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Climate Change Blog

UN Releases Additional Details on Anticipated Paris Agreement on Climate Change

As reported in  previous posts, the United Nations (“UN”) and 193 countries are working to complete an international climate accord by the end of the UN summit in Paris December (COP 21). The annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) summit last met in December 2014, in Lima, Peru. As described in this  previous post, that summit resulted in a modest agreement, known as the Lima Accord, in which all parties agreed for the first time to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Lima Accord is supposed to serve as the spring-board for a more in-depth international agreement at the UNFCCC summit scheduled to take place in Paris this year. Under the Lima Accord, each nation must publish a draft of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (“INDC”) to limit GHG emissions during the upcoming year. These INDCs will then serve as the basis for the Paris agreement, which is expected to go into effect by 2020 and include GHG emissions cutting targets for 2025 or 2030. 

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has indicated that the agreement will likely result in three separate documents. The first will be the legal text of the accord. The second will be a decision under the U.N. Convention of the Parties that includes the operative details, and the third will compile the work being done by states, cities, businesses, and other non-state actors to curb emissions before the end of the decade. Secretary Figueres’ comments give some sense of the basic shape that an eventual Paris agreement will take, but the detailed content of the agreement remains to be seen. 

In preparation for the Paris talks in December, negotiators are scheduled to meet in the first two weeks of June for a midyear negotiating session in Bonn. 

In advance of that session, a coalition of groups, including the World Resources Institute, Ecofys, and E3G, last week issued a working paper titled the Agreement for Climate Transformation 2015 (“ ACT 2015”) Working Paper. The groups propose the Working Paper as a legal text for the eventual Paris Agreement. The stated purpose of the groups in developing the Working Paper was to provide U.N. decision-makers with a reference tool and suggestions for what an effective agreement could look like. The working paper reflects an ambitious view on one end of the discussion.

For example, the Working Paper calls for a long-term mitigation goal to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero as early as possible in the second half of this century, as well as a long-term adaptation goal to promote the resilience of communities most vulnerable to climate impacts. Moreover, the implementation of these long-term goals would be based on differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities based on differing national circumstances. 

The Working Paper proposes three five-year cycles of continuous improvement as a means to progress towards these longer-term goals. Every five years, (1) all countries should strengthen their national emissions-reduction commitments; (2) all countries should build their adaptation efforts through National Adaptation Plans; and (3) developed countries should provide strong and increasing financial, capacity-building, and technological support for developing countries to implement their mitigation and adaptation plans. It also emphasizes the importance of incorporating an accountability system to ensure that countries stay on track. 

The Working Paper is one indication of the divergent views to resolve in the upcoming UN talks in Bonn and in Paris.

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