Climate Talks, Negotiation Process, Road to COP21

Is the negotiation process smart enough to bring forth an agreement ?

This article is written by Pauline Fayan.

What is the history of the attempts to control climate change ?

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was ratified. Its objective was to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gas by 5.2% below the 1950 level by 2012. As emissions have not ceased to increase since that time, parties agreed on the need to find a new tool, more effective and which would include all Parties, to manage the post-Kyoto Protocol period. Talks focused on the new agreement to come in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP15). Unfortunately, the 196 parties did not manage to agree. As the trial failed, the Kyoto Protocol has been extended to a second period from 2013 to 2020 but, in 2011, Parties decided that another agreement had to be concluded not later than 2015 to have enough time to act against the global warming.

In Lima (2014), the COP co-chairs proposed a first draft of some 37 pages. When Parties met in February 2015 at the Geneva intersession, they reported that the proposal was not reflecting their views. Therefore, all provisions were submitted and included to a massive text of 88 pages.

The aim of the following intersession in June 2015 was to streamline the text, compiling similar options. In two weeks, parties only reduced the text by 5%. Running out of time, they mandated the United Nations Executive Secretariat to propose a simplified text that would include all ideas.

At the end of July 2015, the co-chairs released a tool, based on the Geneva text :

–          Part 1:  provisions for the agreement which are permanent statements,

–          Part 2: provisions for the COP decisions which can be modified or implemented year after year,

–          Part 3: provisions that need more discussions to be addressed between part 1 and 2.

When Parties met during the September intersession, their mission was to agree on the proposed repartition and to decide what to do with part 3’s statements. As discussions brought new concepts and convergences not yet expressed in the text, parties proposed to write a new text for October 2015. This version will be concise and suitable for negotiations.

Indeed,the next step to come is the October’s intersession; it aims at validating the new draft text and start negotiations. In December 2015, political representatives of the Parties will meet in Paris for the COP21 summit in order to finish negotiations. If all Parties reach a compromise, the agreement will be adopted.

What are the pros & cons of the process ?

Intersessions plannings are divided in slots. For each, two sessions are planned on different sections of the text. The initial planning can evolve depending on the needs of the parties. Sessions are an opportunity to validate what has been done, to discuss points of convergence and disagreement or to specify the work processes.

The process allows beginning by consensual matters, creating a climate of trust which is fundamental. The simultaneous planning is time-effective as numerous subjects can be addressed in a very short time. The articulation between sessions leaves time to debrief on what was said.

Nonetheless, the process also has numerous cons. The lack of validating steps makes the talks often coming back to process rather than substance. But the most critical point is the planning of the different sections. Questions like means and timetable to achieve the objectives are discussed when objectives are not defined yet.

Some Parties do not want the agreement text to contain objectives. Chances to succeed are lot higher when we know where we are going. In this case, there is a lot of uncertainty, we want to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, to limit the global warming, to safeguard ecosystems equilibrium at a level which represents an acceptable risk for the human being. The problem is not easy in itself, so discussing solutions before agreeing on what we want to achieve is unlikely to produce a result.

What is therefore the most likely to happen ?

  • To agree on means and timetable which do not fit the objectives ?
  • To agree on means and timetable that fit the objectives but do not fit the global climate issue ?
  • To agree on means and timetable that fit the objectives and the global issue ?

We could also discuss the inequality between delegations as the little ones cannot attend each discussion (for financial reasons), but also the slow process because of the numerous round trips between sections sessions.

After 24 years of talks about Climate change mechanisms and international governance, after the mixed results of the Kyoto protocol, the failure of the Copenhagen agreement and the slow process still at work, there are many reasons to doubt about our ability to reach an agreement in few months. However, the magnitude of the issue and the civil mobilization are rising. Pressure on national leaders shows new encouraging  synergies and convergences.

So is the negotiation process smart enough to bring an agreement ? I would say no, except if we show decision makers around the world that we are concerned, that we both want an ambitious agreement and real actions, and that we will hold them accountable in the future. So let’s raise our voice to Paris !


About the author : Pauline Fayan is a young French engineer specialized in Safety, Environment and Risk Prevention. To complement her action in promoting sustainable policies in companies, she shares her knowledge about climate change issues and related risks and solutions through CliMates.

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