The world is now on the brink of a landmark new climate deal, as the COP21 UN climate talks in Paris near a climax.

Ministers from more than 190 countries are trying to craft the first climate accord asking all nations to reduce or slow their emissions - the previous 1997 Kyoto Protocol only applied to rich countries - and lock in billions of dollars to help poor and vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.

A final agreement, which would ultimately establish commitments to slash emissions beyond 2020, was expected to be reached over the weekend.

Pushing alongside the French presidency are big players like the US, China and the European Union, all of which are still wrangling over a range of conditions.

Advertisement

Barriers included arguments over who should pay for what, whether targets should be binding, and what amount of warming the world was willing to accept.

A short while ago, the French presidency released another revised version of the draft Paris agreement, which has so far shrunk from hundreds of bracketed points of remaining disagreement to 50.

It showed a promising references to push rich countries toward a $100 billion climate fund by 2020 to assist poor and low-lying nations with adaptation and mitigation efforts.

But the key barriers - arguments over who should pay for what, whether targets should be binding, and what amount of warming the world was willing to accept - still remain.

Still unclear is how 160 post-2020 pledges made by nations will be reviewed and assessed or how climate funding will be configured between rich and developing nations.

There's also the question of whether the final agreement will suggest a more ambitious target of keeping temperature rise to 1.5C, with the latest reference in the text reading:
"Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C, recognising that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change."

References to human rights have now been purged from the text, as has gender equality, while language around the crunch issue of "loss and damage" - where rich nations could be potentially be made to pay compensation for climate-driven disaster - remained legally vague.

Greenpeace spokesperson Martin Kaiser said that, while matters weren't over until the conference closed, what was on the table wasn't good enough.

Advertisement

"It's a very big problem that the emissions targets on the table will not keep us below 1.5 degrees of warming and this draft deal does absolutely nothing to change that," he said.

"Right now we're witnessing a display of international impotence. This text should say that countries have to come back soon with better numbers but instead it kicks that can down the road, saying we'll sort it in 10 or 15 years."

Herald science reporter Jamie Morton spoke to Kiwi delegates at COP21 about progress so far and what it means for New Zealand.

Jo Tyndall, climate change ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

"The conference has been predictable to a point - but definitely not entirely," said Ms Tyndall, who has been helping steer New Zealand's team through a lengthy and exhausting round of negotiations.

"I've been going between feeling optimistic and slightly worried.

"But everybody I have spoken to - including some of those in the tougher negotiating end of the spectrum - assures me there will be a deal at the end of the conference."

"We won't get to the end of it without some bumps along the way - and there might be some big bumps."

New Zealand, the only developed country that has built its pledge entirely around carbon trading and emissions accounting, has been pushing at Paris for free access to international carbon markets and clear and detailed guidelines around land use.

But realistically, it was unlikely New Zealand would get exactly what it sought at the conference, she said.

"Ideally, we would have liked a well-formed and detailed set of principles and guidelines included in the agreement for both carbon markets and the land sector.

"The negotiation isn't mature enough to have that level of detail, but we are still reasonably confident that there will be the basis there to develop the kinds of principles and guidelines we have in mind."

Dr Adrian Macey, senior associate of Victoria University's Institute for Governance and Policy Studies

Having now attended 11 major COP climate summits, Dr Macey has been there to see all of the promising breakthroughs and heartbreaking failures of UN-led attempts to combat climate change through global diplomacy.

COP21 will be his last - and New Zealand's first climate change ambassador is expecting Paris will provide a happy ending to his more than two decades of involvement in the international effort.

He was optimistic that the groundwork achieved so far - nearly every country in the world having arrived at the Paris table with its own pledge to cut emissions - would give the world the deal that has so long eluded it.

"So far, I think the conference has gone very much as I thought it would."

Dr Macey credited the "extremely high competence" of the French presidency, which has kept the negotiations on the rails since taking charge of the agreement's drafting process this week.

Also helpful was that 150 world leaders had arrived at the conference's opening, which assisted progress by getting executive-level discussions out of the way early, and businesses and cities committing to their own efforts.

More than 7000 communities, including Auckland and more than other 2,250 cities and 150 regions - along with 2,025 companies and a third of the 2000 biggest global firms - were now working through their own climate action plans.

He also acknowledged the key political breakthrough at COP17 in Durban in 2011, which provided the agreement needed to set the stage for Paris.

"In terms of the importance of what it achieves, I think Paris is going to give us the biggest result since the Kyoto Protocol."

Megan Woods, Labour climate spokesperson and official New Zealand delegation member

Ms Woods felt COP21 had some strong and clear messages for New Zealand.
Particularly, it had to look harder at ways to cut emissions.

"Some of the points that New Zealand puts a great deal of stock in, like land use and forestry, aren't that high up in the negotiating text, but there's been quite a lot of talk at side events that are relevant to us.

"And I think we're seeing that we are going to be measured on what we do in terms of reducing our carbon."

She noted that European research organisation Germanwatch had ranked New Zealand 42nd for its climate efforts, with a score of 52 per cent and down from 34th the previous year.

"And that was only based on our carbon emissions, and not our agricultural emissions - so we can't just keep saying that we have a unique profile and that it's just about our agricultural emissions.

