international climate talks

COP 21 Paris Preview

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November 10, 20152:00-3:30 p.m. Edison Electric Institute701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW4th FloorWashington, DC 20004

Government leaders will gather next month in Paris to hammer out a new global climate change agreement. This expert briefing will provide a close look at how the agreement is shaping up and the growing role of carbon markets in addressing climate change.

November 10, 2015
2:00-3:30 p.m.

Edison Electric Institute
701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
4th Floor
Washington, DC 20004

Seating is limited

EEI is a secured building and you will have to check in with security in the lobby before gaining access to the 4th floor.

RSVP by noon Monday, Nov. 9

What to Expect in Paris
Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), provides an overview of the likely outcomes in Paris. Diringer has led a two-year, in-depth dialogue among top climate negotiators from nearly two dozen countries.

The Role of Carbon Markets
Dirk Forrister
, president and chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), looks at how Paris can advance carbon markets. Forrister will outline IETA’s proposal for how the Paris agreement can help governments and businesses benefit from carbon pricing.

Paris Climate Talks Q&A

Paris Climate Talks Q&A

Download (PDF)

Negotiators from more than 190 nations around the world will convene in Paris from November 29 through December 11, 2015, with the goal of reaching a new global climate change agreement. These negotiations offer governments a critical opportunity to craft a broad, balanced and durable agreement strengthening the international climate effort. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the Paris climate talks:

What is COP 21?

Governments will be meeting in Paris from November 29 to December 11 to negotiate a new global climate change agreement. Technically, the conference is the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). That’s why it’s called COP 21.

What is the objective of the Paris climate talks?

The Paris negotiations were launched in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 with the aim of producing a new legal agreement among national governments to strengthen the global response to climate change. This new global agreement is expected to include commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and provide assistance to countries that need it.

How do these negotiations relate to the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC, adopted in 1992, is a treaty among governments that provides a foundation for the global climate effort. Enjoying near-universal membership, the Convention was ratified by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Convention set a long-term objective (avoiding “dangerous human interference with the climate system”), established principles to guide the global effort, and committed all countries to “mitigate” climate change by reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris agreement will define how countries will implement their UNFCCC commitments after 2020.

How will the Paris agreement differ from the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement negotiated under the UNFCCC in 1997 to strengthen the global climate effort. Kyoto established emissions targets for developed countries only – the primary reason the United States did not join. By contrast, the Paris agreement is expected to include mitigation commitments from all parties. In addition, the Kyoto targets were legally binding, and countries’ targets under the Paris agreement likely won’t be.

What are intended nationally determined contributions?

Two years ago, at COP 19 in Warsaw, parties were encouraged to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the Paris agreement well in advance of COP 21. INDCs represent each country’s self-defined mitigation goals for the period beginning in 2020. To date, more than 160 countries accounting for over 90 percent of global emissions have submitted INDCs to the UNFCCC secretariat.

Developed countries have offered absolute economy-wide emissions targets (the United States, for instance, has pledged to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025). Developing countries have offered a range of approaches, including absolute economy-wide targets, reductions in emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), reductions from projected “business-as-usual” emissions, and reductions in per-capita emissions. C2ES has produced a summary of countries’ INDCs.

Will the agreement meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

In agreements adopted in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, governments set a goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris agreement will likely reaffirm the 2°C goal, and may include language translating it into more action-oriented terms. For instance, G7 leaders recently called for decarbonizing the global economy over the course of the century.

However, analyses of the INDCs submitted by countries conclude that, while they will move us closer to the 2°C goal, they are not ambitious enough to achieve it. A UNFCCC analysis of the INDCs submitted by October 1 concluded they would result in global emissions of 56.7 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, 3.6 Gt lower than without them, but 15.1 GT (35 percent) higher than emission levels consistent with a 2°C pathway. An independent analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of research institutions, concluded that the INDCs, if fully implemented, could result in warming of 2.7°C, which would be 0.9°C lower than without them.

If that’s the case, how will the Paris agreement get countries to increase their ambition?

