International Climate Agreement in Paris has Solid Foundation

The new climate agreement coming out of Paris this December will be difficult to secure, as it must accommodate countries with a huge spectrum of economic circumstances and climate-related issues. It isn't the first time that countries have attempted to secure an international agreement. But this agreement can be significantly different from Copenhagen. The foundations of this agreement are already emerging.

At February's formal climate negotiating session in Geneva, negotiators added text, expanding the draft text for an international agreement to nearly 90 pages. At the meeting this June in Bonn, Germany, negotiators will likely begin paring down the draft, removing duplicate text and working towards a shared sense of where agreement might exist. Often emerging consensus doesn't translate into the actual formal negotiation until late into the effort as countries hold off until the end. So expect that signs of consensus might not always be obvious at first glance. But this agreement already has a solid foundation to build upon.

The agreement in Paris will build upon the foundation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Copenhagen/Cancun Agreements. The new agreement will be centered on a couple of key issues - deeper emissions reduction targets, support to assist developing countries in transitioning to low-carbon and climate resilient economies, tools to strengthen efforts over time, and mechanisms to hold countries accountable. And international efforts will also include a more robust set of actions than just the climate agreement (as my colleague Jake Schmidt and Brendan Guy discuss).

Deeper emissions reduction targets

The new individual country targets in Paris are to reflect a greater level of ambition than each country set forth in its previous commitment at Copenhagen/Cancun agreements (for more on developed and developing country targets). And these targets are to be announced early, unlike at Copenhagen when most countries announced targets only weeks before Copenhagen. But countries don't have to start from scratch as they did in Copenhagen since most countries have begun to implement a set of domestic measures to reduce their emissions.

These initial offers - called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - are to be presented well before Paris in order to assess their level of ambition. The submissions are then publicly available for review by other nations, civil society organizations and other stakeholders. By revealing early on what each country might commit for the next climate agreement, there is an opportunity to assess whether or not these targets pass the 'laugh test.'

We've already seen how the early announcement of targets can lead to others getting off the sidelines. The U.S. - China Agreement in November 2014 has helped inspired greater ambition among other countries, and provided them some assurance that the two largest emitters are now prepared to take strong domestic action. Early announcement of these targets, coupled with the target of the European Union, sends a powerful signal to countries that want to ensure that the big emitters are stepping up to the plate. Not all countries have submitted INDCs, but it will be vital to see more rolling in soon from the G20 countries, to keep the momentum going. For a tally of the country targets and where they rank in terms of key indicators see the Emissions and INDC Cheat Sheet May 2015.pdf.

At the upcoming session, countries will have an opportunity to present and receive feedback on their INDCs as it will be the first formal chance for countries to meet since these early targets were officially announced.

Implementing tools to assist developing countries in building low carbon and climate resilient cities

In Copenhagen, countries agreed to establish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) - the new multilateral fund - to help mobilize investments in developing countries to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. In addition, countries agreed to help mobilize $100 billion per year through public and private financing to assist developing countries in reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. These investments help spur global action on climate change, support clean energy deployment, and minimize the need for even greater investments to clean up the mess of extreme weather damages around the world. The agreement in Paris will build upon this foundation and ensure that finance is being mobilized to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

It has also become more apparent that adaptation to climate impacts must be a central component of international efforts since the impacts are already happening and will continue to materialize. As a result, there will efforts to encourage countries to integrate adaption into national policies and programs, as well as financial and technical assistance to support countries in building more climate resilient economies. For instance, through one mechanism, the Green Climate Fund, one-fourth of its funding will go towards adaptation in least-developed countries.

Ensuring a constant strengthening of targets over time

The agreement will also help to strengthen action in the future as it will likely create systems for countries to extend their targets to future time-periods beyond what is announced in Paris. At present, it seems clear that the sum of emissions reductions proposed in the INDCs will not put us on the exact path to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As a result it will be important to build in mechanisms get countries to do more over time. If the outcome of the Paris negotiations is a durable agreement, then future rounds of climate conferences can update commitments to increase ambition without having to craft a whole new set of rules each time.

The agreement will likely build in a requirement that countries update their targets every five years and that they can strengthen ambition in the interim (but not weaken it). Hopefully this will create a virtuous cycle where countries implement a next round of domestic actions and find out that it is easier than originally envisioned. This will allow them to commit to even deeper targets. As a result, the targets finalized in Paris should establish the floor, not the ceiling, of what countries will implement in the next decade.

Creating Transparency and Accountability

The agreement will also encourage strong transparency and accountability to make sure that countries are following through on their commitments. Fundamental to this system is a more regular tally of the progress that countries are making towards their targets. Having targets regularly extended every five years will create a quick check to see whether countries emissions are actually headed towards their current targets. This will be aided by a system where countries regularly report their progress towards their targets, detail their emissions trends with current actions, and are subject to international review. We expect that many of the tools built in the Cancun Agreements will be strengthened in the Paris Agreement.


Global leaders have learned from Copenhagen and do not want a repeat. Months before Paris, we are already seeing published elements of the potential agreement that builds upon elements of the previous agreements. Proposed targets are coming in earlier than with Copenhagen, and built on a more solid foundation of domestic action in the past couple of years. The agreement is much more focused on what will actually be implemented on the ground, rather than just the formalities of the negotiating text. And major countries like the U.S., Europe, and China are taking more concrete domestic action and building momentum for the next round of commitments. Each of these elements raises the likelihood that the new agreement will truly lay the foundation for greater international action in the years to come.