27 August 2015
Climate Countdown: What Can Be Expected in the Lead Up to Paris?
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

The UN negotiations being undertaken by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) are expected to culminate at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UN negotiations being undertaken by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) are expected to culminate at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will be held in December 2015 in Paris, France, with the adoption of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC.

This policy update describes the current state of play in the negotiations, outlines what could be reasonably expected from the Paris Climate Change Conference, and details some of the main issues that could constitute obstacles to reaching an agreement in Paris, or possibly limit its level of ambition.


At the most recent ADP meeting, in June 2015, in Bonn, Germany, negotiations focused on streamlining and consolidating the Geneva negotiating text (GNT), which was issued as an official document at the end of the February 2015 ADP meeting (FCCC/ADP/2015/1). Progress proved to be slow; the GNT was only shortened by five pages – from 90 to 85 – during the two-week session. At the end of the June meeting, Parties acknowledged that little progress had been made on streamlining and entrusted ADP Co-Chairs Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) and Daniel Reifsnyder (US) to prepare “a tool” to facilitate the negotiations, i.e. a non-official version of the GNT that is further streamlined and clustered, albeit without omitting any options or positions of Parties.

Delivering on this highly sensitive and politically-charged task, the Co-Chairs issued the “tool” at the end of July (ADP.2105.4.InformalNote). While still over 80 pages long, the document divides the non-official negotiating text that came out of the June ADP meeting into three sections: provisions that are appropriate for inclusion in an agreement; provisions that are appropriate for inclusion in a decision; and provisions whose placement requires further clarity among Parties.

The reaction of Parties to this “tool” on 31 August 2015, the first day of the ADP’s next session, will set the tone for the remainder of the negotiations. If Parties accept this new tool as the basis for further negotiations, it could speed up progress towards a more manageable negotiating text and provide the sense of trust that the Co-Chairs (and negotiators!) will need to drive the process to success. If, on the other hand, Parties reject the tool, the negotiations could revert to the GNT of February, which, in the words of one seasoned delegate, is “an inedible fruit salad” of options.


Although the negotiations have so far been very slow, there are multiple reasons to be optimistic that an agreement will be reached in Paris. Importantly, compared to the pre-Copenhagen period in the lead up to COP 15, a number of factors are radically different.

First of all, key players in the negotiations have shifted their positions and committed to increase their mitigation actions. In particular, a number of bilateral actions have sent a clear message of political will to reach an agreement, including the 2014 US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, the Joint US-India Climate and Clean Energy Cooperation deal of January 2015, and the statement issued during Brazilian-German intergovernmental consultations in August 2015, where the two countries announced they would aim for “a fair, ambitious, long-term, comprehensive and legally binding agreement under the UNFCCC.”

Second, the institutional framework is more robust now than it was in 2009. The establishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Multilateral Assessment process, which shows that reporting by all Parties is successfully being undertaken, are particularly important in this respect.

Third, the benefits of action, and the consequences of inaction, are becoming clearer than ever. Climate science is, in the words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “unequivocal.” The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, released in 2014, provides a sound scientific basis for action.

Fourth, unprecedented mobilization and awareness among civil society and non-state actors is taking place, as exemplified by the People’s Climate Change March that preceded the UN Climate Summit in September 2014, and the multitude of partnerships announced by a range of stakeholders during the Summit itself. These circles of influence are outside the formal UN negotiations, but are creating both the conditions and the urgency for leaders to act.

Fifth, climate solutions are economically within reach, as outlined in the report of The New Climate Economy, titled ‘Seizing the Global Opportunity: Partnerships for Better Growth and a Better Climate.’ The report finds that recent economic trends, such as decreasing clean energy costs, oil price volatility and increased carbon pricing, are building momentum for low-carbon development.

Although these factors alone do not necessarily ensure an automatic or easy, strong global agreement, they do raise the prospect that serious multilateral cooperation is possible to achieve a common goal. So, if agreement is within reach, what, in substance, can be expected?

Many expect that Paris will produce a robust framework that will be nimble enough to allow for greater mitigation ambition over time, while attracting as many participating Parties as possible. So far, the 57 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by Parties are collectively encouraging, albeit insufficient. On one hand, the INDCs represent progress beyond business as usual, and cement a number of promising policy approaches for addressing climate change. They also demonstrate political will, with submissions to date covering 60% of global emissions, compared to the 17% covered by the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. On the other hand, the INDCs announced thus far are not ambitious enough to limit warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Many, therefore, are looking for the Paris agreement to lay the groundwork not only to implement the INDCs, but also to ensure that countries return to the table on a regular basis to ratchet up their mitigation targets in order to meet the long-term goal.


While one can be cautiously optimistic about a successful outcome in Paris, there are of course a number of issues that constitute obstacles to reaching an agreement, or may limit the level of the agreement’s ambition. These include differentiation among Parties, climate finance, loss and damage, and the legal nature of the agreement.


A key sticking point among Parties is the issue of differentiation. The ADP has a mandate to provide an outcome in Paris that will be applicable to all Parties; however, views diverge on what this entails. The Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) refuse to take on binding commitments, stressing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and the importance of retaining the Annex I – non-Annex I categorization of Parties enshrined in the Convention. In contrast, Umbrella Group (UG) countries will not sign on to an agreement that does not apply a uniform regime to all major emitters. Many do not expect views on this element to change at the next September and October meetings of the ADP, as well as in Paris.


While finance could be one of the deal breakers in Paris, several political issues will need to be addressed: the issue of additionality of climate finance to official development assistance (ODA); how funding will be scaled up to the US$100 billion goal through the GCF; and sources of funding (in particular, private sector involvement). If robust financing proposals are put forward, a compromise from major emitters within the developing world on issues of differentiation of commitments may be more forthcoming.

Loss and damage

Parties will also need to reach agreement on loss and damage, an issue that is particularly close to the heart of small island developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs). Along with the LMDCs, these countries stress loss and damage as a separate and equally important part of any new agreement, on a par with, though independent of, mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation. Various developed countries are reluctant to place loss and damage in the agreement, claiming the need to avoid overlap with the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which is under its initial two-year workplan and due for review in 2016.

The legal nature of the agreement

The legal nature of the agreement that the ADP is mandated to negotiate is ambiguous, and Parties have made several different proposals in this regard. A few Parties have stated their opposition to a new protocol, while others, such as the EU or Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), are in favor of a legally binding agreement. These divergences are not new, but consensus must be reached on this issue in Paris.

Furthermore, the bottom-up approach of the INDCs will need to be integrated into an international framework, and their legal status within the outcome will need to be clarified.


With only ten scheduled negotiating days remaining before Paris, pressure is on negotiators to speed up the process. Some have highlighted that the the Kyoto Protocol is 18 pages, and suggest that significantly reducing the length of the 80-page negotiating text will be a critical task for the August-September and October ADP meetings, both of which will take place in Bonn, Germany. However, and most importantly, Parties will need to engage on substance and identify areas of convergence to deliver a negotiating text with clear options for consideration by the COP.

related posts