Officials from almost 200 countries are scrambling to reach an agreement at a UN climate meeting in Madrid amid growing concerns that key issues may be postponed for another year.
With the prospect of overtime looming, negotiators split their work into two parts, separating discussions on aid for poor countries affected by climate change from those over a deal on international carbon markets.
“We are reaching the final hours of the process,” said Chile’s environment minister Carolina Schmidt, who is chairing the talks.
“Now is the time we must show the world that we are capable to get to consensus and agreement that are needed to tackle the crisis that we are facing all over the world,” she said.
“Some issues have progressed more than others, but there was a general optimism that landing zones were beginning to emerge.”
Germany’s environment minister said a decision overnight by European Union leaders in Brussels to make the bloc “climate neutral” by 2050 would provide a boost to negotiations in the Spanish capital with hours left before the official end.
“With this, we can convince other major economies to join in and show how they want to reduce carbon emissions,” Svenja Schulze told the Associated Press.
While agreeing new, tougher emissions targets for meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord is not officially on the agenda in Madrid, observers say a strong signal of ambition will help rally nations ahead of a deadline next year.
Meanwhile, EU countries and others insisted they would prefer not to finalise rules on international carbon markets rather than to approve one that could undermine efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Economists say allowing companies and rich countries to invest in carbon-cutting measures such as rain forest protection in poor countries could become a vital tool for lowering emissions, provided the markets are transparent.
“We are all looking for a compromise,” said Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s top official in charge of climate issues. “But there is no way, no way, we could accept a compromise that jeopardises environmental integrity. Just no way.”
Developing nations singled out the United States as one of the countries blocking talks over aid to poor nations, agreed in 2013 and known as the Warsaw International Mechanism.
American officials pushed back against those claims.
“The US government is the largest humanitarian donor in the world,” a State Department official said.
President Donald Trump formally triggered the US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord, a process that will be completed on Nov 4 next year, a day after the next US presidential election.
The move means the US, the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, will be excluded from many of the negotiations at next November’s climate talks in Glasgow.
As host next year, Britain will have to tackle any issues left over from Madrid and the more daunting task of getting countries to agree tougher emissions targets, even as it continues to negotiate its exit from the European Union.
Scientists say big cuts to global emissions have to start next year if the Paris accord’s goal of keeping global warming at 2C but ideally 1.5C by the end of the century is to be achieved.