Opinion: Five Issues That Must Be Resolved If The Paris Climate Talks Are To Succeed

Oct 28, 2015
David Waskow and Joe Thwaites

This story first appeared on the WRI blog. You can view the original here.

28 October 2015 | After key negotiations in Bonn, we enter the homestretch to COP21, the pivotal global meeting in Paris in December where countries will agree on a new international agreement on climate change. Negotiators made significant strides at the Bonn gathering, but a strong COP21 outcome requires a much more vigorous pace.

More than 150 countries, accounting for almost 90 percent of global emissions, have submitted national climate plans (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) for the agreement. Countries are clearly invested in taking climate action and have strong reason now to develop a global framework that can anchor these climate action commitments, ensure their transparent implementation and increase them regularly over time.

Before the Bonn talks, the co-chairs of the negotiations released a 20-page informal note with an outline for the draft agreement. The 20-page co-chairs note provided suggestions for both the core legal agreement and the set of COP decisions that would address more detailed issues. When the Bonn session began, many countries expressed a desire to add options to the negotiating document offered by the co-chairs.

With input from the negotiators, who took full ownership over crafting the draft agreement, the text now reflects the core issues and choices that countries want to address in the final agreement. Now countries must engage all levels – negotiators, ministers and heads of state – to make the tough decisions that will create an ambitious, effective agreement.

Key Issues and Options

Some of the key issues and options in the draft agreement text include:

  • Setting regular intervals for countries to make more ambitious commitments. To maintain momentum after COP21, the draft agreement includes a process to review and ramp up action at regular periods every five years. A critically important option to do this starting in 2020 has been added to the text. These five-year intervals will account for rapid changes in technology, science and policy and the need for further emissions cuts. However, the text needs to be clearer on specific processes to regularly enhance mitigation, adaptation and finance, particularly how review processes will work and help drive increased ambition.
  • Establishing long-term goals to shift to a cleaner global economy, reduce carbon pollution and build resilience to global climate impacts. The draft agreement discusses a clear long-term trajectory for emissions. An option added in Bonn to phrase this goal as “decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century” — the same language adopted by G7 leaders recently – is extremely important.
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability on countries’ progress. The draft agreement reflects the idea that countries should eventually find a common approach to transparently measure and report countries’ emissions. However, critical choices must be made about when and how this will be achieved and how countries will ultimately be held accountable. Ensuring adequate support for developing countries to implement these provisions, especially sustained capacity building, will also be essential.
  • Providing financial support to drive climate action. Negotiators in Bonn clarified complex finance options and framed a set of choices for Paris. The vital questions on the future of climate finance are all addressed in the text, namely: who should provide finance, at what scale, from what sources, to which activities, through which institutions? Countries now need to choose from among the options, including whether to add to the $100 billion that developed countries committed to mobilize annually from public and private sources by 2020, and whether to make the public funding for adaptation and mitigation equally balanced. Proposals that donor countries should regularly set short-term individual goals for the finance they will provide, as well as that all countries should report on any finance provided or received, could help ensure ambition increases over time.
  • Building resilience to climate impacts around the world. An overwhelming majority of INDCs – 87 percent – include an adaptation component, and adaptation plays a central role in the draft text. The draft sets out what will happen when countries regularly communicate their adaptation efforts – particularly as the basis for deciding how to address adaptation needs, including increasing support and finance. However, there was no consensus in Bonn on how to deal with so-called “loss and damage” impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to, such as disappearing glaciers, bleaching corals and rising seas that threaten island nations. Constructive solutions will be needed on the way to Paris.

From Marathon to Sprint

It is important to make more progress at all levels ahead of the Paris negotiations. Ministers meeting in Paris November 8-10 need to offer more consensus on the key decisions for the Paris outcome at the political level. When heads of state meet on November 30 at the start of COP 21, they can provide clear direction to negotiators to deliver a strong agreement. And negotiators will need to turn that political guidance into clear, ambitious outcomes that all countries can rally around.

The world has been running a marathon for years to reach this point in the negotiations. Now we need an all-out sprint to get over the Paris finish line.