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.

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:

Long-term goal – The agreement will likely reaffirm the goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius; include some reference to the risks of exceeding 1.5 degrees, a high priority for many vulnerable developing countries; and call for decarbonization of the global economy, or words to that effect, over the course of the century.

DifferentiationThe agreement will reaffirm the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” But it will eschew a binary approach (strict differentiation between developed and developing countries) and apply that principle in a more nuanced fashion than before.

Mitigation – Countries have already functionally differentiated their efforts through their intended NDCs. The agreement will likely set some parameters: All should put forward “their highest possible ambition,” successive contributions should reflect a “progression,” and all ultimately should aim for absolute economy-wide emissions targets.

Legal character – The agreement will be a “treaty” under international law. It will likely include binding commitments by all to submit, maintain and periodically update mitigation contributions, and to report on their implementation. Parties also will be expected to pursue domestic measures in line with their contributions, but the contributions themselves will not be legally binding.

Finance – The agreement will likely reaffirm developed country obligations to support developing countries and, for the first time, encourage developing countries that are willing and able to voluntarily provide support as well. Developed countries will likely reaffirm (though possibly in a decision accompanying the agreement, rather than the agreement itself) the goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in public and private finance as a floor beyond 2020.

Adaptation – The agreement will likely set a long-term goal of reducing vulnerability and strengthening climate resilience, encourage all countries to undertake and report on national adaptation efforts, and ensure support for developing countries.

Transparency – The agreement will likely provide for a transition from the current bifurcated transparency system to a common system of reporting and review, with all countries working toward the same standards of transparency and accountability. Developing countries will be given time and support to come up to those standards.

Future rounds – To keep the pressure on countries to raise ambition over time, the agreement will likely provide for a “stocktake” of collective progress every 5 years, after which parties will be required to submit new or renewed contributions. A key issue is how soon the first round will take place – hopefully, no later than 2020.=

Translating these concepts into agreeable text remains a monumental challenge, and there’s still plenty of risk that in the final days and moments, key provisions will get watered down. But if parties can in fact land in these zones, Paris could well prove a transformational moment in the global climate effort.