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Reaching a climate agreement

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to William J. Antholis and Han Chen of the Brookings Institution, with thirteen months to go until the climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015, there are signals for optimism of where these negotiations might lead.

During her speech at Brookings on 16 October, French ambassador for climate negotiations Laurence Tubiana emphasised a multi actor, multi level approach for governing climate change. After her remarks, US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern gave remarks in response.

Tubiana saw this year’s climate summit in New York as a major step forward. Nation states are focusing on the impacts of a changing climate, and the need to make physical and human infrastructure more resilient. She also saw a new middle ground emerging between the North and South, where finger pointing is giving way to efforts to find a common solution.

She also pointed to the growing role of non-state actors, which has helped to drive change, but which also makes the global negotiations that much more complicated. Both Tubiana and Stern agreed that the tone of conversation has shifted in a positive way, from emphasising the costs of inaction to proclaiming the benefits that come from cutting the use of fossil fuels and growing clean technologies.

An acceptable international framework

Antholis and Chen suggest that in comparing Tubiana’s remarks and Todd Stern’s response, it is fair to guess that ‘pledge and review’ is becoming the new mode of action. Both Tubiana and Stern are urging nations to announce their pledges well before the 2015 Conference of Parties.

In Durban, a roadmap was launched for a global agreement at Paris in 2015. Since negotiations in Warsaw, countries are now planning to put their proposals on the table in early 2015, prior to the negotiations in Paris for December 2015. That is a big new innovation in the way the meetings are done.

The benefit of ‘pledge and review’ is that all countries encouraged to make a pledge that they can accomplish, so at the least it involves a public pledge action. The pledges would be self enforcing, so nation states might be more ambitious than they would be under a formal, legally binding agreement, A legally binding agreement might scare some nations from making pledges that they are less certain to accomplish.

What do we mean by legally binding

Countries are still figuring out the nature of the legal obligation for the future. Does a legally binding agreement affect the ambition of an agreement? From the US perspective, a top down, treaty style version of binding would decrease ambition, while a more flexible ‘politically binding’ agreement would give countries incentive to be more ambitious with their targets.

The path forward

Developing countries are still pondering how to be more involved in the negotiations, while still not taking the pressure off industrialised countries to raise their levels of ambition. According to Antholis and Chen, developing countries have been inclined to accept such a politically binding agreement when it comes to their own obligations, while still insisting that industrial country targets should be legally binding on them.

At the same time, these middle income countries, such as Coast Rica, Mexico and China, are already moving on the issue, and implementing climate policies domestically.

More widely, countries are still trying to work out the blend of private and public funds that will be counted as part of the pledge to raise US$ 100 billion/y of climate finance by 2020. Negotiators are also figuring out how to involve non-state actors in the summit, so that bottom up efforts can be shared and counted. Ultimately, the global negotiations are not only about working out these technical details, but about generation a narrative.

The level of urgency has only increased, Brookings accentuates. Impacts from climate change are being felt around the world. Luckily, provinces, states, cities and civil society are playing a greater role. From California to Guangdong, local successes can point the way to future national action. The public sentiment, as expressed in the People’s Climate March, demonstrates grassroots support. Governments and institutions are building the capacity and technical skills required to create an accountability system that translates across all borders. Business are getting onboard with the notion of a low carbon economy. These are all ingredients for an agreement that could last for decades, if the right framework is presented at the Paris climate summit in 2015.

Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.

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