Cautious Optimism as Second Week of Climate Negotiations Begins

December 7, 2015 | 12:21 pm
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

As we enter the second week of COP21, the international climate negotiations, the mood in Paris is cautiously optimistic. The Draft Paris Outcome, reached midday last Saturday, provides hope that we will get an agreement by the end of this week. But there remains a lot of work to do for ministers and negotiators in the final days to ensure that the agreement is a strong one.

Positive momentum

Many of us arrived in Paris buoyed by the significant progress that had been made ahead of the COP, especially because of the advance announcements of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by over 180 countries representing some 95 percent of global emissions. The groundwork had been laid through a series on informal ministerial consultations as well as the formal negotiating sessions, and there was a clear sense of what remained to be done.

Entrance to the COP21 venue in Le Bourget, France

Entrance to the COP21 venue in Le Bourget, France

The COP started with strong statements from world leaders about the urgency of greater action, both to limit emissions and to help vulnerable countries cope with mounting climate impacts. In some areas, negotiators built on that sense of momentum later in the week; but in other areas –especially the charged issue of climate finance—there was very little movement.

Indications of positive momentum in the first week include the fact that the U.S. has shown openness to reaching compromises on the issue of Loss and Damage, which is a major issue of concern for developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. Many developing countries have stepped up with significant plans for climate action. This type of constructive engagement is key to maintaining the political space needed for reaching a strong global agreement.

We do have the Draft Paris Outcome, which was delivered on time Saturday to the COP presidency. At 48 pages, the text is relatively streamlined, although it still contains many unresolved areas, with multiple options, which remain as so-called “bracketed text.” In the days ahead, ministers and negotiators will need to narrow these options and reach high-ambition, compromise solutions with clear, concise wording.

Areas that require further work

Major sticking points continue to be a lack of clear commitments by developed countries to ramp up climate finance to help developing countries deploy clean technologies and address climate change impacts, as well as continued disagreements about how the Framework Convention’s principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as the basis for climate action from developed and developing countries, will be applied to the various issues being negotiated.

Also, recognizing that the collective level of ambition of the current INDCs fall well short of what is needed, the agreement needs to contain specific provisions that will encourage countries to review and revise their commitments at least every five years, starting no later than the end of this decade. This review cycle to must raise ambition, and should apply to both commitments to cut emissions and the provision of climate finance.

Importance of maintaining an atmosphere of trust and respect

High-level ministers are arriving in Paris to take charge of this second week of negotiations; they must operate with a spirit of trust and respect, and demonstrate an openness to engage in dialogue on critical and difficult subjects. This is no small thing when one considers how complex the issues are and how fraught some previous negotiations have been (including walk-outs from some country groups).

A lot of credit for creating an open and constructive environment for this ministerial engagement goes to the French COP presidency, which has handled these delicate negotiations with great skill and care. (This is unlike Copenhagen, where a lack of transparency and sharp divisions within the Danish COP presidency led to a minimalist agreement cobbled together at the very last minute, rather than the fair, ambitious, and binding agreement that was hoped for.)

The days ahead

The next days will likely bring rising tension and some frustration as the final deadline for the Paris Agreement approaches. There are many risks that remain and problem areas to be navigated. But with skillful diplomacy and a clear-headed sense of what is at stake, COP21 could end with a solid agreement.

COP21 President Laurent Fabius captured the feelings of many when he ended his introductory remarks on Saturday saying that,

“This is something special, very special. We simply cannot postpone action… What we are discussing is not only about the environment and climate, it is about life itself.”

Here’s to our hopes becoming reality, and an ambitious, fair Paris agreement being reached by the end of this week.

COP President Laurent Fabius address the COP on December 5, 2015

COP President Laurent Fabius address the COP on December 5, 2015