Emerging Consensus on Next Round of International Action on Climate Change

Another round of preparatory negotiations for the Paris 2015 climate agreement have concluded in Bonn, Germany. Each session always brings its ups and down, disagreements over a procedural issue, and a bit of posturing (after all this is a negotiation). Coming out of this round there is clear convergence around a number of key elements of the new agreement. Countries are preparing for their next round of commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize resources to assist developing countries in moving to a low carbon and more resilient economy.

Emerging from this last is a clear recognition that the next round of the international climate agreement has to be built on several key elements. These are the familiar issues for those that closely follow the climate negotiations, but aspects of these elements are starting to solidify a little bit more.

Here is what I sensed from this round of the climate negotiations.

Many key countries are beginning to prepare their post-2020 climate commitment by early next year. Countries agreed in Warsaw that they would propose their post-2020 emission reduction commitments by the end of March 2015 (so called “intended nationally determined contributions – INDCs). Countries in the Group of Seven – including the US, Japan, Canada, and Australia—reaffirmed this commitment at their last meeting. Along the way there are important steps necessary for countries to prepare such proposed emission reduc tion efforts in a robust manner. These include:

  • Ensuring that there is a robust domestic process to develop such a proposed target. After all, we don’t really need promises that lack the domestic-level commitment to deliver. All of this needs to be happening now if a country is going to be prepared to propose their effort by early 2015. In hallway conversations and through our work in key countries, I get a sense that this domestic discussion has begun. It will need to pick up steam in the coming months, but it has at least begun in places like the U.S., China, Europe, Brazil, and Mexico.
  • Preparing transparent and robust information to ensure everyone knows “what is in” your proposed commitment. Key necessary information will include answering the following questions: is it economy-wide (or only some subset of the key sectors), what are your total expected emissions under your proposed effort, what global warming pollution does it include (e.g., only fossil fuel pollution or also including other sources), and what timeframe (e.g., 2025, 2030, and 2050)? By the Lima climate ministerial countries are supposed to have agreed to the minimum set of information that countries should include when proposing their effort (the so-called “upfront information”). There were important proposals from a number of countries which outline some of the key elements for such a decision in Lima.

Countries are seriously considering how to help deliver, mobilize, and expand finance to support developing country efforts to move to a low carbon and more resilient economy. Now that the Green Climate Fund is open for business countries are beginning discussions around initial funding to support this new Fund. The first discussion is to begin the end of this month and there are hopes that significant progress will be made this year on injecting the first round of capital into the Fund. Key countries like Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and others are taking this issue very seriously as I discovered in a number of conversations the past couple of months. These discussions will need to firm up in the coming months so let’s hope they turn from hallway conversations to real resources.

How best to adapt to the impacts of climate change is a major issue for all key countries? Not surprisingly there were extensive discussions in Bonn around how adaptation would fit within the Paris climate agreement. After all, many countries around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change and they are looking squarely into the face of even more devastation as global warming worsens. So ensuring that adaptation is a key element of the international response to climate change remains a pressing issue for many countries, including some of the most vulnerable such as the small-island states, African countries, and many others.

How the other elements of the international system should be integrated and/or advanced in the Paris climate agreement? Over the years a number of other key cornerstones of the international climate system have been developed. These include systems to: ensure “transparency and accountability” in the actions of countries, support deforestation emissions reductions, help countries adapt, and help deploy low-carbon technology. Many of these efforts have taken hold since the agreements in Copenhagen and Cancun so the key question moving towards Paris is: “are there other tools that need to be added to the Paris agreement to further advance these efforts?”  


Clearly the negotiations in Bonn didn’t finalize all of these key issues. But countries seem to be taking them serious. World leaders will have a chance on September 23rd at the Climate Summit in New York to make it clear that they are truly committed to delivering domestic and international action to address climate change. We hope they will send a clear signal that they are committed to deliver the next step in Paris 2015.