The Paris agreement is expected to provide a durable framework guiding the global effort for decades to come. Many governments support including a provision in the agreement that will require countries to return to the table periodically – probably every five years – to revise their INDCs or submit new ones. The aim is to create a continuous cycle that keeps the pressure on countries to raise their ambition over time.

How will parties be held accountable?

Accountability will be achieved primarily through strong “transparency” requirements. The agreement will likely require countries to periodically submit reports on their greenhouse gas emissions and on progress in implementing their INDCs. These reports will be subject to some form of international scrutiny, such as an independent review by technical experts and possibly a “peer” review by fellow governments.

Unlike the current transparency system under the UNFCCC, which sets different requirements for developed and developing countries, the agreement will likely establish a single or common framework that will apply to all countries but provide flexibility to accommodate varying national capacities. For instance, some countries might initially submit their reports less frequently. The aim would be for all parties to work toward the same standards of accountability as their capacities strengthen over time. In addition, the agreement may establish some form of “facilitative” mechanism to assess whether countries are fulfilling their commitments and, if not, to help them get back on track. Penalties for noncompliance are unlikely.

How will the agreement address climate adaptation?

Adaptation — how countries cope with the impacts of climate change — will receive much greater emphasis than it has before under the UNFCCC. Just as parties will submit mitigation contributions, the agreement will likely require parties to submit national adaptation plans, although these will not be subject to the same kind of international scrutiny. The agreement also will likely establish a process to periodically assess adaptation progress and needs and to share lessons learned and best practices.

A C2ES brief takes a closer look at adaptation options.

What will the agreement do to support the efforts of developing countries?

Developed countries committed under the UNFCCC to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. As part of the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance for developing countries by 2020. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated that finance flows reached $62 billion in 2014, suggesting they are on track toward the $100 billion goal. Developed and developing countries are divided over whether to set a new financial goal beyond 2020. The agreement, however, may broaden the donor base beyond developed countries to include other countries “willing” or “in a position” to provide support. China, for instance, recently pledged $3 billion to help other developing countries.

A C2ES brief takes a closer look at finance options.

Will the agreement be legally binding?

Yes. The agreement will be considered a “treaty” under international law. However,  governments have yet to agree on precisely which elements will be legally binding, an issue that will affect whether and how the United States and other key countries become parties. The agreement will likely include binding procedural commitments – such as requirements that parties inscribe and maintain nationally determined contributions, and report on progress in implementing them. But some countries, including the United States, oppose a legally binding requirement that parties “implement” or “achieve” their nationally determined contributions. The agreement is unlikely to include such a provision.

A C2ES brief examines legal issues related to the Paris agreement.

Will Congress have any say over the agreement?

Whether Congress must formally approve U.S. participation in the Paris agreement depends on its contents. Under U.S. law, a president may under certain circumstances approve U.S. participation in an international agreement without submitting it to Congress. Important considerations include whether the new agreement is implementing a prior agreement such as the UNFCCC that was ratified with the advice and consent of the Senate, and whether it is consistent with, and can be implemented on the basis of, existing U.S. law. If the Paris agreement includes binding emission targets, or binding financial commitments beyond those contained in the UNFCCC, it will likely need congressional approval. On the other hand, if the agreement does not include such commitments, and can be implemented on the basis of existing law, the president could choose to approve it by executive action.

A C2ES legal analysis examines options for U.S. acceptance of the Paris agreement.

Could a future president withdraw the United States from the agreement?

Under U.S. law, U.S. participation in an international agreement can be terminated by a president, acting on executive authority, or by an act of Congress, regardless of how the agreement was ratified.

Will heads of state attend the Paris conference?

Typically, heads of state do not attend a UNFCCC COP. A notable exception was COP 15 in 2009, where heads of state wound up directly negotiating the Copenhagen Accords. In the case of Paris, dozens of heads of state are expected to attend at the start of the conference to signify its importance and to lend momentum toward a successful outcome. However, they are not expected to directly negotiate the text of the agreement, as they did in Copenhagen.

How will the Paris conference engage stakeholders such as states, cities and businesses?

