international climate talks

Paris Climate Conference - COP 21

In a landmark agreement that charts a fundamentally new course in the two-decade-old global climate effort, governments meeting in Paris adopted a pragmatic deal that holds countries accountable and builds ambition over time.

The Paris Agreement

C2ES Resources

C2ES Events in Paris

December 3
Press Briefing with Bob Perciasepe and Elliot Diringer.
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December 4
The American Business Act on Climate Pledge
Leaders from the White House, C2ES and American corporations discuss how U.S. businesses are leading the way in climate action and investment.
Watch video

C2ES Blog Posts

Outcomes of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris

OUTCOMES OF THE U.N. CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE IN PARIS
21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(COP 21)

November 30-December 12, 2015

Download the summary (PDF)

Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a landmark agreement on December 12 in Paris, charting a fundamentally new course in the two-decade-old global climate effort.

Culminating a four-year negotiating round, the new treaty ends the strict differentiation between developed and developing countries that characterized earlier efforts, replacing it with a common framework that commits all countries to put forward their best efforts and to strengthen them in the years ahead. This includes, for the first time, requirements that all parties report regularly on their emissions and implementation efforts, and undergo international review.

The agreement and a companion decision by parties were the key outcomes of the conference, known as the 21st session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, or COP 21.  Together, the Paris Agreement and the accompanying COP decision:

  • Reaffirm the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees;
  • Establish binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them;
  • Commit all countries to report regularly on their emissions and “progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs, and to undergo international review;
  • Commit all countries to submit new NDCs every five years, with the clear expectation that they will “represent a progression” beyond previous ones;
  • Reaffirm the binding obligations of developed countries under the UNFCCC to support the efforts of developing countries, while for the first time encouraging voluntary contributions by developing countries too;
  • Extend the current goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in support by 2020 through 2025, with a new, higher goal to be set for the period after 2025;
  • Extend a mechanism to address “loss and damage” resulting from climate change, which explicitly will not “involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation;”
  • Require parties engaging in international emissions trading to avoid “double counting;” and
  • Call for a new mechanism, similar to the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, enabling emission reductions in one country to be counted toward another country’s NDC.

The strong momentum toward an agreement that built over the preceding months was dramatically underscored on the opening day of the summit by the presence of 150 presidents and prime ministers, the largest ever single-day gathering of heads of state.   Impetus came also from a vast array of “non-state actors,” including governors, mayors and CEOs, and the launch in Paris of major initiatives like the Breakthrough Energy Coalition announced by Bill Gates and other billionaires.

Negotiations on many issues were hard-fought and, in typical COP fashion, progress through most of the conference was painstakingly slow.  But thanks to deft diplomacy by the French presidency, the summit was remarkably free of the kind of procedural showdowns that have marred previous COPs.  And though the conference ran 24 hours past the official deadline, as the final deal was gaveled through, one party after another declared that history had been made.

As French President Francois Hollande summed it up: “In Paris, there have been many revolutions over the centuries. Today it is the most beautiful and the most peaceful revolution that has just been accomplished – a revolution for climate change.”

Key steps remain.  Many operational details of the new framework were left to be decided by future COPs.  And the agreement will take effect only once enough countries have formally ratified it.

Following are background on the negotiations and further details of key outcomes:   

Context: The Evolving Climate Regime

The Paris Agreement marks the latest step in the evolution of the UN climate change regime, which originated in 1992 with the adoption of the Framework Convention.  The UNFCCC established a long-term objective, general principles, common and differentiated commitments, and a basic governance structure, including an annual COP.

In the years since, the regime has evolved in different directions.  The 1997 Kyoto Protocol took a more “top-down” but highly differentiated approach, establishing negotiated, binding emissions targets for developed countries, and no new commitments for developing countries.  Because the United States did not join, and some countries that did set no targets beyond 2012, the protocol now covers less than 15 percent of global emissions.

With the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and 2010 Cancún Agreements, parties established a parallel “bottom-up” framework, with countries undertaking national pledges for 2020 that represent political rather than legal commitments.  This approach attracted much wider participation, including, for the first time, specific mitigation pledges by developing countries.  However, countries’ pledges fell far short of the reductions needed to meet the goal set in Copenhagen and Cancún of keeping average warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The negotiations toward a Paris agreement were launched with the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action adopted at COP 17 in 2011.  The Durban Platform called for “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties,” to apply from 2020, but provided no further substantive guidance. 

COP 19 in Warsaw called on parties to submit “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) well before the Paris conference, signaling an important bottom-up feature of the emerging agreement.  Heading into Paris, more than 180 countries producing more than 90 percent of global emissions had submitted INDCs, a much broader response than many had anticipated.

The Paris Agreement

In broad structure, the Paris Agreement reflects a “hybrid” approach blending bottom-up flexibility, to achieve broad participation, with top-down rules, to promote accountability and ambition.

