been found on many of these issues, meaning the updated text is just 29 pages long. 

Many of the less contentious issues have been resolved, leaving negotiators facing a mammoth final few hours to agree the rest. 

Indeed, the fact that the negotiations are still ongoing is in itself a good sign. Previous Summits have collapsed long before the final hours so the fact that teams are still locked into rooms speaking with each other is encouraging.

Kiribati and Tuvalu, island nations under threat of being submerged by rising seas, are two of the many countries represented here for whom this is not just a Summit to discuss technicalities – this is a Summit for Survival. Their negotiating teams are reportedly encouraged that the option of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still on the table. The fact that industrialised nations have not dismissed this in favour of a less ambitious target gives them hope that their countries may survive. 

What an incredibly anxious 24 hours ahead for them – the decisions made in negotiating rooms here will decide the fate of their nations.

The Forest of Flags outside the UN Climate Summit

The ‘Forest of Flags’ at the entrance to the UN Climate Summit displays the flags of each country represented at the Summit

Each morning as the negotiators file into the Summit venue they walk through a ‘Forest of Flags’, which displays the flags of each of the countries represented here. Looking at the flags of countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, Bangladesh, Malawi and the Philippines – countries already battling the impacts of climate change – is a stark reminder of exactly what is at stake here. 

These are the countries on the frontline for whom failure in Paris is simply not an option.

The clock is ticking, in more ways than one. 

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