A coalition representing more than 100 countries, formed in secrecy six months ago, has emerged at key UN talks in Paris to push for a legally binding global and ambitious deal on climate change.
The “high ambition coalition” speaks for the majority of the 195 countries at thecrunch conference and consists of 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the US and all of EU member states. But notable exceptions include major developing countries such as China and India.
The group is focusing on at least four key issues. They want an agreement at Paris to be legally binding; to set a clear long-term goal on global warming that is in line with scientific advice; to introduce a mechanism for reviewing countries’ emissions commitments every five years; and create a unified system for tracking countries’ progress on meeting their carbon goals.
The move is significant because it forms a major new power at the talks that wants to come to as strong an agreement as possible. Countries are meeting in Paris to forge a new global agreement on climate change, with limits on emissions and finance for poorer countries, to kick in from 2020 when current commitments expire.
The Paris talks, which are now into their final days, are seen as a make-or-break meeting, because if they fail the world will lack effective collective action on global warming.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate commissioner, said the alliance showed that developed and developing countries could work together with a common interest. “These negotiations are not about them and us. They are about all of us, developed and developing countries, finding common ground and solutions together. We urge other countries to join us. Together we can do it,” he said.
“This is an ambition coalition,” said Giza Gaspar Martins, chair of the group of the 48 most vulnerable countries to climate change. “This is also a coalition that is open to recognising the difficulties of others, because alone, we can’t achieve that high mitigation ambition that we have.”
Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, Tony de Brum, said the coalition had waited until it could have the most impact to make its work public. “This being the last three days of this meeting, there needs to be bridging. To reach out to those who still have doubts and maybe help convince them that the message that we are putting out is for real and it does makes sense and it has the support of a lot more people than may first meet the eye.”
The coalition was first formed over informal drinks on the sidelines of a climate meeting in Paris in July. Pablo Vieira Samper, Colombia’s deputy environment minister, said De Brum was the “brilliant mind behind it”.
A group of 15 foreign ministers, as well as Cañete, has since met in secrecy at least three times, including one meeting on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September in a boardroom provided by the Rockerfeller family.
On Sunday night, the ministers attended a dinner at a restaurant in central Paris, which was attended by US chief negotiator Todd Stern. The meal lasted until midnight as ministers spoke convivially and at length as they converged on issues on which they have identified common ground.
The group was initially known as “the informal ministerial gathering”, but Stern coined the name “the high ambition coalition” in a press conference on Monday.
De Brum said the countries would act as a “mosquito fleet”, sending envoys to various parties with which they have bilateral ties and “bite them in a nice way”. He said he had personally requested meetings with Australia, Poland, Canada and India. None of the partners had yet reached out to the world’s biggest polluter, China.
Vieira Samper said: “Our countries, negotiating groups even, might have different views and different needs. But we know that there are certain things that we all want. Of course this is something that’s open to anyone who wants to join.”
But De Brum warned that while the group wanted to become broad, it would not sacrifice its core demands. “This group is not going to allow this thing to be diluted to the point that it’s a watered down agreement with really no teeth. I think that’s important. And also that we will not leave anyone behind,” said De Brum.
There still appear to be some elements of divergence within the coalition though, with De Brum and Vieira Samper presenting a list of eight “points of convergence”. These differed slightly from four points the EU simultaneously made public. The Guardian understands the EU is in accord with all eight coalition demands. Ministers will meet on Tuesday night to settle on an official statement to be made on Wednesday morning.
Some countries, including China and India, are understood to have reservations about potential elements of a deal. India in particular is unhappy with a five-year review of targets, and with plans to include a target of limiting future warming to 1.5C, instead of 2C which scientists say is the limit of safety, beyond which extreme weather could become catastrophic and irreversible.
The US wants some aspects of any deal – such as the emission targets and commitments on financial assistance to the developing world – not to be legally binding, though it may agree to the main architecture of any settlement be binding.
Ministers from the 195 countries at the talks are now working on the draft text of a possible agreement. They are scheduled to finish on Thursday, leaving the mechanics of formalising an agreement under the UN’s processes for Friday, last day of the fortnight-long meeting. However, if these talks follow the pattern set at previous meetings, that timetable may slip.
Note: the article was changed to more clearly represent the distinction between the EU’s announcement of four points and the eight agreed on by the coalition.