Legal Character

The Paris Agreement is a treaty under international law, but only certain provisions are legally binding. 

The issue of which provisions to make binding (expressed as “shall,” as opposed to “should”) was a central concern for many countries, in particular the United States, which wanted an agreement the president could accept without seeking congressional approval.  Meeting that test precluded binding emission targets and new binding financial commitments.  (For more on this issue, see “Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement.”)

A final step in Paris was negotiating a “technical correction” substituting “should” for "shall" in a provision calling on developed countries to undertake absolute economy-wide emissions targets.

Differentiation

A crosscutting issue was how to reflect the UNFCCC’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”  On the whole, the Paris Agreement represents a fundamental shift away from the categorical binary approach of the Kyoto Protocol toward more nuanced forms of differentiation, reflected differently in different provisions.

The agreement includes references to developed and developing countries, stating in several places that the former should take the lead.  But it notably makes no mention of the Annex I (developed) and non-Annex I (developing) categories contained in the UNFCCC.

Many provisions establish common commitments while allowing flexibility to accommodate different national capacities and circumstances – either through self-differentiation, as implicit in the concept of nationally determined contributions, or through more detailed operational rules still to be developed.

Long-Term Goal

The agreement reaffirms the goal of keeping average warming below 2 degrees Celsius, while also urging parties to “pursue efforts” to limit it to 1.5 degrees, a top priority for developing countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts.

Mitigation

The Paris Agreement articulates two long-term emission goals: first, a peaking of emissions as soon as possible (with a recognition that it will take longer for developing countries); then, a goal of net greenhouse gas neutrality (expressed as “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”) in the second half of this century.  The latter was an alternative to terms like “decarbonization” and “climate neutrality” pushed by some parties.

With respect to countries’ individual mitigation efforts, the agreement prescribes a set of binding procedural commitments: to “prepare, communicate and maintain” an NDC; to provide information necessary for clarity and transparency; and to communicate a new NDC every five years.  It also sets the expectation that each successive NDC will “represent a progression” beyond the previous one and reflect a party’s “highest possible ambition.”

The agreement commits parties to “pursue domestic measures with the aim of achieving the objectives” of its NDC, but does not make the implementation or achievement of NDCs a binding obligation.  It also encourages, but does not require, countries to develop and communicate long-term low emission development strategies.

The core mitigation commitments are common to all parties, but there is some differentiation in the expectations set: developed countries “should” undertake absolute economy-wide reduction targets, while developing countries “are encouraged” to move toward economy-wide targets over time.  In addition, developing countries are to receive support to implement their commitments.

NDCs will be recorded in a public registry maintained by the UNFCCC secretariat, rather than in an annex to the agreement, as some countries had proposed. 

Carbon Markets

While avoiding any direct reference to the use of market-based approaches – a concession to a handful of countries that oppose them – the agreement recognizes that parties may use “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” to implement their NDCs.

It requires that parties engaging in such transfers ensure the “avoidance of double counting,” consistent with accounting guidelines for NDCs to be developed.  The agreement also establishes a new mechanism to succeed the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which generates tradable emission offsets.  Rules for the new mechanism are to be adopted at the first meeting of parties after the agreement takes force.

Stocktake/Successive NDCs

To promote rising ambition, the agreement establishes two linked processes, each on a five-year cycle.

The first process is a “global stocktake” to assess collective progress toward meeting the agreement’s long-term goals.  The first stocktake will take place in 2023.  The second process is the submission by parties of new NDCs, “informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake.” 

Because these processes technically begin only once the agreement takes force, the accompanying decision includes provisions to effectively jumpstart them in the interim. It establishes a “facilitative dialogue” in 2018 to take stock of collective progress.  And, by 2020, countries like the United States whose initial NDCs run through 2025 are “urged” to communicate “new” NDCs, while those whose initial NDCs run through 2030 are “requested” to “communicate or update” theirs.

Transparency

The Paris Agreement rests heavily on transparency as a means of holding countries accountable.  In another move beyond bifurcation, it establishes a new transparency system with common binding commitments for all parties and “built-in flexibility” to accommodate varying national capacities. 

All countries are required to submit emissions inventories and the “information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs. The COP decision says that, with the exception of least developed and small island countries, these reports are to be submitted at least every two years.  In addition, developed countries “shall” report on support provided; developing countries “should” report on support received; and all “should” report on their adaptation efforts.

Information reported by countries on mitigation and support will undergo “expert technical review,” and each party must participate in “a facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress” in implementing and achieving its NDC (a form of peer review).

Developing countries are promised capacity-building support to help them meet the new transparency requirements.  The COP decision says they will be given flexibility in the scope, frequency and detail of their reporting, and in the scope of review.  Details of the new transparency system are to be negotiated by 2018 and formally adopted once the agreement enters into force.

Implementation/Compliance

The agreement establishes a new mechanism to “facilitate implementation” and “promote compliance.” The mechanism – a committee of experts – is to be “facilitative” in nature and operate in a “non-adversarial and non-punitive” manner.  It will report annually to the COP.  Details are to be decided at the first meeting of parties after the agreement takes force.

Finance

As at past COPs, finance was a contentious issue in Paris, with poorer developing countries seeking stronger assurances that support will be scaled up, and developed countries pushing for wealthier developing countries to contribute as well.

Both succeeded to some degree.  The agreement commits developed countries to provide finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries (“in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention,” a stipulation sought by the United States so the agreement would not create new binding financial commitments requiring congressional approval).  “Other” parties are “encouraged” to provide such support “voluntarily.”

Other major issues included whether to set a new finance mobilization goal beyond the $100 billion a year in public and private resources already promised by developed countries, and whether to establish a process to revisit the question every five years.  The COP decision extends the $100 billion-a-year goal through 2025, and beyond that, says only that by 2025 the COP will set a “new collective quantified goal from a floor of” $100 billion a year.

In addition to reporting on finance already provided and received, developed countries commit to submit every two years “indicative quantitative and qualitative information” on future support, including, “as available,” projected levels of public finance; and other countries are encouraged to do so voluntarily.  Finance will also be considered in the global stocktake.

Adaptation

A major priority for many developing countries was strengthening adaptation efforts under the UNFCCC.  The agreement does that by:

  • Establishing a global goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change;”
  • Requiring all parties, “as appropriate,” to plan and implement adaptation efforts;
  • Encouraging all parties to report on their adaptation efforts and/or needs;
  • Committing enhanced adaptation support for developing countries; and
  • Including a review of adaptation progress, and of the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation support, in the global stocktake to be undertaken every five years.

Loss and Damage

In a victory for small island countries and other countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts, the agreement includes a free-standing provision extending the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

The mechanism, established as an interim body at COP 19, is charged with developing approaches to help vulnerable countries cope with unavoidable impacts, including extreme weather events and slow-onset events such as sea-level rise.  Potential approaches include early warning systems and risk insurance.

At the insistence of developed countries, led by the United States, the accompanying COP decision specifies that the loss and damage provision “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”

Next Steps

The Paris Agreement will be open for signature on April 22, 2016.  In order to become a party to the agreement, a country must then express it consent to be bound through a formal process of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession (different terms for essentially the same thing).  Each country has its own domestic procedures for deciding whether to join an international agreement.

The agreement establishes a “double trigger” for entry-into-force: it requires approval by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  If states ratify quickly, these conditions could be satisfied pre-2020, allowing the COP to begin meeting as the “meeting of the Parties” to the Paris Agreement, to be known by the acronym CMA. 

In the meantime, pending the agreement’s entry into force, a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement will begin meeting to consider issues requiring further rules or guidance. This new ad hoc working group will meet for the first time when the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies convene in Bonn, Germany, on May 16-26, 2016.

COP 22 is set for November 7-18, 2016, in Marrakech, Morocco.

OTHER PARIS OUTCOMES

In the enormous swirl of activity surrounding the formal negotiations, governments and many others offered pledges and launched initiatives advancing climate efforts at all levels.

Many national governments offered new financial pledges.  Collectively, developed countries pledged $19 billion to help developing countries, including an announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry that, by 2020, the United States will double its support for adaptation efforts to $800 million a year.  In another sign that developing countries are now also providing support, Vietnam pledged $1 million to the new Green Climate Fund (GCF).  And for the first time, subnational governments also offered pledges, including 1 million euros from the city of Paris for the GCF, and CAD 6 million from Quebec for the UNFCCC’s Least Developed Countries Fund.

Governments also launched new joint initiatives. India and France led 120 countries in announcing an International Solar Alliance supporting solar energy deployment in developing countries.  More than 20 developed and developing countries launched Mission Innovation, pledging to double public investment in clean energy research and development over five years.

New and strengthened initiatives also came from “non-state actors,” including cities, states and regions, companies and investors.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates and 27 other major investors in 10 countries launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to steer more private capital into clean energy deployment.  And at a side summit hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, the Compact of Mayors declared that the collective commitments of more than 360 cities will deliver over half of the world’s potential urban emission reductions by 2020.

All through the year, France encouraged non-state actors to demonstrate their action and support by entering pledges into the NAZCA Portal set up under the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.  By the time of Paris, the portal listed nearly 11,000 commitments from 2,250 cities, 150 regions, 2,025 companies, 424 investors, and 235 civil society organizations.

The unprecedented showing of action and support from all levels of society was widely credited as an important factor in Paris’ success.

COP 21 Paris Preview

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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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.

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. 

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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:

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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

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.

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