COP21 organisers confident of getting agreement

Foreign and environment ministers have made progress towards a climate change accord

Whatever suspense remained over the COP21 climate conference that will take place in Paris from November 30th to December 11th evaporated this week, when representatives of 70 of the 195 participating countries met in Paris for a “pre-COP”.

"There will be an agreement on December 11th," Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said emphatically. Asked if it will be a fair agreement, Figueres replied, "Why would anyone accept it if it wasn't fair?"

Figueres spoke at a press conference with France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who will preside over COP21, and the Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal, who ran last year's COP20 in Lima.

Reports published during the "pre-COP" had driven home the gravity of the situation, Fabius said. He quoted the World Bank's finding that 100 million more people are in danger of falling into extreme poverty by 2030 unless there are immediate reductions in carbon emissions and the report by the World Meteorological Organisation that greenhouse gas emissions broke all records last year.


Before 2020

The “pre-COP” addressed four themes: the level of ambition of the Paris accord; the issue of equity and differentiation between industrialised and developing countries; continued financing to help developing countries elaborate low-carbon strategies once the Paris accord comes into force in 2020; and action to be taken before 2020.

Fabius said the ambiance at the “pre-COP” was “excellent” and that it made progress on five issues. Climate financing for the developing world and promises to reduce carbon emissions will be reviewed every five years. The idea, contained in a recent Franco-Chinese joint statement “has moved ahead to the point where it is accepted by everyone,” Fabius said.

There was also agreement on the principal that there can be “no back-tracking” by any country on its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), which must be increased over time.

Regarding the goals of COP21, “everyone agrees on an objective of 2 degrees”, Fabius said, referring to the promise not to allow global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees by 2100. Vulnerable countries complain that even at 2 degrees, the consequences will be drastic.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan marked the "pre-COP" by submitting their INDCs, meaning that 160 of 195 countries have now made voluntary commitments. "With the INDCs, we've avoided the scenario of a 4, 5 or 6 degree rise in temperature," Fabius said. "We're at around 3 degrees. We must go downward, towards 2 degrees, and ideally towards 1.5 degrees."

Developing countries have pledged to increase the funds they donate to climate adaptation in the developing world annually, reaching $100 billion (€93 billion) in 2020. “The question is still open for after 2020,” Fabius said. “The notion that $100 billion has become a kind of threshold and that there can be new sources of finance was something we hadn’t discussed in such a clear way before.”

Accord text

Finally, the “pre-COP” agreed on the schedule for the conference: 117 heads of state or government have promised to attend the opening session on November 30th. Negotiations on the text of the accord will resume that evening. Fabius has asked that UN negotiators give him their draft text by noon on December 5th. He and national environment and foreign ministers will then have six days to resolve outstanding details.

President François Hollande's proposal for an "environmental security council" during a seminar at the Collège de France on Tuesday was not likely to reassure countries that are wary of meddling in their internal affairs.

Hollande said he hoped that “binding rules” would emerge from the Paris agreement. “The next step is to have an organisation, a form of environmental security council, to decide what is acceptable, that your behaviour is dangerous . . .,” Hollande said.

“If the climate is such a danger for mankind, then we need an international body to take decisions . . . Which also means what sanctions we will apply when a country or a group, industrial or other, goes against what we have decided. The next step is to organise laws . . .”

Asked about the president’s proposal, Fabius said that while “France supports strengthening world governance on the environment, this is not a subject for this COP. Our priority is to reach a universal accord in Paris.

“I don’t know if it will ever fly,” Figueres said of Hollande’s proposal.

The Paris accord will, however, include a control mechanism, Figueres said. “It’s called MRV – monitoring, reporting and verification. It’s going to be a peer-based system where countries will report their compliance with INDCs to their colleagues.”

Old-fashioned selfishness may be the greatest motivator. “The INDCS are in the interest of the countries presenting them,” Figueres said. “National interest is more powerful than a punitive system or legally binding compliance. The law is good, but self-interest is just as good or sometimes better.”

Achieving transition

Fabius and Figueres both emphasised the importance of civil society in achieving a transition to carbon-free development. The UNFCCC’s Nazca (Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action) portal has registered more than 6,000 commitments to climate action by companies, cities, subnational regions and investors. A whole day of the conference – December 5th – will be devoted to “non-state actors” and Fabius predicted “extremely spectacular commitments”.

“There is no such thing as ‘Waiting for Godot,’” Figueres said. “Godot is already here. The turning point is already underway. The Paris agreement will only mark and accelerate it.”