High-stakes climate talks aiming to craft a global accord to combat climate change stumbled Friday with China and many other nations refusing to yield ground, forcing host France to extend the international summit by a day to overcome stubborn divisions.
The difficult talks will continue as diplomats try to overcome disagreements over how — or even whether — to share the costs of fighting climate change and shift to clean energy on a global scale.
Negotiators from more than 190 countries are trying to do something that's never been done: reach a deal for all countries to reduce man-made carbon emissions and cooperate to adapt to rising seas and increasingly extreme weather caused by human activity.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry zipped in and out of negotiation rooms as delegates broke into smaller groups overnight to iron out their differences, warning that "very difficult" issues still needed to be resolved.
After talks wrapped up at nearly 6 a.m. local time Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he is aiming for a final draft Saturday.
“There is still work to do … things are going in the right direction,” Fabius said." This represents all of the countries in the world and it's completely normal to take a bit of time, so we will shift it.
The to-week talks, the culmination of years of U.N.-led efforts for a long-term climate deal, had been scheduled to wrap up Friday. U.N. climate conferences often run past deadline, given the complexity and sensitivity of each word in an international agreement, and the consequences for national economies.
Negotiators from China, the U.S. and other nations are haggling over how to share the burden of fighting climate change. Some delegates said a new draft accord presented late Thursday by Fabius allowed rich nations to shift the responsibility to the developing world.
“We are going backwards,” said Gurdial Singh Nijar of Malaysia, the head of a bloc of hardline countries that also includes India, China and Saudi Arabia.
They have put up the fiercest resistance against attempts by the U.S., the European Union and other wealthy nations to make emerging economies pitch in to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and help the poorest countries cope with climate change. The issue, known as “differentiation” in U.N. climate lingo, was expected to be one of the last to be resolved.
“We're working on it,” Kerry said as he emerged from one meeting room with an entourage of security agents and State Department aides.
Nijar said it was unreasonable to expect countries like Malaysia to rapidly shift from fossil fuels — the biggest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions — to cleaner sources of energy.
“We cannot just switch overnight … and go to renewables,” he said, on a coffee break between meetings at 1:30 a.m. “If you remove differentiation you create very serious problems for developing countries.”
Seeking to break the deadlock, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, spoke by phone.
"They committed that their negotiating teams in Paris would continue to work closely together and with others to realize the vision of an ambitious climate agreement," the White House said in a Friday statement. Obama had earlier in the week also spoken with the leaders of India and Brazil in a bid to find common ground with other major economies with giant carbon footprints.
The potential accord would be the first time all countries are expected to pitch in on mitigating the effects of climate change — the previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only included rich countries.
The latest, 27-page draft said governments would aim to peak the emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases “as soon as possible” and strive to reach “emissions neutrality” by the second half of the century.
That was weaker language than in previous drafts that included more specific emissions cuts and timeframes.
The biggest challenge is to define the responsibilities of wealthy nations, which have polluted the most historically, and developing economies including China and India where emissions are growing the fastest.
The draft didn't resolve how to deal with demands from vulnerable countries to deal with unavoidable damage from rising seas and other climate impacts. One option said such “loss and damage” would be addressed in a way that doesn't involve liability and compensation — a U.S. demand.