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Ministers in Paris to seek climate convergence

Five weeks before they hope to sign off on a pact to curb global warming, more than 60 environment and energy ministers gather in Paris from Sunday to narrow political rifts.

Ministers in Paris to seek climate convergence
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talks with workers at the COP21 construction site. Photo: AFP
The three-day huddle seeks to target areas of possible compromise ahead of a year-end summit in the French capital tasked with inking the first ever universal agreement to rein in climate-altering greenhouse gases.
   
It will be a chance for ministers to examine a rough draft of the deal that remains little more than a laundry list of opposing options, despite months of haggling.
   
“It… can help build understanding and trust between ministers, which will be essential in the end game at Paris,” said analyst Jennifer Morgan of the Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank.
   
The November 30-December 11 Conference of Parties (COP) — the 21st such gathering — will be opened by more than 80 heads of state and government including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi of India.
   
The idea is for leaders to provide political impetus for the final round of talks by rank-and-file negotiators and their ministers.
   
The “pre-COP” meeting from Sunday to Tuesday brings together all the negotiating blocs, and includes top envoys from all major carbon polluting
nations — China, the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil and others.
   
It is the third such ministerial meeting in Paris this year, and will tackle make-or-break issues such as burden-sharing for slashing emissions and climate finance.
   
“The ministers are expected to provide political guidance to help the Paris climate conference reach a successful outcome,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which defends poor countries' interests at the talks.
   
“The French COP 21 presidency needs the ministers… to set the negotiations on course to success.”
 
Last-minute deals
 
According to the rules, ministers cannot alter the 55-page blueprint for the Paris deal, crafted by bureaucrats over years of technical talks.
   
But they can anticipate the last-minute deals that will be needed to unlock an agreement.
   
The overarching goal is a global pact on curbing emissions to limit average Earth warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
   
The last negotiating round in Bonn in October saw squabbles along well-rehearsed fault lines of developed vs developing nations.
  
Developing countries insist rich ones should lead the way in slashing emissions because historically they have emitted more pollution.
   
Developing nations also want assurances of financing to help decarbonize their economies and shore up defences against the impacts of superstorms, drought, flood and sea-level rise.
   
But industrialized countries point the finger at emerging giants such as China and India spewing carbon dioxide as they burn coal to power expanding populations and economies.
   
These crux issues will ultimately be settled at the political level.
   
“The ministers have only the second week of the COP to reach agreement on a number of difficult issues, so the pre-COP gives them a head start on that,” said Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace.
   
“Paris will be a legal climate agreement, and only political leaders can deliver that.”
   
Much work lies ahead outside the 195-nation UN climate forum, including a G20 summit in Turkey this month where the thorny issue of climate finance will be discussed.
   
The Paris pact will be supported by a roster of national carbon-curbing pledges, but over 150 commitments submitted to date place Earth on track for warming of about 3C, analysts say.
   
Last month, scientists said the first nine months of 2015 had been the hottest on record worldwide.
 
By Mariette Le Roux

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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