Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more
(All times are Paris time)
The American Business Act on Climate Pledge
U.S. Center (Hall 2 Blue Zone—Credential Required)
Friday, December 4, 3:45 pm
Join leaders from the White House, C2ES and American corporations, who will discuss how U.S. businesses are leading the way in climate action and investment. Senior leaders of Fortune 500 businesses will discuss not only their own efforts on climate mitigation and resilience, but also how a strong agreement in Paris can help them plan future investments.
More than 80 companies, representing more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, have joined the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Several of these companies are also part of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council. American businesses are showing they understand there are considerable economic opportunities in getting ahead of the climate curve, but also considerable risks and costs to inaction.
Robert Diamond – Special Assistant to the President and Director of Private Sector Engagement, White House
Bob Perciasepe – President, C2ES
James Mahoney – Global Corporate Communications and Public Policy Executive, Bank of America
Kevin McKnight – Chief Sustainability Officer, Alcoa
Thad Miller – Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Calpine
Leah Seligmann – Chief Sustainability Officer, NRG
John Woolard – VP of Energy, Google
Charting a Low-Carbon Course for the U.S. Power Sector
(co-sponsored by Edison Electric Institute)
UNFCCC Side Event (Room 01) (Observer Room 1, Hall 4, Blue Zone-Credential Required)
Saturday, December 5, 6:30 pm
Business and government leaders discuss efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector, and challenges and opportunities in implementing the new federal Clean Power Plan, a centerpiece of the U.S. strategy to meet its nationally determined contribution to the Paris agreement.
Bob Perciasepe – President, C2ES
Brian Wolff – Executive Vice President, Public Policy and External Affairs, EEI
Tony Earley – Chief Executive Officer, PG&E
Pat Vincent-Collawn – Chief Executive Officer, PNM Resources
Implementing the U.S. Clean Power Plan: State and Business Perspectives
(co-sponsored by The Climate Registry)
E.U. Pavilion (Brussels Room) (Hall 2, Blue Zone-Credential Required)
Thursday, December 10, 4:30 pm
Senior representatives of state governments and power companies in the United States will discuss the challenges and opportunities they face in implementing the Clean Power Plan. The new federal rule, which aims to reduce U.S. power sector emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is a centerpiece of the strategy for achieving the U.S. contribution to the Paris agreement.
Bob Perciasepe – President, C2ES
David Rosenheim – Executive Director, The Climate Registry
Helen Burt - Senior Vice President, External Affairs and Public Policy, PG&E
Bob Martineau – Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Ann McCabe – Commissioner, Illinois Commerce Commission
Yvonne McIntyre – Vice President, Federal Legislative Affairs, Calpine
Mary D. Nichols -- Chair, California Air Resources Board
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
Edison Electric Institute
701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
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.
Essential Elements of a Paris Climate Agreement
The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris presents a critical opportunity for parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to strengthen the global response to climate change. In this brief, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions outlines essential elements of a successful outcome in Paris. This vision of the Paris outcome draws on C2ES’s Toward 2015 dialogue, a series of in-depth consultations among senior climate negotiators from two dozen countries.
Global climate talks underway in Paris have been built on a foundation of more than just national government commitments. “Sub-national actors,” such as cities, states, and companies, have been making their own climate commitments ahead of Paris, and that trend continues this week.
Just today, in a full-page Wall Street Journal ad coordinated in part by C2ES, more than 100 companies announced their support for a fair and strong global climate agreement and pledged to ensure a transition to a low-carbon, energy-efficient U.S. economy. These companies join a growing chorus of corporate voices for climate action. For example:
- More than 150 companies, from Alcoa to Xerox, have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and committed to reducing their environmental impact through steps such as cutting emissions in half, reducing water usage, and running on 100 percent renewable energy.
- Bill Gates and other leading business entrepreneurs launched a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership to fund research and development of innovative clean energy technologies.
- Last week, 78 global CEOs signed an open letter calling committing to action and calling on governments to implement carbon pricing.
- This fall, 14 energy, tech and manufacturing companies with more than $1 trillion in revenues signed a statement organized by C2ES supporting a balanced and durable international agreement.
Why do more and more businesses care about climate change?
First, they understand the costs of inaction.
Don’t think business leaders have their head in the sand when it comes to the risks of a changing climate. A recent C2ES report found that more than 90 percent of the world’s 100 largest global companies are aware of their climate risks. The changes from a warming planet are affecting companies’ facilities and operations, supply and distribution chains, and access to electricity and water.
Extreme weather and other climate impacts are already imposing significant costs. Here in the U.S., we experienced eight severe weather events last year that, combined, caused more than $19 billion in damages.
Second, business leaders see the opportunities of a clean energy economy.
