I noted back in February that UN negotiators had produced "an early draft" of the text for the climate deal in Paris next December. Their initial text had been 38 pages long, but negotiators managed to whittle it down to 86 pages to make sure the document reflected every country's wishes.
The Guardian reported at the end of last week that further progress has been made. It noted:
"Slow progress was made until the final hours, as nations wrangled over the wording of an 89 page draft text, intending to cut it down to a more manageable size. After two weeks, the text had been cut by just four pages to 85."
Somehow, I had managed to miss the fact that the 86 page draft (referred to above) had become an 89 page one. But, that's ok because it's now 85. In this way progress is made. One page fewer in 4 months. Happily, there was a last-minute development that observers hope will put the talks back on track. Countries have agreed that the co-chairs of the negotiations should be allowed to make their own alterations to the text, and present it to all countries for approval, probably in late July. The Guardian notes that "this should be a quicker process, though there is no guarantee that countries will not try to re-draw the new draft when it becomes available." Indeed.
The piece does provide insight into the sort of arcane discussions that go on. Here's the G again about what hangs on the little word "action":
At one point, the discussion was divided over whether to use the terms “differentiated commitments/contributions”, referring to targets on cutting emissions, or the term “commitments/contributions/action”. The former was preferred by China, the latter by the US. The distinction may seem trivial, but it points to some of the entrenched attitudes that have dogged the talks over more than two decades.
“Differentiated” comes from a term used in the original UN treaties, as “common but differentiated responsibilities” was used as the way of encoding the fact that all countries, developed and developing, have an interest in alleviating climate change, but that their responsibilities varied based on historical emissions and economic development.
China is adamant that the phrase, known as CBDR in the UN jargon, is core to any existing or potential new agreement, but the US – though it accepts the principle – is wary of the phrase because it believes it has been used in the past to draw a clear dividing line between developed and developing countries. These categories are no longer so clear-cut, according to the US, because of the rapid progress of emerging economies. China, for instance, is now the world’s biggest emitter and second biggest economic power.
How many pages will it be in the end? Who knows; but it's what they say that matters, and whether anyone will take much notice. As Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever, said about a related issue:
“Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal."