UNFCCC

Takeaways from the Paris climate talks

United Nations area at COP 21 in Paris. (Photo Courtesy of UNFCCC via Flickr).

The Paris climate summit is a tale of lessons learned – lessons both in how to manage an unruly negotiating process that can easily veer out of control, and in how to craft a multilateral approach that gets everyone to do more.

The tale ended thankfully tonight with an agreement that could prove the most significant turning point ever in two decades of climate diplomacy.

The Paris agreement is a pragmatic deal that delivers what’s needed – tools to hold countries accountable and build ambition over time. By giving countries greater confidence that all are doing their fair share, it will make it easier for each to do more.

I’ve engaged closely with the U.N. climate talks since their launch in 1992, and here are some of my takeaways on the ingredients for Paris’ success:

Expectations are a powerful force

Even before the summit started or a single word was agreed, more than 180 countries had offered concrete plans for how they intend to address climate change. This was not because they were obliged to, but simply because there was an expectation set two years ago in Warsaw that they would.

This unprecedented, and largely unanticipated, show of political will created powerful momentum heading into Paris.

The agreement that emerged sets some binding commitments (see below), but much of its force will hinge on the further expectations that it sets: that, going forward, countries will put forward their best efforts, and will strengthen them over time. It creates a succession of political moments, like the one we just experienced, when all can judge whether those expectations are met.

Paris 'landing zones' become clearer

Two days into the final week of climate talks here in Paris, the French hosts have artfully managed to avert any of the usual procedural showdowns, and the contours of a deal are finally beginning to emerge.

With the formal handoff of a draft text to the French presidency over the weekend, the most immediate challenge was structuring a process for this week’s Ministerial-level talks that is “transparent” and “inclusive” but also allows for the private give-and-take among key players that’s necessary to get to a deal.

Video:
Elliot Diringer explains possible areas of agreement in Paris


The process devised by the French has distributed the issues across a number of working groups that are “open-ended” (open to all parties, and thus inclusive), which report daily to a Comité de Paris, whose proceedings are open to all, including observers (and thus transparent).

Simultaneously, the Ministers appointed to facilitate the working groups are engaging in furious rounds of private bilateral discussions to triangulate among parties’ positions and move them toward consensus.

Although a handful of parties are pushing to move into a full-group, line-by-line negotiation (which would more likely slow than accelerate the process), this diplomatic balancing appears so far to have earned the trust of most parties and avoided the kind of procedural blowups that have stymied previous COPs.

And, judging from the initial reports from the working group facilitators on Monday night, progress is being made.

Between those reports, and conversations in the hallways, it appears that the “landing zones” we’ve seen emerging in recent months are now becoming clearer to the Ministers too.  

On the whole, Paris will produce a hybrid accord coupling countries’ "nationally determined” contributions (NDCs) with a set of rules and norms promoting accountability and ambition. All but 10 parties have submitted NDCs, demonstrating how the bottom-up flexibility of “nationally determined” achieves broad participation. Now we need the top-down pieces to hold countries accountable and push them to do more.

It’s never safe to predict a COP outcome, but here’s how we see key issues shaping up:

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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Legal Issues in the Durban Platform Negotiations

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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1:15 – 2:45 p.m.Plenary building – Rhine Level, Room Bonn 2

Legal Issues in the Durban Platform Negotiations

C2ES will present a report on legal issues in the 2015 agreement, with responses from negotiators for the European Commission, the Marshall Islands, South Africa and Switzerland. Topics include the legal form of the agreement and the “anchoring” and legal character of NDCs.

June 9, 2015
1:15-2:45 p.m.
Plenary building – Rhine Level, Room Bonn 2

Presentation:
 
Dan Bodansky
Professor
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
 
Respondents:
 
Jake Werksman
Principal Adviser, DG Climate Action
European Commission

 

Dean Bialek
Advisor
Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations, New York
Marshall Islands

 

Sandea de Wet
Chief State Law Advisor
Department of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa

 

Franz Perrez
Ambassador
Federal Department of the Environment Transport, Energy and Communications
Switzerland
 
Moderator:

Elliot Diringer
Executive Vice President
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Addressing Adaptation in a 2015 Climate Agreement

Addressing Adaptation in a 2015 Climate Agreement

June 2015

By Irene Suarez, Progresum
and
Jennifer Huang, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Download the brief (PDF)

With the adverse effects of climate change becoming more frequent and intense, all countries face increasing climate risks and adaptation needs. The negotiations toward a new climate agreement in 2015 present an unparalleled opportunity to elevate and advance climate adaptation both within countries and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 2015 agreement could establish a clearer global vision for adaptation under the Convention; provide a framework for presenting
national adaptation contributions to catalyze adaptation action; streamline and enhance UNFCCC institutions; and mobilize resources to help particularly vulnerable developing countries cope with climate impacts. This brief provides an overview of: 1) UNFCCC provisions and institutional arrangements addressing adaptation, and 2) issues and options in addressing adaptation in the new agreement due at the 21st session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris. (Issues and options related directly to the provision of finance for adaptation are beyond the scope of this brief.)

