Climate Talks, Road to COP21

Briefing on the advance of the negotiation process, less than 500 days before COP21

This article is the first one of a series of 3 articles on Negotiation and COP20. Here is the 2nd and the 3rd don’t miss the others coming soon !
This article is written by Clément Bultheel.

Where are we in the Negotiations Process?

With less than 500 days before COP21 in Paris, where a new climate agreement is expected to be signed, it is imperative understand how the process is unfolding.

Decision 1.CP/19 put on record a schedule that requires countries to reveal the contents of their intended nationally determined contributions (iNDC) by the first quarter of 2015, presumably in March during a likely intersession in Bonn, Germany. The March meeting is outside of the typical cycle of meetings of the Parties but due to the urgency of developing a fair and ambitious negotiating text by COP20 in Lima, Parties have been meeting every March since 2012, in addition to the usual June intersessions.

That way we could get into a consultation period which aims to implement a specific process before the finalization of the 2015 agreement. This process might include an ex ante clarity, so Parties will have to give up-front information, to then enter into a review process till the end of the year. It would also allow, from the content of the iNDC, to leave us time to debate the potential legal content of the final agreement. This decision will have to be taken in Lima.

A long road ahead

Meanwhile, discussions are focused on the content, in terms of modalities, of the iNDCs rather than on the final agreement’s ones. So the road is still long, and it is imperative to go through this phase of definition of the content modalities. Parties must accelerate efforts, to put in place national processes to adopt targets and goals and to commit to an iNDC as soon as possible. For this reason, the ADP co-chairs must provide further methodological requirements for Parties on the modalities expected to advance discussions faster, while taking into account the different positions of every Party to come to consensus.

However we are still far away to exceed the « firewall » sketched since the beginning between developed and developing countries. Both ADP intersessions 2-4 & 2-5 allowed a glimpse of what remains to be done in terms of discussions to agree on a common substance and also on how the CDBR-RC principle will be integrated to the new agreement. Concerning this last point, it seems likely that the differences of processing on the Measuring, Reporting & Verification (MRV) system will be maintained. But for the moment, the ADP co-chairs just asked the Parties to submit their iNDC into a miscellaneous document.


Slow discussions in March gave the ADP co-chairs the idea to ​​separate the discussions into contact groups on the various aspects which should be integrated into the iNDC (mitigation, adaptation, climate finance, capacity building & technology issues, transparency, iNDC itself, Workstream 2). The format allowed to go deeper in the subjects, to get a first impression of the visions and positions of everyone about each topic, and it seemed productive in terms of dialogue on the contributions modalities. But we need the discussions to move forward.

Draft texts published by the ADP co-chairs in July this year will serve as a starting point to further discuss on iNDCs (see the text here) and the ADP Workstream 2, which concerns pre-2020 ambition (and here for this one). These papers offer an overview of the trajectory and the modalities they expected for Parties. Under these circumstances, the next ADP session (20-24 October) will focus on these draft texts.

A global agreement, what for?

It is essential that this agreement accompanies the transition towards a low carbon development. A benchmark of this is to ensure that the agreement has the capacity to strengthen over time, perhaps through review and ratcheting up of pledges over time. For this reason, if the legally binding approach remains ideal governance for all progressive, then a flexible agreement should not be seen as a bad thing. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the process sought to make top-down, and it did not work, while since, and with the implementation of the ADP platform, the approach has become a Party-driven, bottom-up one.

At first, the concern that we have about this new approach is its ability to compile sufficient contributions to stay on a path consistent with the objective of 2 ° C. That is why it should aim to develop a two-stage process: the first would be to bring all countries under an agreement at the COP21, the second would be post-COP21 and would aim to increase the Parties’ ambitions, as to stay on a sufficient trajectory. There are however, understandably, concerns by Parties about ratcheting up their iNDCs over time.

The development of the second phase must be incorporated into the expected long-term Paris agreement. This recovery phase of ambition could be composed of interim milestones that will define the ambition gap which must be filled over the coming various periods. An idea that emerges at present within the negotiations is the one of an implementation of a ratchet mechanism. This type of mechanism would fix a band to go back on its commitments; countries could not thus more than increase them, to contribute to strengthen a dynamics of continuous ambition increasing.



About the author: Clément Bultheel is studying international relations at ILERI in Paris. At the COP19 in Warsaw, he integrated the French climate delegation as a Young Delegate. He joined recently the CliMates’ negotiation tracking team, and had the opportunity to join the French climate delegation as an intern for the summer of 2014, in particular with a view to preparing COP21.

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