Climate change: Road through Paris

Climate change: Road through Paris

Fecha de publicación:
Luigi Carafa, Marie Curie Research Fellow


Last update: 05/02/2016


Our ‘carbon budget’

The city of Paris will host the most decisive global climate summit ever on November 30–December 11, 2015. The official goal of the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21), otherwise known as Paris summit, is to agree upon a post-2020 climate agreement that should keep global warming below 2°C before the end of this century.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that, for the world to maintain global warming below 2°C, we have to stay within a limit of maximum 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide cumulative emissions. This is better known as our ‘carbon budget’. If we stay within this carbon budget, there is a 66 percent chance that we stay below two degrees.

So far we have used 595 billion tonnes (nearly 60% percent) of our carbon budget. Based on emission trends over the past 20 years, Trillionthtonne forecasts that our 1,000 billion tonnes carbon budget will be consumed by 31 October 2038.

In an attempt to revert this trend and stay within our carbon budget, the international community is called to establish a new global climate regime at the Paris COP21.

A long road from Kyoto to Paris

At 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the international community established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention officially recognized the existence of climate change as well as human responsibility behind such a phenomenon. Entered into force on March 1994, this convention established the basis for international cooperation with the aim of controlling greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming. 195 countries have ratified the convention. The UNFCCC secretariat is headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

In December 1997, the international community adopted the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. the first legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases between 2008 and 2012. Binding reduction commitments were established only for 36 developed countries, excluding China and other developing countries. The protocol entered into force in February 2005 - seven years later its adoption. However, the United States (US) and Australia did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The 2009 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties (COP15) was called to agree upon a post-Kyoto climate regime. Nevertheless, disagreement between China and the United States resulted in stalemate and complete failure of the negotiations. The COP15 at least recognised the common objective of keeping global warming below 2°C. The 2010 Cancun Conference of the Parties (COP16) established the Green Climate Fund, which specifically support projects, programmes, and policies in developing countries.

Two years after Copenhagen, the 2011 Durban Conference of the Parties (COP17) managed to revitalise the climate negotiations. The international community established the so-called Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which was mandated to bring developed and developing countries again to the negotiation table in order to develop a post-Kyoto climate regime. The ADP was authorized to facilitate the negotiations with a clear objective to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all the parties to the UNFCCC. The COP17 set 2015 as a final deadline for the endorsement of such a post-Kyoto climate agreement, which will have to be implemented from 2020. The 2012 Doha Conference of the Parties (COP18) extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol, setting a second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. This was a temporary solution to an enduring impasse in the climate negotiations under the UNFCCC.

The state of climate affairs before Paris

Six years after the China-US stalemate and the resulting negotiations’ failure in Copenhagen, the state of climate affairs registered a change in direction in Beijing and Washington – the world largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In China, unbearable levels of air pollution make domestic climate policy of primary importance. In the US, the shale gas revolution made an energy-oriented foreign policy less necessary, and a climate policy more feasible.

Over the last 12 months, several specific developments occurred. In November 2014, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced a bilateral climate agreement in Beijing that created unprecedented political momentum for the COP21.

In December 2014, the Lima Conference of the Parties (COP20) managed to approve a preliminary draft for the Paris agreement. Ever since, the ADP has strived to facilitate the production of various working texts which served as a basis for the negotiating sessions along the road to the Paris COP21. In February 2015, such a draft evolved in the first negotiating text for Paris. In June 2015, this text evolved in a streamlined and consolidated text. The text was then shortened as a draft agreement and draft decision in October 2015. After some editing, a final text was re-issued on November 10, 2015 – which will serve as a basis for the negotiations at the COP21.

By late March 2015, each country was requested to communicate its Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC) to keep global warming below 2°C. INDCs outline voluntary emissions reduction targets, domestic actions as well as possible financial contributions.

The submissions of INDCs were scattered over the last year. By October 1, 2015, the UNFCCC secretariat received 119 INDCs communicated by 147 countries - covering 86% of global emissions. On October 30, 2015, the UNFCCC Secretariat released an official report that assessed the aggregate effect of the above INDCs in slowing rising temperatures. This report shows a clear conclusion: the pledges contained in the INDCs are not sufficient to keep global warming below 2°C before the end of this century. The aggregate effect of the INDCs pledges, if implemented, points to a global temperature increase of 2.7°C.

In the run-up to Paris, the remaining countries are submitting their INDCs.

Between November 30 and December 11, 2015, the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21) is called upon to establish a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC to be implemented from 2020.

In an effort to inform policy-makers and civil society at large, this CIDOB’s Dossier gathers fresh analysis conducted on the subject. 

The Paris Agreement

Between November 30 and December 11, 2015, the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP21) was called upon to establish a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC to be implemented from 2020 – date by which the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will be over. After two weeks of intensive negotiations, countries under the UNFCCC formally adopted the so-called Paris Agreement on December 12, 2015. This international agreement sets the basis for the new global climate governance.

Four are the main elements of the Paris Agreement: 

·       Mitigation. The agreement establishes that the international community has to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels (art. 2a). 

Without setting a clear deadline, the international community is called to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”, recognizing that emissions peak will take longer for developing countries. Once global emissions peak is achieved, countries are called to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science (art. 4.1). 

Each country has to prepare, communicate and maintain their successive National Climate Plans - including specific domestic mitigation measures (art. 4.2). Every five years these domestic voluntary plans are revised in a transparent manner, trying to increase ambition over time. 

In non-binding terms, developed countries are expected to continue taking the lead in curbing emissions. Meanwhile, developing countries are expected to continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances (art. 4.4). Reportedly, there was a quite important typo in the latest draft agreement which was submitted for approval in the morning of December 12, 2015. This is known as the “should versus shall” story (i.e. binding versus non-binding). Developed countries were legally bound to curb emissions, while developing countries were not. This typo delayed the approval of the agreement for some hours. The Plenary was reconvened in early afternoon and finally approved the revised text.

·       Adaptation. The Paris agreement establishes that the international community has to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production (art. 2b).

In non-binding terms, international cooperation in the area of adaptation is called to enhance the sharing of information, good practices, experiences and lessons learned, early warning systems. Technical assistance for developing countries will concentrate on the identification of effective adaptation practices, adaptation needs, priorities, challenges and gaps (art. 7.7).

In more legally binding terms, each country has to engage in adaptation planning processes and the implementation of actions, including the development or enhancement of relevant plans, policies and/or contributions (art. 7.9).

·       Climate finance. The Paris agreement establishes that the international community has to make climate finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development (Art. 2c).

In more legally binding terms, developed countries have to provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation goals (art. 9.1). Climate finance should achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation, taking into account country-driven strategies, and the priorities and needs of developing countries, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change such as the least developed countries and small island developing States (art. 9.4).

Every two years, developed countries will have to communicate indicative information related to projected levels of public financial resources to be provided to developing countries. Those developing countries providing resources (e.g. China) are encouraged to communicate biennially such information on a voluntary basis (art. 9.5).

·       Entry into Force. To enter into force, the Agreement  needs to be ratified by at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC accounting in total for at least an estimated 55% of total global greenhouse gas emissions The Secretary-General of the United Nations will act as the Depositary of the Agreement. The UN Secretary-General is convening a high-level signature ceremony for the Paris Agreement on 22 April, 2016 and is inviting all Parties to the UNFCCC to sign the agreement at this ceremony, or at their earliest opportunity.


Author: Luigi CarafaMarie Curie Research Fellow

Last update:05/02/2016



Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, under Creative Commons




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