New document streamlines negotiating text for Paris, as groundswell of climate action continues

As the Paris Climate agreement approaches, we are seeing signs of a far different process from the last-minute confusion in Copenhagen - where negotiators had to work with an unwieldy negotiating text of more than 200 pages. The latest sign of progress towards a successful Paris agreement is the release of a shortened draft negotiating text -- produced by the two co-chairs of the negotiations leading to Paris.

At the end of the last negotiating session in June, negotiators from over 190 countries gave the co-chairs the mandate to accelerate the process by producing their more concise version of the text. The new draft, released on Friday July 24th, provides a consolidated text without deleting any options that country negotiators laid out in previous sessions. In UNFCCC language, this document is a "non-paper" that does not replace the official negotiating text, but it will be the basis for discussions at the next negotiating session. The total length has been trimmed down to 83 pages.

More importantly, the co-chairs separated the text into elements that would go into a durable post-2020 "Agreement" versus details appropriate for a "Decision" on implementation that can change over time. In its current forum, the Agreement language would only be 19 pages, which is a significant improvement. In addition, there is a third section of text in the co-chairs' draft which contains key elements where negotiators must decide if these provisions are better suited for the Agreement or the Decision.

Informal discussions in Paris spur progress

The week before formal negotiations resume on August 30th, the co-chairs plan to hold bilateral discussions with various negotiating groups to get their feedback on how to move forward and structure the negotiation process to work on the new text - to best allocate time and arrive at a "compromise text." This process is aided by the fact that climate ministers from 46 countries already met for an informal discussion on July 20-21 organized in Paris. The ministers have identified possible areas of agreement on five year cycles of reporting and have discussed the notion of self-differentiation as embodied in the climate pledges that countries have designed for themselves.

According to the co-chairs, the climate ministers have encouraged their respective negotiators to present compromise proposals early in the upcoming UNFCCC session. The co-chairs also encouraged more countries to release their climate pledges in advance. To date, 47 pledges coming from the largest emitters to the smallest island states have already been submitted, covering almost 60 percent of global emissions.

Groundswell of climate action continues

In addition to the negotiations, progress has been made elsewhere. Climate adaptation, mitigation, transparency and finance were all discussed during the Major Economies Forum July 18-19. The Pope, building on his recently released Encyclical on the environment, convened 60 city and state leaders from around the world to demonstrate the enthusiasm at the local level and provide evidence of actions already being taken. The group included Mayor Ed Lee of San Fran, Mayor De Blasio of New York and California governor Jerry Brown.

Businesses have also been very vocal in their support of a Paris agreement. As my colleagues have noted, the momentum leading up to the Paris climate summit is not only measured by the length of the negotiating text, but by the groundswell of action that governments at all levels, businesses, investors, and communities. For instance, just today the White House released the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. The pledge, taken by 13 of the largest American companies, representing more than $1.3 trillion in revenue last year and market capitalization of over $2.5 trillion, demonstrates the commitment of these enterprises to reduce emissions, increase low-carbon investments, and deploy more clean energy.