Negotiating a new UN climate agreement: Challenges on the road to Paris

25-03-2015

A new international agreement to combat climate change is due to be adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Besides actions to stop global warming, it should also cover adaptation to climate change. The 20th Conference of Parties, which was held in Lima in December 2014, concluded with the adoption of the Lima Call for Climate Action, a document that invites all Parties (countries) to communicate their intended contributions to post-2020 climate action well before the Paris Conference. The Lima conference left a number of important issues unresolved. First of all, the content, form and timescale of countries’ contributions is not clearly specified, which will make them hard to compare and assess. It is likely that the individual contributions will not add up to the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below the internationally agreed limit of 2°C. A process for the periodic assessment and strengthening of national efforts will therefore have to be an important element of the new agreement. Another unresolved issue is the legal form of the agreement. While some negotiators favour a strong, legally binding agreement, others prefer a bottom-up approach based on voluntary contributions. Finally, issues of fairness and equity need to be addressed, acknowledging that developed countries have a greater historical responsibility for climate change and stronger capacity for taking action. The October 2014 European Council agreed on a greenhouse-gas reduction target of at least 40% by 2030. In November, the US and China – the world’s major emitters – announced targets that are less ambitious, but still considered as important building blocks to a climate agreement with global reach. The leadership role of the EU in international climate action is being challenged by the latest developments. EU climate diplomacy will have to adapt to the new situation if the EU wants to retain its leadership role, and remain a major player in the global transition towards a zero-carbon economy and energy system.

A new international agreement to combat climate change is due to be adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Besides actions to stop global warming, it should also cover adaptation to climate change. The 20th Conference of Parties, which was held in Lima in December 2014, concluded with the adoption of the Lima Call for Climate Action, a document that invites all Parties (countries) to communicate their intended contributions to post-2020 climate action well before the Paris Conference. The Lima conference left a number of important issues unresolved. First of all, the content, form and timescale of countries’ contributions is not clearly specified, which will make them hard to compare and assess. It is likely that the individual contributions will not add up to the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below the internationally agreed limit of 2°C. A process for the periodic assessment and strengthening of national efforts will therefore have to be an important element of the new agreement. Another unresolved issue is the legal form of the agreement. While some negotiators favour a strong, legally binding agreement, others prefer a bottom-up approach based on voluntary contributions. Finally, issues of fairness and equity need to be addressed, acknowledging that developed countries have a greater historical responsibility for climate change and stronger capacity for taking action. The October 2014 European Council agreed on a greenhouse-gas reduction target of at least 40% by 2030. In November, the US and China – the world’s major emitters – announced targets that are less ambitious, but still considered as important building blocks to a climate agreement with global reach. The leadership role of the EU in international climate action is being challenged by the latest developments. EU climate diplomacy will have to adapt to the new situation if the EU wants to retain its leadership role, and remain a major player in the global transition towards a zero-carbon economy and energy system.