COP24 edging toward deal on how to report carbon emissions

A deal on the rules that govern the Paris climate accord appeared within grasp Saturday, as officials from almost 200 countries worked to bridge remaining differences after two weeks of UN talks in Poland.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna holds out hope for agreement as talks come down to the wire

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna said negotiations at UN climate talks in Poland have 'come a long way.' (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A deal on the rules that govern the Paris climate accord appeared within grasp Saturday, as officials from almost 200 countries worked to bridge remaining differences after two weeks of UN talks in Poland.

The COP24 talks were expected to end Friday, but sessions continued into Saturday in an effort to work out firm rules for measuring greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to reduce them.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was a landmark moment in international diplomacy, bringing together governments with vastly different views to tackle the common threat of global warming. But while the accord set a headline target of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius — or 1.5 C if possible — much of the fine print was left unfinished.

The meeting in Poland's southern city of Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases — a key factor in man-made climate change — and the efforts they're taking to reduce them. Poor countries also wanted assurances on financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rise and pay for damage that's already happened.

"We've come a long way," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told The Associated Press ahead of a planned plenary meeting Saturday afternoon. "There's been really late negotiations, there's been big group negotiations, there's been shuttle diplomacy all through the night, and now we are coming to the wire."

McKenna expanded on those comments in an interview with CBC News on Saturday. 

"You have to do the hard work so you can get the compromises [and] you can get the outcome you want," she said. 

The minister pointed out that it's not just the big meetings that require effort, but continuing those talks in bilateral meetings, and in informal conversations in the hallways at the gathering. 

"Multilateralism is hard," McKenna added, but said that's why it's important that these nations come together.  

'The market is going to play a huge role'

One major sticking point during the talks was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.

"We want billions to flow into trillions. And I'm someone who believes that it's not just about national governments," McKenna said. "Ultimately the market is going to play a huge role in the cleaner solutions that we need, supporting countries and being efficient and how we do this."

A participant leaves before the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland, on Friday. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

Emerging economies such as Brazil have pushed back against rich countries' demands to cancel piles of carbon credits still lingering from a system set up under the 1997 Kyoto accord.

"There are still a range of possible outcomes and Brazil continues to work constructively with other parties to find a workable pathway forward," said the country's chief negotiator, Antonio Marcondes.

Increasing concern among scientists

The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of increasing concern among scientists that global warming is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that while it's possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times, this will require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy including a shift away from fossil fuels.

Alarmed by efforts to include this in the final text of the meeting, the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked endorsement of the report midway through the talks, prompting uproar from vulnerable countries and environmental groups.

While some officials questioned the format of the meeting, which has grown to a huge event with tens of thousands of participants, the head of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, stressed how important it was to bring all countries of the world together on the issue.

"We need a multilateral process especially for the poorest and smallest countries that don't go to G20," she said, referring to the Group of 20 major and emerging economies that met recently in Argentina. "But the lack of ambition by some rich countries, like the European Union, is worrying, especially as we are staring the 1.5 report in the face."

With files from CBC News