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Four days of Paris climate talks trim draft agreement text by four pages

OTTAWA — Four days of negotiations at the two-week-long COP21 conference in Paris have managed to whittle just four pages off the 54-page draft text of a new international climate agreement.

The United Nations sponsored conference got a shot of adrenaline Monday when 150 world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, showed up for the opening day at the invitation of host French President Francois Hollande.

But the lofty rhetoric and noble intentions have given way to the painstaking minutiae of negotiating the final text of a post-2020 framework for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and for financing mitigation and adaptation measures for a changing climate.

The draft text brought to Paris was already the product of four years of international talks.

Government officials — civil servants — are doing the negotiating this week before the "high level talks" involving foreign ministers and environment ministers take over next week, led by the French government. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will lead Canada's negotiating team next week.

"Our mandate this week is to try to reduce the length of this text, try to simplify it, try to find more concise ways to express options — but more importantly, try to reduce the number of options remaining for ministers to negotiate next week," a government official said in a background briefing Thursday with Canadian media.

"That's a big undertaking."

There's a general consensus, said the official, that "the progress was a little slow. But you always need a bit of patience in these processes."

"I don't think we're in a bad place in the negotiation at this stage," the official added.

That's not the consensus of everyone at the COP21 conference site, where some environmental campaigners are asking negotiators to step up the pace.

"Overall, the text is mostly unchanged from what they were working with going into Paris," said Tasneem Essop of the World Wildlife Fund.

"Right now, they're still just rearranging the deck chairs on the ship to get a better view of the iceberg."

The slow progress isn't for want of official delegates.

There are more than 250 Canadian delegates at the conference, says the federal government, including representatives of provinces, municipalities, indigenous groups, youth and environmental non-governmental organizations and Canadian businesses — "the biggest delegation ever."

Most of those delegates are not in Paris on the federal taxpayers' dime, but arranged their own transport and accommodations.

The official federal government contingent includes about 20 negotiators and some support staff for media, as well as many embassy staff who are accredited but are at the conference as part of their normal duties, according to Thursday's background briefing.

"The Canadian delegation is always comprised of all provinces and territories and they determine their own delegation," said the official.

— With files from The Associated Press

Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press

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