Only national governments participate directly in the negotiations, but COP 21 will provide unprecedented opportunity to showcase the contributions of “non-state actors” to the global climate effort.  The strong display of commitments by cities, subnational governments and businesses at the New York Climate Summit in September 2014 led to the establishment at COP 20 of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and the online NAZCA portal, where non-state actors can register their individual commitments.   As of early November 4, the NAZCA Platform contained more than 6,600 commitments from cities, regions, companies and investors.  A number of thematic “action days” at the Paris conference will highlight outstanding contributions and provide a forum for dialogue about ways to further strengthen action in the years ahead.

What happens after Paris?

The agreement will spell out the terms for its entry into force. These will likely require that the agreement be formally ratified by a certain number of countries accounting for a certain percentage of global emissions. Also, while the agreement will establish the broad outlines of the post-2020 climate framework, further details will likely need to be decided at future COPs. Meantime, countries will be expected to move forward with the domestic policies needed to implement their nationally determined contributions.

How will we know if Paris is a success?

Different countries and stakeholders will measure success differently, and the agreement’s ultimate success can only be judged in the years ahead. Important measures of success include broad participation, strong accountability provisions, and a mechanism to raise ambition over time.


Putting the UNFCCC to the test

There’s a theory I’ve been advancing for some time and the upcoming Paris climate talks will, for the first time, put it to a test.

The issue is whether the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is capable of delivering. Established nearly a quarter century ago as the global forum for countries to take on climate change, the UNFCCC enjoys universal participation – and is universally deemed a disappointment.

The harshest assessments came in the wake of the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009, when many quietly, and some openly, began urging governments to abandon the UNFCCC as a place worth investing any effort or hope.

But governments chose to stick with it. The following year, in Cancún, they hammered out an agreement through 2020. And the year after that, in Durban, they launched a new round of negotiations culminating next month in Paris. The aim: a new global agreement beyond 2020.

Anyone who’s closely tracked the UNFCCC knows that the process is ungainly and byzantine at best – and, at worst, a highly politicized, dysfunctional mess.

I’ve maintained over the years, though, that the UNFCCC’s lack of progress is a reflection less of the process itself, than of the meager political will that governments bring to it. The UNFCCC, in other words, has never been fairly tested.

Paris will provide that opportunity.

The collective will among governments to address climate change, while still lacking, is stronger than ever. The United States and China – the world’s largest economies and emitters, and long-time climate adversaries – are jointly leading the call for a new agreement. More than 150 countries have formally offered their intended contributions (how they’ll limit or reduce their emissions). And, as I describe in a recent post, there’s growing convergence in high-level discussions on the core elements of a deal.

At the table, though, this collective will and convergence have yet to translate into agreed text. In the final pre-Paris negotiating session two weeks ago in Bonn, many parties seemed more intent on preserving favored options than on moving to common ground. The 51-page text that emerged is more coherent, with clearer options, but is still a far cry from a ratifiable agreement.

This is disappointing but not surprising. The UNFCCC operates by the unofficial rule that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So all issues, and there are many of them, must inch along it the same pace until an acceptable overall package begins to emerge.

Negotiators will no doubt have to work through the night(s) in Paris to get to a final deal. But the ultimate landing zones have been fairly clear for some time (see, for instance, the report from C2ES’s recent negotiators dialogue). So it’s not only possible, but probable, negotiators will get there.

The outcome, in all likelihood, will fully satisfy no one and leave many once again disappointed. But while destined, by some measures, to fall short, the agreement taking shape could prove a major turning point – even transformational.

Here’s what I think we can count on: a binding agreement that gets all of the major players on board, uses strong transparency to hold countries accountable, and works to build ambition over time. If successful, this would build confidence that everyone is doing their fair share, which will enable everyone to keep doing more.

If we leave Paris next month with that kind of agreement, I think we’ll be able to say that the UNFCCC, finally put in a position to deliver, has proven that it can.



Achieving the United States' Intended Nationally Determined Contribution

Achieving the United States' Intended Nationally Determined Contribution

August 2015

Download the fact sheet (PDF)

Nations are working toward a new global climate agreement later this year in Paris. To that end, countries have begun submitting their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the agreement.

