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Historic UN climate pact 'extremely close': French host
Le Bourget, France (AFP) Dec 10, 2015

Climate change: How bad can it get?
Le Bourget, France (AFP) Dec 10, 2015 - Ministers in Paris have until Friday to conclude a 195-nation pact to stop Earth's climate becoming inhospitable to humans and other species.

If humankind continues to emit greenhouse gases unabated, the average global temperature by 2100 will be about 5.2 degrees Celsius (9.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

The goal is not to exceed 2C (3.6F). Ever.

But even if countries fully honour the carbon-curbing pledges they submitted to bolster the hoped-for Paris pact, average warming will be 3C (5.4F) by century's end, scientists say.

The year 2015 is set to hit the 1C (1.8F) mark -- halfway to the targeted ceiling.

What is at stake?

- Heatwaves -

Some 1.5 billion people will be exposed to heatwaves every year by 2100 under 2C, according to Avoid 2, a British government-funded consortium of climate change research institutes.

The number will rise to about 4.5 billion under 3C, and 12 billion under 5.2C.

A rare heatwave of the severity that killed 70,000 people in Europe in 2003, would happen once every four years in a 2C-warmer world, and biennially under 3C, according to French climatologist Jean Jouzel. At 4-5C, every single European summer will be hotter than 2003.

- Flooding -

An estimated 30 million people would be affected by flooding every year by 2100 under 2C, says Avoid 2. This would rise to about 60 million under 3C, and double that number at 5.2C.

- Rising seas -

According to Jouzel, sea levels would be about 40 cm (17 inches) higher by 2100 in a 2C-warmer world by 2100, some 60 cm at 3C and at 4-5C, closer to 80 cm. "And it won't stop there."

Driving the rise are ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica shedding mass faster than ever, melting glaciers, and oceans that expand as they warm.

Even a 2C rise as targeted by the UN would submerge land currently occupied by 280 million people, according to Climate Central, a US-based research group. The change could take a few hundred years, or up to 2,000 years.

- Water dilemma -

Global warming can lead to long-running droughts and devastating floods, which means some parts of the world will not have enough water and others too much.

In a 2C world, an estimated 1.5 billion people would be exposed to some level of "water stress" in 2100, rising to about 2 billion at 5.2C.

- Humanitarian crises -

Heatwaves, droughts and heavy rains can spur disease, ravage crops, and destroy homes and livelihoods, pushing millions more people into poverty. Conflict over water or other dwindling resources could fuel mass migration or war.

People living on low-lying islands such as the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, or the Philippines could become climate refugees, forced to flee their homes due to rising seas.

Poor people are hurt most by climate extremes, relying directly on the land and often lacking public services.

- Treasures of nature, civilisation -

From the glimmering coral of the Great Barrier Reef to Mount Fuji and the canal-crossed city of Venice, global warming may spell the ruin of some of the most precious jewels of nature and civilisation, UNESCO warns.

A warming climate is one of the principal menaces to the Great Barrier Reef, a dazzling, 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) coral reef system off the coast of northeastern Australia, threatened by rising seas, warming waters, storms, and greater ocean acidity.

Climate change threatens a range of other treasures as well, says UNESCO. In Japan, Mount Fuji's permafrost is already receding up the mountain's slopes. Venice could sink another 54 centimetres by 2100, UNESCO warns. And scientists say the ice field of Tanzania's dormant volcanic Mount Kilimanjaro could melt away entirely within 15 years.

The French host of UN talks aimed at saving mankind from climate catastrophe said Thursday a historic accord was "extremely close", but called for unprecedented compromises during a second night of non-stop negotiations.

Eleven days of bruising international diplomacy in the French capital have failed to resolve a host of decades-long arguments between rich and poor nations over how to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

But, with feuding negotiators from 195 nations heading into a second night of talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius submitted a new draft of the planned accord and said it was time to take the "decisive step".

"We are extremely close to the finish line," Fabius, who is the president of the talks, told the negotiators.

"It is time to come to an agreement. What is important now is to seek landing zones and compromise."

World leaders have described the Paris talks as the last chance to avert disastrous climate change: increasingly severe drought, floods and storms, as well as rising seas that engulf islands and populated coastal regions.

The planned accord would seek to revolutionise the world's energy system by cutting back or potentially eliminating the use of greenhouse gas culprits coal, oil and gas -- replacing them with renewables such as solar.

- Blame game -

UN efforts dating back to the 1990s have failed to reach such an agreement.

Developing nations insist the United States and other established economic powerhouses must shoulder the lion's share of responsibility as they have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.

But rich nations say emerging giants must also do more, arguing that developing countries now account for most of today's emissions and thus will be largely responsible for future warming.

Those fault lines are continuing to keep both sides from reaching an agreement.

Still, delegates said the mood in Paris remained relatively positive, and the finger-pointing and back-biting of past climate talks were so far absent.

In an effort break the deadlock and ramp up pressure on negotiators to compromise, Fabius launched non-stop talks on Wednesday night.

They were due to run again through the night on Thursday, with Fabius expressing hope of still being able to meet a Friday deadline for sealing the accord.

But others were less sure, with senior Chinese climate envoy Li Junfeng telling reporters earlier he thought a Saturday finish was the best-case scenario.

As part of a carefully coordinated US diplomatic push for a deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Thursday with Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.

India is a key player in Paris because it has huge coal resources that it wants to burn to power its economic development.

- Deal-busters -

One of the biggest potential deal-busters remaining is over money.

Rich countries promised six years ago in Copenhagen to muster $100 billion (92 billion euros) a year from 2020 to help developing nations make the costly shift to clean energy, and to cope with the impact of global warming.

But how the pledged funds will be raised still remains unclear -- and developing countries are pushing for a promise to ramp up the money in future.

Another flashpoint issue is how to compensate developing nations that will be worst hit by climate change but are least to blame for it.

The developing nations are demanding "loss and damage" provisions, which the United States is particularly wary of as it fears they could make US companies vulnerable to legal challenges for compensation.

Most nations submitted to the UN before Paris their voluntary plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020, a process that was widely hailed as an important platform for success.

But scientists say that, even if the cuts were fulfilled, they would still put Earth on track for warming of at least 2.7C.

Negotiators remain divided in Paris over when and how often to review national plans so that they can be "scaled up" with pledges for deeper emissions cuts. Climate experts hope clean energy sources will eventually be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Another battleground is what cap on global warming to enshrine in the accord, set to take effect in 2020.

Many nations vulnerable to climate change want to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

However several big polluters, such as China and India, prefer a ceiling of 2C, which would allow them to burn fossil fuels for longer.

There was growing confidence within the vulnerable-nation bloc that they would win their high-profile campaign, and secure a reference to the 1.5C target in the key "purpose" section of the planned accord.

This was partly due to the emergence of an informal new lobby group that emerged this week in Paris dubbed the "High Ambition Coalition", which includes the United States, the European Union and many vulnerable nations.

The group does not negotiate as a bloc, but is seen as having influenced the talks by heavily promoting "ambitious" benchmarks in the planned accord, such as a 1.5C reference.

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