The Road to Paris and Beyond
November 30, 2015
For the next two weeks, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be gathered in Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to negotiate an agreement designed to coordinate global action on climate change post-2020. The agreement is expected to cover a range of issues including mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation, financing, technology transfer, and monitoring and verification. The formal meetings were kicked off today with participation by over 140 heads of state, high-level government officials, and members of civil society. Alongside the formal negotiations, myriad international organizations, private entities and NGOs are convening side meetings to discuss their priorities for the negotiations and announce commitments to take action. The outcome of these negotiations will be judged based on the viewpoint of different constituencies including the expectations they have at the outset and the action they feel is necessary for a successful outcome.
Q1: How have the negotiations evolved since the talks began in 1992 and what progress can we hope to see in Paris?
A1: The road to Paris has been long and Paris is not the end of the road. The UNFCCC was agreed to in 1992, but binding action to reduce emissions did not take shape until Kyoto Protocol (KP) came into force in 2005. The KP is viewed by many developed countries (except certain EU members) as an outdated and unacceptable framework for effective climate action because it does not require emerging economies—including the world’s largest and growing emitters—to take action. Moreover, the process for negotiating the KP is seen as a top-down driven negotiation detached from the domestic political and economic realities of the major negotiating parties. As a result, negotiators have been moving away from the KP and the framework it embodies since it has been in force; much of the incremental progress made in the negotiations each year since 2007 has focused on two central goals: (1) break down the barriers in emission reduction commitments between developed and developing countries exemplified by the KP and (2) create a new global regime that more effectively catalyzes and coordinates climate action from all members of the international community.
Q2: What issues will be discussed in Paris and what will the deliverable be?
A2: As the negotiations and the understanding of climate change itself have evolved, the substance of the negotiations has also become more expansive to incorporate issues beyond mitigation and now includes adaptation, finance, technology transfer, as well as monitoring, review, and verification of commitments. Consequently, the international climate architecture has also become much more elaborate, with each of these core areas of focus now bolstered by a network of international institutions both within and outside the UNFCCC framework.
While political leaders and negotiators view the stakes in Paris as high, many people will see the Paris outcome as incremental. The main deliverables will be two-fold: (1) a catalogue of pledges to take action in the years after 2020 (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) and (2) a framework for action post-2020. The pledges and framework will not yield a definitive “slam dunk” for the international community in tackling the issue of climate change (and will almost certainly not achieve the agreed upon goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius) but instead will be a roadmap for further action and activity to guide the international community for how to continue to ramp down emissions and address other issues, including adaptation and finance. The road to Paris will yield a road beyond Paris.
Q3: What are the core areas of focus and possible sticking points?
A3: The concrete outcome of the negotiations will be a text outlining actions on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, and monitoring and review. Each of these areas of discussion are underpinned by ongoing negotiation committees, official working groups and linkages with external entities working on these issues, and the progress to made on each of these areas is largely housed in the details of the principles of operation of these organizations.
There are two core issues relating to ambition. The first is an ongoing disagreement between the majority of the climate community about the temperature rise limit target itself with members of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States advocating for a more stringent target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (compared with the internationally recognized target of 2 degrees Celsius). The second, more salient, issue is the fact that the efforts to reduce emissions are not in line with what scientists say will result in staying within the 2 degree target.
The international community has pledged to deliver $100 billion per year by 2020 to finance mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing economies. There are significant disagreements about what qualifies to be included in this financing (public versus private sector monies, governments that can contribute to the fund, and how to access the funds) in addition to a call from many countries for higher funding levels.
Developed countries are held to a higher standard for transparency and want to create a common framework for all countries. Transparency is viewed as the currency of trust in these negotiations so a push for transparency of effort and evaluation is a central issue.
Developing countries contend that adaptation has historically received less focus in the negotiations than mitigation and have been pushing in recent years to ensure it is elevated as an issue and incorporated into the financing discussion.
Each of the above issues are important to resolve in order to reach an agreement but the following have the potential to be particularly contentious sticking points.
Developed countries want to soften or do away with the static, unchanging differentiation between countries that were “developed” and “developing” economies in 1992, which are enshrined in the UNFCCC agreement and have fundamentally different level of obligations. Certain developing economies want to keep this static differentiation.
• Legal Character
Countries have different expectations for the legally binding character of the agreement with some countries arguing for a treaty and other making the case that domestic actions that are binding in a domestic context are sufficient. There is some discussion about making the agreement itself binding via an executive agreement but the pledges flexible.
• Loss and Damage
Certain developing countries argue that developed economies owe them loss and damage payments for the historical and future economic damages caused by climate change. This is a non-starter for developed economies and despite pushing discussion of this issue off to 2016 it has the potential to be a contentious issue.
Q4: What will determines success in Paris?
A4: Paris is already a tremendous success because of the action it has catalyzed before the meeting ever began. Over and above this success however, will be its ability to catalyze further action commensurate with global climate goals. While over 170 countries covering 95 percent of global emissions have submitted pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate, the pledges are not enough to reach the stated goal of keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. As Ban Ki Moon said in his opening remarks, this means the outcome from Paris must be a floor, not a ceiling for climate action. Many negotiators believe achieving success in Paris means creating a framework through which governments can work to generate ever more ambitious efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate. In the long run Paris will only be as successful as the actions it is able to catalyze after the negotiations are over. The next two weeks are important for laying the foundation for future action.
Sarah Ladislaw is a senior fellow and director of the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
This Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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