In its INDC, the United States said it intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. Based on available estimates, measures already adopted or proposed will reduce emissions 17 to 20 percent below 2005 levels, meaning additional measures will be needed to achieve the 2025 target. 


US climate target encourages others to put best foot forward

I recently wrote a piece for China Dialogue about the US announcement of its intended contribution to a new international climate agreement due this December in Paris. Here is that article:


The US pushed strongly for getting climate targets on the table well ahead of this year’s Paris negotiation, arguing that exposing countries’ offerings to a bit of scrutiny would encourage them to “put their best foot forward.”  With the formal submission of its intended target, the Obama administration arguably has done just that.

The US contribution is, for the moment, only a declaration of intent. But by coming out early with the strongest target it believes it can muster, the White House has charted an ambitious course at home. And it is upping the pressure on China and other major economies to do the most that they can too.

The end result, hopefully, is a new agreement in Paris that not only pulls all these numbers together, but also holds countries accountable for their promises, and commits them to keep returning to the table in the years ahead to assess and strengthen their efforts.

Climate progress in 2014 sets the stage for 2015 action

Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.

In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.

Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:

US-China climate goals go well beyond business as usual

The climate targets announced this month by the United States and China will require a significant effort beyond a business-as-usual scenario for both countries. More details will likely follow in the weeks and months ahead, but here is what we know so far for each country.


China announced a goal for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030 or sooner. This marks the first time that China has pledged a peak or absolute target for greenhouse gas emissions, rather than an intensity-based target. In business-as-usual scenarios, China’s emissions wouldn’t peak until 2040 or later.

China also announced it would boost its share of zero-carbon energy, which includes nuclear, hydropower and renewables, to 20 percent – up from about 13 percent today. Meeting that goal will require a substantial build-out of nuclear power stations, hydroelectric stations, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as transmission and other infrastructure. In a separate announcement, China said it plans to cap its coal consumption by the year 2020.

China can’t, as critics claim, sit idly by for 15 years and reach these targets. It will need to significantly restructure its energy system. China will have to add more than 1 GW of zero-carbon power a week for the next 15 years – an amount roughly equal to the entire installed electricity capacity of the United States.

How Climate Summit can build momentum for a global agreement

The last time so many world leaders gathered on the issue of climate change was nearly five years ago in Copenhagen. The hard lesson of that fractious summit: No one moment, and no one agreement, can deliver “the” answer.  We need to advance step by step, on multiple fronts, from the local to the global. And it will take time.

This reality is an important backdrop for the United Nations Climate Summit being convened in New York next week by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

More than 120 heads of state, including President Obama, are expected, and many will come prepared to announce concrete steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Many businesses and nonprofits, some partnering with governments, will also announce new initiatives.

These tangible outcomes will represent important progress in and of themselves. But the larger value of the summit is in focusing leaders on the profound challenges we face, raising consciousness across societies, and building momentum – in particular, toward the new global climate agreement due late next year in Paris.

The Warsaw outcome: A hint of what's to come

If one is looking for clues from Warsaw as to the future of the U.N. climate change effort, probably the most telling is the phrase “nationally determined.”

Governments have set themselves the goal of a new global climate agreement in 2015. At the annual U.N. climate talks that wrapped up this weekend in Warsaw, they agreed on some of the steps they’ll take to get there.

The decision adopted in Warsaw invites all parties to “initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions,” and to “communicate them well in advance” of the 2015 meeting, set for December in Paris.  It also establishes a loose timeline: by the first quarter of 2015 for those parties “ready to do so.”

This is primarily a procedural decision, a way to move the process forward. The reason it was so difficult to reach was that parties fought incredibly hard either to inject or to avoid substantive framing that would begin to define the shape of the Paris accord.

By the time they were done cramming clauses into the ungainly sentence at the heart of the decision, the parties had managed essentially to preserve the vague but delicate balance they’d struck in launching this latest round of talks two years ago in Durban. The 2015 agreement will be “applicable to all,” but its legal character, and how developed and developing country obligations will be differentiated, remain undefined.

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