“This time is different”: The prospects for an effective climate agreement in Paris 2015

Headline issue

COP21, to be held in Paris at the end of 2015, presents an important opportunity for governments to negotiate a new international climate agreement. A question of central importance to preparations for COP21 is: what sort of policy architecture is most likely to generate sufficiently ambitious action to reduce global emissions?  Whilst a legally binding policy architecture, such as that seen in the Kyoto Protocol, can increase the likelihood of participating countries meeting their commitments, this paper suggests that this no longer appears to be the best approach for every sector and every aspect of mitigation.

Key points

  • The oft-heard call for a ‘legally binding’ agreement is too simplistic. The focus on ‘nationally-determined contributions’, which are unlikely to be binding under international law, is likely to enable the participation, and increase the ambition, of the largest, systemically important emitters, including China and the United States.
  • Any agreement in Paris needs to have dynamic elements that provide for regular reviews and revision of commitments, so that countries’ ambition can be ratcheted up over time, as technical and political barriers that inhibit higher domestic ambition are overcome.
  • International cooperation on climate action beyond the main Paris agreement will also be important. Coalitions of countries could seek deeper emissions reductions ‘on the side’ of the formal negotiations with collaborative action that focuses on particular areas, for example coordination of low-carbon innovation and phasing out the use of coal for power generation.