"We do have to do things that reduce our energy emissions."

As for getting a good global deal out of COP21, Ms Woods believed how successful it was would be in the eye of the beholder.

"A lot of people suggest that getting an agreement here is the most important thing, as long as it has strong ambition targets and ability to ratchet action up over time.

"I also think there is going be give around the [warming limit] target - I don't think the figure of 2C is quite set in and stone and we might get a target of 1.5C on the table.

"But probably the biggest take-home message for me is that we have an agreement where everybody is doing their bit.

"This is the architecture that we have to build strong domestic policy around and make sure New Zealand is no longer languishing at the bottom of the league tables.

"We really need to get our pace and direction right."

Natalie Jones, New Zealand Youth Delegation

"We've been cautiously optimistic, but in some ways this conference has been better than we expected," Ms Jones said.

"For instance, more than 100 countries are now pushing for a 1.5C long-term goal [of limiting global temperature rise], which is significantly more ambitious than the 2C figure that has long been the norm.

"We just think it's a real shame that so far, New Zealand has not come to the party and that we haven't publicly supported the 1.5C goal yet."

It was largely for this reason that New Zealand was on Wednesday presented its second shaming "Fossil of the Day" award of COP21 by the global Climate Action Network.

At COP21, Ms Jones and other young Kiwis in Paris have been calling on New Zealand to step up its action through colourful protests and their "Pull the Wool" campaign, accusing the Government of creative emissions accounting and rorting international land use policy mechanisms.

"Another thing that's happened here is a number of big countries joining a 'High Ambition Coalition' - but notably New Zealand is not amongst it.

"On the whole, COP21 has been positive and we think there will be an agreement reached, and that it will at least be adequate - but we really question New Zealand's role here.

"It's true that a lot of Scandinavian countries are doing a good job here and the European Union has positioned itself as a leader - it's definitely an example that we could be following."

James Shaw, Green Party leader and New Zealand delegation member

"I know there have been phases of this that people have been really frustrated with - there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing last week in particular - but given what we've just seen with the latest draft of the text being produced, it's looking very positive," he said.

"Obviously, the areas where there are disagreements that are still outstanding are the big ones where there always have been.

"And we've now cleared through all of the low-hanging fruit, so we are now probably at the period of maximum risk."

Mr Shaw believed the big question hanging over COP21 wasn't whether we going to get there - but what would "there" look like.

"My sense is that there's going to be enough good will and enough momentum to get an agreement - it's not going to be a strong one, it's going to be a weak one, but it's one that's going to start things moving.

"A lot of people have looked at Paris like it's the end the road; actually, it's the beginning of the road.

"This is the agreement we should have had 20 years ago, but for God's sake, we are taking that first step."

Dr Alex Macmillan, Otago University senior lecturer, public health physician and New Zealand Climate and Health Council convenor

Dr Macmillan was worried that the most meaningful parts of the Paris agreement to health would be sheared out before it was finalised.

Her fears were shared by many in the global health community, who had come to Paris concerned about the risk climate changed posed to people in all countries.

Well-designed climate action, she said, would reduce the global burden of disease from a variety of illnesses, including lung disease, obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and road injuries.

The importance of health was recognised early on in the agreement, with language about protecting health, promoting health and health benefits of climate action scattered throughout the text.

"Protecting health in coastal cities and small island states and flood-vulnerable countries also requires an agreement to limit global warming to an average of well under 2C, so the presence of a 1.5C target in the draft came as an exciting surprise," she said.

"The payment of compensation by high emitting developed countries for loss and damages in developing countries is also an important aspect for health and fairness."

Without these payments, those countries who had unfairly suffered health impacts of climate change would not be able to recover or respond to future events, she said.

But language in the draft agreement around this had now either weakened or disappeared entirely.

This prompted a last-minute call by health professionals to negotiators to retain statements about the right to health and the recognition of health benefits of climate action.

"Health organisations are also urging governments to choose a 1.5C warming limit and make a real commitment to compensating developing countries for their loss and damages."

Simon Bridges, Associate Climate Change Issues Minister

"There'll be game-playing and it may be that it runs over time, but far and away the most likely scenario is that there'll be an agreement," Mr Bridges said.

"The French may not be the best at everything in the world, but they are at diplomacy - and they will use every skill they have to get a good agreement.

"What we are going to get - provided there is an agreement - is a comprehensive framework for the time in the 25 years there has been negotiations and discussions about these things."

Mr Bridges said the five-yearly reviews proposed in the agreement would add to the momentum.

"The other thing that has really come through very clearly is that big business is now very much on board and wants a good deal, because it provides them with certainty and with a sense of direction.

"The big oil and gas companies are making it quite clear they are going to be more sustainable and open up new flanks on energy efficiency and renewables, so that is incredibly positive."

Mr Bridges added that Business New Zealand - whose energy, environment and infrastructure manager John Carnegie travelled to Paris as part of the New Zealand delegation - now had "quite a different perspective, that's much more forward-leaning than it has in the past".

• Jamie Morton travelled to Paris with the support of the NZ Science Media Centre and the Morgan Foundation.