We’re already seeing a burst of entrepreneurial activity and innovation focused on evolving our energy and transportation sectors. Over the past 15 years, wind power capacity in the U.S. has grown about 24 percent and solar 69 percent annually. As deployment has risen, prices have come down. In some parts of the U.S., renewable generation is now the cheapest available option.
Clean opportunities extend beyond the electric power sector. Automakers are exploring lower-emission fuel alternatives beyond the electric car. Information and communication technologies are helping significantly improve energy efficiency, and financial companies are helping investors find new ways to finance low-carbon solutions.
Finally, business leaders want clarity and transparency about the response to climate change.
In the Wall Street Journal ad, companies urge the government to “support investment in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors.”
A Paris agreement will provide a clear signal to markets to invest in clean energy and efficiency. Requiring countries to be transparent about their policies and implementation can help companies anticipate regulatory risks and economic opportunities. These efforts also could facilitate the growth and credibility of the global carbon market, which can be a critical tool for cost-effective emissions reduction.
As climate pledges from businesses show, we’re already moving in the right direction. A Paris agreement can ensure that everyone is doing their fair share and strengthen our will to to keep moving in the right direction.
We’ll only know years from now, but the climate summit opening today in Paris could prove to be transformative. It could set in motion a new dynamic among nations that, over time, will progressively strengthen the global climate effort.
Any agreement coming out of Paris will, by some measures, fall short. Countries’ nationally determined contributions move us closer, but not close enough, to the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. And for those who believe legally binding emission targets are essential, the outcome will likely be disappointing.
But relying solely on those yardsticks would undervalue the potential of the deal taking shape.
For the first time in more than two decades of climate diplomacy, we are on the verge of a binding agreement that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts, holds them accountable for their promises, and works to build ambition over time.
For too long, countries have used the inaction of others as an excuse for their own. A new agreement can move us beyond this standoff mentality of “we won’t unless you will.” It can build confidence that all are contributing their fair share, and in so doing, it can enable each to do more.
There are two reasons to feel confident that Paris can produce such an outcome. The first is a striking convergence among governments on the broad contours of a deal. The second is the unprecedented level of political will countries are bringing to the talks; today’s opening is the largest gathering of world leaders ever.
The substantive convergence reflects a new paradigm drawing on the hard lessons of the past 20 years. Neither fully binding nor simply do-as-you-please, it is instead a hybrid approach blending bottom-up flexibility, to achieve broad participation, with top-down discipline, to promote accountability and ambition.
This pragmatic middle ground surfaced in C2ES’s Toward 2015 dialogue, a series of formative discussions among senior negotiators from two dozen countries, and has since taken hold in political talks among governments, reflected most recently in the aide-mémoire issued by France following discussions among ministers from 60 countries.
In a new brief, C2ES outlines the essential elements of an agreement that would put this new hybrid paradigm into practice.
As negotiators have scoped out the substance, a deepening sense globally of both the impacts of climate change and the opportunities of a clean energy economy has spurred rising political will. A new climate alliance between the United States and China has helped lead the way, but more than 170 countries have now offered their own contributions to the Paris accord.
This wave of “nationally determined” contributions demonstrates already how bottom-up flexibility helps bring countries in. But Paris must do more than simply stitch countries’ targets together. Flexibility must be complemented by top-down discipline in the form of binding procedural commitments that help ensure accountability and drive ambition.
First, countries must commit in Paris to report regularly on their emissions and steps to reduce them, followed by rigorous international review. That’s how we will know if they are keeping their promises.
Second, the agreement must work to strengthen efforts over time, by bringing countries back to the table every few years to take stock of collective progress and offer new, stronger contributions.
Through this kind of cycle – tell us what you’ll do, show us whether you’re doing it, tell us what you’ll do next – the agreement can instill confidence that all countries are doing their fair share. This can, in turn, alter the political dynamic within countries, undercutting old excuses for inaction, and making it easier to do more. That would be the true value of the Paris agreement.
There’s no pretending Paris will deliver the solution to climate change – we’ve learned by now that no one summit or agreement can.
But the kind of agreement within reach in Paris can transform the political equation among nations. It can capture the rising will of the moment in a way that serves to continually strengthen our will going forward. That would, in our estimation, be a success.
Bob Perciasepe's statement on world leaders gathering in Paris for the start of international climate talks
Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
November 30, 2015
On world leaders gathering in Paris for the start of international climate talks:
The presence of so many world leaders in Paris today is the clearest sign yet that we’re on the verge of an unprecedented breakthrough in the global climate effort.
As the leaders themselves have made clear, many tough issues remain. But their overwhelming message is that a global challenge like climate change demands a global response, and they’re committed to delivering it.