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Key Legal Issues in a 2015 Climate Agreement

Key Legal Issues in a 2015 Climate Agreement

June 2015

By Daniel Bodansky, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
and
Lavanya Rajamani, Centre for Policy Research

Download the brief (PDF)

In fashioning the new international climate change agreement to be adopted later this year in Paris, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)1 must address a range of legal issues. This brief outlines some of the key issues and concludes that: The Paris outcome arguably must include a core legal agreement constituting a treaty under international law; the exact title of the core agreement is legally irrelevant; the agreement can contain both binding and non-binding elements;
the legal nature of parties’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) is independent of where they are housed; and consistency with the UNFCCC does not require that the agreement adopt the same structure.

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Addressing Finance in a 2015 Climate Agreement

Addressing Finance in a 2015 Climate Agreement

June 2015

By Anthony Mansell, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Download the brief (PDF)

A central issue in the Paris climate negotiations is how the new global climate agreement to be reached this year can help strengthen climate finance for developing countries. Developed countries have committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The new agreement will build on steps already taken and define an approach to climate finance for the post-2020 period.
This brief provides an overview of: existing finance commitments, institutions and mechanisms under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol; current climate finance flows; potential finance-related objectives in a 2015 climate agreement; and options for addressing finance in the 2015 agreement.

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In Brief: Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

In Brief: Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

May 2015

By Daniel Bodansky, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Download the full report (PDF)

U.S. acceptance of the new climate agreement being negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) may or may not require legislative approval, depending on its contents. U.S. law recognizes several routes for entering into international legal agreements. The president would be on relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force, without submitting it to the Senate or Congress for approval, to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC. On the other hand, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits or new legally binding financial commitments, this would weigh in favor of seeking Senate or congressional approval. However, the exact scope of the president’s legal authority to conclude international agreements is uncertain, and the president’s decision will likely rest also on political and prudential considerations.

The brief is based on the report, Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement, which provides a fuller legal analysis.

Daniel Bodansky
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Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

May 2015

By Daniel Bodansky, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Download the full report (PDF)

The success of ongoing negotiations to establish a new global climate change agreement depends heavily on the agreement’s acceptance by the world’s major economies, including the United States. The new agreement is being negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty with 195 parties that was ratified by the United States in 1992 with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. U.S. acceptance of the new agreement may or may not require legislative approval, depending on its specific contents.

U.S. law recognizes several routes for entering into international agreements. The most commonly known, under Article II of the Constitution, requires advice and consent by two-thirds of the Senate. In practice, however, the United States has accepted the vast majority of the international agreements to which it is a party through other procedures. These include congressional-executive agreements, which are approved by both houses of Congress, and presidential-executive agreements, which are approved solely by the president.

The President would be on relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force, without submitting it to the Senate or Congress for approval, to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC. On the other hand, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits or new legally binding financial commitments, this would weigh in favor of seeking Senate or congressional approval. However, the exact scope of the President’s legal authority to conclude international agreements is uncertain, and the President’s decision will likely rest also on political and prudential considerations.

Daniel Bodansky
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Bob Perciasepe's statement on the U.S. target for an international climate agreement

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

March 31, 2015

On the U.S. announcement of its intended contribution to a new international climate agreement due this December in Paris:

“The United States took a vital step today to strengthen climate action both here and abroad.

The U.S. target will drive investment at home in efficiency and clean energy, and leverage those investments to promote stronger action globally. By stepping up early with an ambitious contribution, the U.S. is encouraging other countries to do their fair share, too. If China and the other major economies come through, we have a good shot at a meaningful agreement in Paris.

It’s clear the Paris process is already catalyzing countries to set goals for all to see. But beyond a new set of national targets, the Paris agreement needs mechanisms holding countries accountable for their promises. And it should be built to last, regularly bringing countries back to the table to assess progress and keep strengthening their efforts.”

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Contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org or 703-516-0621

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

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