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Published on October 7th, 2015 | by Sandy Dechert


New Climate Rewrite May Herald Success At COP21 In Paris

October 7th, 2015 by  

Last time we visited the topic of the draft treaty for December’s international talks on cutting post-2020 carbon emissions, the co-chairs of the United Nations ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the United States, promised delegates that the UN executive would come up with another version before the next Bonn meeting (October 19). The climate rewrite presented today derives from a version passed by the UN body at last year’s conference in Lima, Peru, via several revisions made earlier this year.

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The Peru draft, crafted and approved a day and a half after the conference was scheduled to end, shifted the UN’s emphasis away from attempting to reach hard universal targets. Instead, it adopted the mechanism originally proposed in Warsaw two years ago: individual nations would report their current status and make measurable national commitments, and the loss and damage element would be respected. However, the text arrived at then (the Lima Call to Action) also contained all the other options recommended by individual nations at the meeting in a bulky and convoluted format.

Numerous efforts have taken place since the Lima call. The UN made attempts to trim it in February (86 pages), and then July  (76 pages) before involving the executive secretariat again. Their first effort was much less than successful. The new iteration bears a very important change: it measures just 20 pages. The preamble begins with these important caveats:

  • Recognizing the intrinsic relationship between climate change, poverty eradication, and sustainable development,
  • Emphasizing the need for universal and sustained action by all to respond to the urgent threat of climate change based on the best available scientific knowledge,
  • Taking account of the particular vulnerabilities and specific needs of Parties, especially the least developed countries.

Only five official negotiating days remain before the Paris conference begins. These take place the week of October 19 in Bonn.

The climate rewrite marks a critical step toward worldwide consensus on combatting, mitigating, and adapting to climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 onward, after the current agreement runs out. Key points in the agreement:

  • Hold global warming to no more than a peak of 2 degrees C (or possibly 1.5C, as recommended by a growing body of scientists as new data comes in) above preindustrial levels.
  • Allow review of INDCs following the Paris agreement five years.
  • Commit to “common but differentiated responsibilities” for poorer and richer nations.
  • Assist developing countries financially in cutting emissions (no level of financial help from developed nations is set. Developing countries have repeated demands for support in each phase of negotiations. $100 billion per year has already been promised by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund. Both governments and private entities will participate.
  • Incorporate “loss and damage,” a critical concept especially to poor countries and NGOs that has stymied prior negotiations: “Parties acknowledge the importance of addressing loss and damage associated with climate change impacts and recognize the need for international cooperation and solidarity[, including through the institutional arrangements as defined in [this Agreement][decision 1/CP.21]].” A last-minute “bridge agreement” in Bonn enabled this change to be made.

A three-page supplement details ways for countries to increase emission cuts before 2020. Read the treaty draft here. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish texts are available.

Fiona Harvey of The Guardian sees the climate rewrite as “a crucial step forward for the talks.” Andrew Revkin of The New York Times states that commitments by India in its just-released INDC to boost renewable and nuclear energy generation (along with expanding coal use to meet its energy needs) will contribute to the success of the international effort.

Although the exact wording of some text elements of the draft treaty remains open to debate at Bonn in two weeks and in Paris, the new draft clears up much repetition, clarifies some important points, and consolidates options flexibly.  Various alternatives show up within brackets. Its brevity may well pave the way for a meaningful and sorely needed agreement this year.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • JamesWimberley

    The draft agreement itself is only 9 pages, the rest is a draft decision of the conference adopting it and making practical arrangements.

    Capping global warming at 1.5 degrees is still in the text as an option along with 2 deg. It won’t stay, but the fact of its inclusion now helps the climate hawks to secure strong language elsewhere. In their shoes, I would press to have it included for consideration within the review process.

    $100bn a year of finance is now a minimum. Wow.

    The five-year review cycle is not in square brackets so it looks a done deal.

    The high-level signing ceremony is not in square brackets and also looks settled. We even have a date tor Obama’s grand photo-op: 21 March 2016. In square brackets, so this may change.

    There will almost certainly be an agreement in Paris. Second-best, but far, far better than nothing or another round of talks. Above all, the agreement makes no pretence at being a complete solution, more another big step on a long road.

    • vensonata

      Yes, 100 billion per year as financing for poorer countries sounds like a lot. Until you realize that is what Americans spend on soft drinks each year.

      • Martin

        And what are the negative health effects of the $ 100 billion per year on the US population?
        I know a bit off topic but somewhat relevant.
        We (humans) have to get to a FULLY sustainable lifestyle in ALL the ways we live!

        • vensonata

          I have been collecting these little factoids lately to help me get perspective on numbers like “one billion dollars”. Americans spend 1.6 billion dollars per year on tooth whiteners.

          • Martin

            Well I guess people have different priorities on things.
            For example instant gratification or looking at the longer term, say months, years down the road.
            Politics it appears the outlook is 2-4 years in the US.
            What happens is people actually think about the longer term, years, decades and their offspring and their kids?

          • sault

            Crazy when you think about the most recent estimates for a manned mission to Mars run from $50 – $100B.

    • Ross

      After 1.5 degrees is taken out, it can be put back in at the 2020 review when we’ve more 1,000 year events under the world’s belt and more willingness to align targets with what is needed.

      • JamesWimberley

        Agreed. We can’t reach the 2 degree cap in 5 years anyway, the main thing us to get started. In addition to bad news from nature, there will be good news from technology. It will be obvious in 2020 that an energy transition is the cheapest policy by some margin, fantastically cheaper if you factor in avoided health costs. This is already known to people like us, but it hasn’t percolated to the general public.

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