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Paris: All’s Well that Ends Well

Despite these limitations, COP-21 took off on 29 November 2015 with 189 countries having communicated their INDCs to the UNFCCC Secretariat. As could be expected from the above, many of these country plans contained no more than a few pages, with little underlying analysis. Nevertheless, the targets mentioned and the timetables included in the INDCs enabled the UNFCCC Secretariat to write a synthesis report (based on 119 INDCs communicated by 1 October 2015, representing 147 countries[1]). It was concluded that “the estimated aggregate annual global emission levels resulting from the implementation of the INDCs do not fall within least-cost 2 °C scenarios by 2025 and 2030... Therefore, much greater emission reductions effort than those associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 to hold the temperature rise below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” (UNFCCC Secretariat 2015, p. 11, para 39-40).

This conclusion that the pledges made by countries in their communicated INDCs did not go far enough to limit global warming to 2 °C contributed to the mixed feelings of optimism and pessimism that many negotiators had before the COP. Several of them still remembered how the high pressure in Copenhagen in 2009 eventually paralysed negotiations and led to a failure. Moreover, negotiations during 2015 had not been easy. The text produced by AWG-DP negotiators had swollen to a lengthy document with several options for considerations in bracketed texts. Sometimes it seemed that negotiations to make the text shorter led to extra optional texts resulting, instead, in a longer document.

At the same time, several things had changed since ‘Copenhagen’. In the first place, scientific evidence on global warming and corresponding risk had become more detailed (IPCC 2013, 2014). This, among others, resulted in several non-state initiatives to combat global warming. For example, insurance company Allianz announced in Paris that it would no longer invest in coal-fired plants. Convinced by climate science, the company realised that climate change would lead to more damage and therefore higher payments to be made to victims (Smit 2015). Allianz was among the more than 500 organisations worldwide during COP-21 to make fossil fuel divestment pledges. Together, these organisations represented over USD

3.4 trillion in assets (UNEP 2015a).

Second, COP Presidents had learned over the past seven years that negotiations had to be open, inclusive and participatory; the COP-21 presidency underlined this by arguing that heads of state and government should not negotiate texts but only provide political guidance (IISD 2015, p. 43). This was the reason why the high-level segment with heads of state and government was held at the beginning of the COP, instead of at the end, as had been common practice thus far.

The main challenge which COP-21 had to address was to link the communicated country plans, the INDCs, to the goal of 2 °C. Without legally binding country commitments there would be little guarantee that countries would take sufficient individual actions in order to collectively reach the overall temperature limitation goal (see the discussion on ‘prisoners’ dilemma in Chap. 2). The solution found in Paris was that countries’ national climate plans (NDCs, the I of intended was dropped in the course of COP-21 negotiations) remained country-driven (embedding climate measures in countries’ national socio-economic and development plans). The process of undertaking NDC and communicating these to the COP, however, is legally-binding (UNFCCC 2016, p. 22, Annex, Art. 3 and 4). On top of that, countries are committed to renew their NDC every five years after 2020 (UNFCCC 2016, p. 5, para 24) and renewed NDCs must be more ambitious than the former plans (UNFCCC 2016, p. 22, Annex, Art. 3). Based on communicated NDCs, the COP will regularly assess the collective efforts of countries through a global stocktake, which will be undertaken for the first time in 2023 and every five years thereafter (UNFCCC 2016, p. 32, Annex, Art. 14).9,10

At ‘Paris’ also the goal of 2 °C was heavily debated as several countries, especially climate-change vulnerable developing countries, wanted the more ambitious goal of 1.5 °C. The compromise found in the Paris Agreement was a formulation to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (UNFCCC 2016, p. 22, Annex, Art. 2.1a). [2] [3]

The contentious issue at earlier COPs of differentiation between developed and developing countries was addressed by COP-21 in the sense that “developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances” (UNFCCC 2016, p. 23, Annex, Art. 4.4). Common but differentiated responsibilities had remained a leading principle, but the strong wall between developed and developing countries, which had existed for so long, had largely disappeared in Paris. Another important gain of the Paris Agreement was that all major emitting countries, such as the USA, China, India and the EU, agreed with the above explained arrangements.

How could this be achieved? As the discussion in this chapter of negotiations since 2005 has shown, negotiations moved from top-down legally-binding commitments to country-driven voluntary actions. This helped a lot to broaden the international climate coalition (see also Chap. 2). Also, the personality of the French COP President, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, was praised, as he made the negotiations participatory and ensured that negotiation texts were worked on by countries, instead of by the presidency, while at the same time being strict on timing, procedures and openness. The latter was reflected by the several moments during the COP that the updated negotiation text was made available through press conferences and the internet.

Finally, an important tactical aspect during the final stages of the COP negotiations was to avoid any binding emission (reduction) targets or new financial obligations in the Paris Agreement. In this form, the Paris Agreement can be accepted by the US President as a presidential-executive agreement so that congressional approval procedures can be bypassed (Baker & McKenzie 2015, p. 15).11 With President Obama still in office during 2016, this increased the chances of the Paris Agreement becoming a binding document for the US government. This would also avoid a repetition of complex domestic US approval processes as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol (see Chap. 3). On 3 September 2016, President Obama announced US acceptance of the Paris Agreement so that the USA is listed among the countries that have formally ratified, accepted or approved the agreement (United Nations 2016).

When the Paris Agreement will enter into force depends on the ratifications of the countries. When 55 countries, which together represent 55 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, will have ratified the Paris Agreement, it can enter into force. Countries have a few years’ time for that until 2020. Status of ratification can be followed at United Nations (2016). [4]

Overview of negotiation process towards Paris Agreement (author’s own elaboration)

Fig. 5.3 Overview of negotiation process towards Paris Agreement (author’s own elaboration)

An overview of milestones during the post-Kyoto negotiation process from 2005 (Montreal) through 2015 (Paris) is presented in Fig. 5.3.

  • [1] It is noted that the EU Member States submitted one INDC.
  • [2] A first stocktake, a so-called ‘facilitative dialogue’ is also scheduled to take place in 2018 as anassessment of pledged mitigation actions before the year 2020 (UNFCCC 2016, p. 4, para 20).
  • [3] Note that the Paris Agreement does not contain sanctions in case countries do not meet thetargets in their own NDC. The regular review as part of the global stocktaking exercise is hoped tointroduce peer pressure from other countries to perform. The strength of this pressure remains to beseen. For example, should a country be the only one not complying with its NDC, then it will feelstronger international pressure then if it is part of a (much) larger group of countries lagging behindtheir planning.
  • [4] The decision on financial contributions by developed countries to the Green Climate Fund, thecollective effort to bring together USD 100 billion per year by 2020, was therefore softened, so thatthe Paris Agreement would not contain new financial commitments. In practice, this implies thatthe deadline for collecting USD 100 billion per annum was postponed until 2025 (Baker &McKenzie 2015, p. 12).
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