Over the past year we’ve seen greater will than ever, from developed and developing countries alike, and growing convergence on the broad contours of a deal. Negotiators are now on notice from their leaders that in two weeks’ time they must deliver a final accord.
The deal taking shape can – for the first time – establish a balanced and durable framework that gets all of the major economies on board, provides strong accountability, and works to strengthen ambition over time. By building confidence that all countries are doing their fair share, the Paris agreement can in the years ahead enable each to do more.
Contact: Laura Rehrmann, email@example.com 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 our climate and energy challenges. Learn more at www.c2es.org.
Negotiators from more than 190 nations have the opportunity to work out an important and perhaps transformative international climate agreement in December in Paris.
But the work at the negotiating table has been preceded by countless steps taken by communities, states, companies and individuals across the globe to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are altering our climate. And long after the Paris talks have concluded, these actors will be crucial to building sustainable solutions to our climate and energy challenges.
Some of the world’s largest cities have been working to lower emissions by purchasing green power, introducing electric vehicle programs and policies, turning waste into compost and fuel, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Other cities have developed multi-tiered climate commitments through the Compact of Mayors. And many communities are assessing their vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change that we’re already experiencing and will worsen.
States and provinces, too, are in action. Ten states that are home to a quarter of the U.S. population are already reducing power plant emissions through carbon pricing programs. Carbon regulatory programs are also up and running at the provincial level in Canada and China (plus in the European Union). Also, many states have set rules and programs to encourage the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. For example, Arizona has a goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025, and the state government in California benchmarks its energy use across buildings and vehicle fleets.
Businesses are also reducing emissions and supporting a strong agreement in Paris. Major companies like Nike, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson have pledged to go to 100 percent renewable energy. Many energy companies are expanding into cleaner forms of power. More than 80 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge issued by the White House. Additionally, in a petition organized by C2ES, 14 energy, technology and manufacturing companies (with $1.1 trillion combined revenues and 1.5 million employees) called for a balanced and durable global climate agreement in Paris.
Individuals, too, are demanding bold action on climate. The People’s Climate March last year in New York City drew more than 300,000. And while a similar march in Paris had to be canceled due to security concerns, it’s clear that globally and in the U.S., most people acknowledge the reality of climate change.
So as negotiators and observers head to Paris for what could be a defining moment, we must also make it a defining opportunity for all of us. We all have a positive and important part to play – whether we’re climate negotiators, city officials, members of local environmental groups, business owners, or students – in creating a smart and sustainable future.
In an important breakthrough, parties to the Montreal Protocol meeting in Dubai have agreed to a path forward aimed at phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of highly potent greenhouse gases. This progress adds to the momentum leading up to the UN climate talks starting later this month in Paris.
HFCs, chemicals widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, were developed in response to limits on ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.
The United States and 40 other countries had put forth a range of proposals this year for phasing down HFCs. While these efforts fell short of producing a consensus amendment, extensive discussions throughout the week resulted in a path toward delivering an HFC phasedown amendment at a special, additional meeting of the parties to be held in 2016.
Parties agreed on the fundamental issue that the Montreal Protocol has legal jurisdiction to act and has the experience, expertise, and institutions best suited to tackling the challenge of reducing HFCs. The Dubai meeting also produced a common understanding and a path forward on a range of issues related to how to modify the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund to provide financial support to developing countries to comply with controls on HFCs and on the need to exempt uses of HFCs in high ambient temperature conditions where no viable substitutes exist.
As the fastest growing group of greenhouse gases, HFCs represent an important target in global efforts to limit climate change. It’s estimated that limiting HFCs could achieve a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in the temperature increase due to greenhouse gases by the end of 2100 – a target well within reach of Montreal Protocol parties when they reconvene next year.
These reductions are critical to global efforts to keep temperature increases under the 2 C goal established under the UN Framework Convention. It’s estimated that national commitments to addressing greenhouse gases made in the lead up to Paris could limit temperature increases to around 2.7 C. More needs to be done, and HFC reduction under the Montreal Protocol can contribute to filling the gap.
With a final decision coming well past midnight Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy led the United States’ negotiating team in finding a way forward – overcoming the concerns of India, Saudi Arabia and a small number of other countries about the availability of substitutes to replace HFCs and the adequacy and rules governing financial support.
Representing the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, I presented two papers at side events in Dubai addressing issues of concern to the negotiators. Technological Change in the Production Sector under the Montreal Protocol addressed concerns of developing countries that production of alternatives to HFCs would be limited to a few multinational corporations. A second paper, Patents and the Role of the Multilateral Fund, analyzed whether the Multilateral Fund would pay for intellectual property rights associated with substitutes for HFCs.
Paris Climate Talks Q&A
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.
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.