What is the state of international climate talks?
Updated: January 2020
The Paris Agreement and Paris Rulebook
In 2015 the international climate negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris delivered a historic global agreement that set the objective of keeping global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue best efforts to keeping the temperature rise to below 1.5°C. As of December 2019, 187 country Parties had ratified the Paris Agreement out of the 197 that are signatories to the UNFCCC.
The Paris Agreement builds on the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol and recognises the obligation to take action on climate change by all countries, developed and developing. The agreement requires all countries to identify and implement their best ambitious efforts on climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance and to communicate them to the UNFCCC through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These are sometimes referred to as ‘country pledges’. It is expected that countries will need to increase their ambition over time and revise their NDCs to this end every five years.
Progress to date
In December 2018 at COP24 in Katowice, Poland (the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC), Parties finalised negotiation of the ‘Rulebook’ associated with the Paris Agreement. The Rulebook provides operational details for the implementation of the Agreement. Some important components of the Rulebook include:
- Procedures for reporting of emissions by countries as part of their NDCs
- An international transparency framework for tracking progress, including implementation and achievement of NDCs, applicable to all countries, but allowing for flexibility for developing countries in light of their individual capacities
- Procedures for a five-yearly ‘global stocktake’ of progress towards cutting emissions to remain within the Paris temperature threshold.
(See this page on the UNFCCC website for all decisions arising from COP24.)
Further work remains to be undertaken in: developing guidance for communicating adaptation goals (which may be included in NDCs or in separate adaptation communications); making progress on the long-term goal for international climate finance, mobilising US$100 billion per year as agreed in Copenhagen in 2009, and potentially the creation of a new long-term goal for finance; and designing cooperative mechanisms under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which include both market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading schemes and non-market based.
Climate diplomacy outside the negotiating room
Climate negotiations are an important forum for building partnerships between countries that go beyond negotiating texts. Recent examples include the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, signed by 60 country leaders and Parties at COP24.
COP24 also saw Germany doubling its commitment to the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the World Bank announcing a doubling of its climate change commitments to US$40 billion a year between 2021 and 2025. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) pledged to halt its funding for coal projects and decrease lending to fossil fuels.
Moving into the implementation phase
The climate negotiations are transitioning towards a greater emphasis on implementation of the near-complete Rulebook and the review of progress towards meeting national commitments communicated in the NDCs. 2020 will culminate in COP26 in November 2020, hosted by Glasgow, which is set to start the first five-year process of ratcheting ambition pledged through the NDCs.
The UN Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit held in September 2019 focused on enhancing global ambition and called on leaders to attend with “concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050”. At the summit 70 countries committed to deliver more ambitious national climate plans in 2020 in line with strategies for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. While these countries represent a significant portion of the world’s population, they account for less than 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 75 countries committed to deliver 2050 net-zero emissions strategies by 2020.
COP25 took place in Madrid in December 2019. Governments reached agreement on most of the remaining parts of the Rulebook. However, no consensus was reached about Article 6 of the Agreement, on the trade of emissions permits and credits. Professor Nicholas Stern described the first gathering of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action at a United Nations climate change summit at COP25 as a “highlight” of the conference, explaining that “The leadership of finance ministers will be critical to the economic transformation that we need.”
COP26 in 2020, to be hosted by Glasgow, is a major milestone COP, as 2020 is the year many Paris Agreement obligations kick into gear. There will likely be a major focus on scaling up ambition, with global pressure for countries to submit updated and enhanced NDCs by the 2020 deadline. Parties are also required to communicate mid-century, long-term greenhouse gas emission development strategies (Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 35), and will restart the paused negotiations on the new long-term finance goal. An important area for discussion will be how to make financial system at large consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development (Article 2.1c of the Paris Agreement), which would enable the mobilisation of financial flows much greater than the current international climate finance target of US$100bn.
History of the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement builds on the overall framework for international action on climate change established by the UNFCCC in 1992 and its Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which set legally binding targets for emissions of greenhouse gases for developed countries for the period 2008–2012. Subsequent attempts to negotiate a post-Kyoto agreement hit some roadblocks, with the widely anticipated Copenhagen conference in 2009 (COP15) failing to reach consensus, merely ‘taking note of’ a package of actions for the period to 2020, which was outlined in the Copenhagen Accord.
Subsequent negotiations began setting the stage for Paris. A year later the UNFCCC negotiators in Cancun formally agreed the package on action prior to 2020, which built on the Copenhagen Accord. This contained national emissions reductions pledges up to 2020 both by developed and many developing countries, the creation of the Green Climate Fund, and a commitment to limiting warming to 2° C (with a decision to review these goals in 2013–2015). The following year in Durban it was agreed that negotiations should deliver a legally-binding, post-Kyoto framework by the end of 2015.
Given the importance of delivering an ambitious agreement and challenges on the road to it, all eyes were on Paris for the launch of COP21 in December 2015. Thanks in part to deft management by the French hosts and the efforts by the High Ambition Coalition, the negotiators settled on an accord that made progress on key issues and was seen as more inclusive and representative of the members of the negotiating body, including smaller developing countries.