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paris climate talks

The Eiffel Tower is lit with blue lights to mark the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris on Dec. 2.ERIC GAILLARD/Reuters

The third day of the Paris climate change summit has wound down on Wednesday, with nine days to go. Optimism for a global deal to reduce carbon emissions remains high, though that will inevitably diminish as deadlines loom, tensions rise and negotiators become half-crazed from sleep deprivation and excessive caffeine. Here are some of the questions being asked as the clock ticks down at an event being billed as make-or-break time for the health of the planet.

The summit kicked off Monday with speeches by 150 world leaders, from Barack Obama to Prince Charles. Did the podium marathon trigger the political momentum that the summit needs?

So far, no. Negotiators from 195 countries went into Paris with a 55-page text that contained some 1,500 sets of brackets, which indicate negotiating points that have to be settled by consensus. By Wednesday, according to some participants, the text was as dense as ever, with as many or more new sets of brackets being tossed in as tossed out.

Time is already running out; a slimmed-down text is supposed to be finished by Saturday, after which, like a baton, it is to be passed to the environment and foreign ministers for the sprint to the negotiating finish.

If the national emissions reduction plans, known as INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions), are already in place and largely non-negotiable, what exactly are the negotiators negotiating?

Lots. The biggies are financing and the legal nature of the final agreement. On the former, the developing world, from emerging industrial powerhouse India to the low-lying atoll countries in the Pacific, want the rich world to make good on their commitments to cough up $100-billion (U.S.) a year to help them cope with climate change. The rich world, of course, is still more than a few pennies short.

On the latter, the debate is whether to make the new accord legally binding (as the European Union wants), non-binding (as the United States wants) or somewhere in between. Transparency is yet another issue. Unless countries allow independent monitoring of emissions, there is no telling whether their carbon output numbers are being fudged.

What will constitute success in Paris?

Two schools of thought have emerged. The first says that any agreement that fails to limit average global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels is a failed effort. Climate scientists generally agree that the INDCs (see above), in their current form, are wholly inadequate to hold temperatures within that ceiling. In that sense, the Paris summit can already be declared a dud. The second is that a commitment to five-year reviews of carbon-reduction plans, coupled with pledges to make them more ambitious over time, could be declared a win in Paris.

The reinsurance giants – the insurers that insure insurers, such as Munich Re – have been at the forefront of tracking climate change and its often catastrophic consequences. What is their view on the success potential in Paris?

Munich Re, the German reinsurer that first warned about global warming in 1973, about 20 years before the term entered the public consciousness, has already pronounced Paris a misfire. Peter Hoeppe, head of the company's geo risks and climate centre, says that it is "unlikely" that Paris will produce a deal that will limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. "Progress is far too slow, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise," he says. His advice: Prepare for more natural disasters, such as droughts, as the Earth heats up.

Coal has emerged as the climate summit bogeyman. Is the dirtiest of fossil fuels doomed?

Wouldn't that be nice, but coal, whose combustion produces twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, is in fact making a comeback. According to Paris research firm Enerdata, global coal-fired power capacity has climbed an astounding 75 per cent since 2000 and now supplies 41 per cent of all electricity. Its share is bound to keep rising, at least over the medium term, because it is so cheap, thus making it the fuel of choice in poor countries. Since 2008, thermal coal prices have fallen from nearly $200 a tonne to $60 or less. Meanwhile, low oil prices will ensure that gasoline and diesel car engines will not disappear any time soon.

When will the Paris summit, known as COP21, end?

It's supposed to come to a glorious, planet-saving conclusion on Dec. 11. But these events rarely end on time and there is every chance that the negotiators, by then in their zombie state, will only emerge on Dec. 12.