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Paris Climate Change Conference

The Climate Change Conference from 30 November to 11 December 2015 in Paris, officially called the Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol (COP21 | CMP11), will focus on the following areas:

The conference will be opened by the heads of state and government on 30 November. The German Government is to be represented at the opening by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller. The heads of state and government are expected to provide guidance on politically controversial issues. Following a week of technical negotiations, the competent ministers will finalise the package of decisions in the second week.

Issues to be resolved during negotiations include:

  • Long-term orientation: How can the two-degree target be laid down in the agreement so that it serves as the guiding principle for all stakeholders?
  • Ambition: How will the outcomes in Paris facilitate compliance with the two-degree target?
  • Differentiation: How will the Paris agreement take into account the fact that more and more emissions are attributed to countries that have not yet submitted any mitigation commitments?
  • Solidarity: What support will be provided for developing countries in the implementation of their climate action efforts?
  • Loss and damage: How will the irreparable damage that climate change is causing in some countries in spite of past and future climate action efforts be addressed?

1. The Paris Climate Agreement

Stadtansicht von Paris mit Eiffelturm
iStock.com/instamatics

The world has changed considerably since the Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992. In 1990, industrialised countries were responsible for two thirds of global emissions, today they are still responsible for about half and in 2020, two thirds of global emissions will be attributed to developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, which has regulated the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions so far, is no longer sufficient. The protocol only sets out legally binding mitigation commitments for the EU and a few other industrialised countries, which today represent less than 15 percent of global emissions. 

The key outcome of Paris will be an agreement that will enter into force in 2020 and sets out legally binding mitigation commitments for all countries. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) has been preparing the agreement since 2012. The Paris agreement will incorporate mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to climate change, financial support for developing countries, technology, capacity building and transparency in relation to climate action and support measures. Many countries particularly affected by climate change are also calling for climate related loss and damage to be included in the new agreement. 

One particular challenge of the negotiations will be to find the right balance between these issues. The negotiating text for Paris includes different options for all of these areas. The goal in Paris is to agree on a set of those options that will create the balance desired by all countries. 

Germany and the EU laid down their goals for the agreement in the European Council conclusions of 18 September 2015. 

The Paris agreement will, first and foremost, send a clear signal to the world that a transformation is being launched towards more climate-friendly and climate-resilient development. The two-degree limit will be translated into realistic goals to be implemented by individual stakeholders, for instance in companies. The wording preferred by Germany "decarbonisation over the course of this century", which was laid down in the final document of this year's G7 summit in Elmau, and the EU's preferred formulation "sustainable climate neutrality" are increasingly being met with approval in negotiations. 

The INDCs are not yet sufficiently ambitious to comply with the two-degree limit. Therefore, the agreement needs to be structured dynamically so that the international community comes together at regular intervals (every five years) and reviews where they stand in relation to the two-degree target. Every country will then determine their contributions for the next period based on this information. Furthermore, there should be provisions stipulating that for future periods every country needs to maintain at least the same level of ambition as in the current period. 

Agreeing on additional mitigation measures up to 2020 and reviewing the level of ambition of the targets for 2030 before the Paris agreement enters into force will also increase the possibility of compliance with the two-degree goal. To determine the global level of ambition and comprehend how far countries have come in implementing their contributions, Paris will need to produce a uniform and robust framework for transparency (reporting and verification) and a set of rules on how to determine emissions and avoid double counting. 

Such a framework that is flexible enough to take into account the different capabilities of countries will increase confidence that countries are not alone in their efforts, and it will help raise the level of ambition. Targeted support should be given to developing countries for capacity building. 

Germany is advocating an internationally binding agreement which includes the targets of each country to ensure the highest possible degree of binding force. To decide on what ultimately goes into the agreement itself and what is laid down in the accompanying decisions is part of the balance that needs to be found.

2. Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)

Flaggen europäischer Länder und Regionen vor dem Europäischen Parlament in Brüsse
iStock.com/FrankyDeMeyer

All countries must submit their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) before COP21 in Paris. The process was decided on in 2013 at COP19 in Warsaw. A year later, at COP20 in Lima, it was also agreed what information countries should include in their INDCs to make them transparent and comparable. As of 16 November 2015, INDCs were submitted by 162 countries to the UNFCCC Secretariat (including from the EU and its 28 member countries). 

These countries represent over 90 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The extent and scope of these joint global climate action efforts is unique in the history of global climate policy. It shows the willingness of the international community to do more for climate action. Emissions would be considerably higher over the coming decades without the INDCs, thus we will see a significant reduction with their implementation. However, there is still some way to go in order to comply with the two-degree target.

3. Finance and technology

gestapelte Euromünzen unterschiedlicher Wertung auf Euroscheinen
Frog974/fotolia.com

Priorities for many of our negotiating partners are support for adaptation to the consequences of climate change, incorporating loss and damage into the Paris agreement, technological and financial support for mitigation and adaptation and capacity building. Germany is clearly standing by its responsibility to provide climate finance for poor and particularly vulnerable countries, and this will remain the case for the future and beyond 2020. 

Climate finance needs to be anchored in the new agreement in such a way as to dynamically raise the level of ambition for mitigation and adaptation and create the framework conditions for a global transformation. To achieve this, all countries need to work together. To successfully redirect global investment flows from "brown" to "green" investments, appropriate national and international policies need to be created and all countries must actively contribute to this process. Paris must therefore deliver ambitious agreements on climate finance.

4. Lima-Paris Action Agenda

Kathedrale von Lima auf dem Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas) in Lima (Peru)
Jacek Kadaj/fotolia.com

The agreement will be accompanied by concrete announcements of ambitious measures for the period up to 2020, which is when the new agreement will come into effect. If we don't take immediate measures, we will be unable to embark on an emissions path compatible with the two-degree limit after 2020. Measures taken at national level that already have proved successful will be showcased and strengthened. To facilitate this, the French COP Presidency has launched the Lima-Paris Action Agenda with a plethora of new climate initiatives. 

Specific days of the Climate Change Conference will be dedicated to mitigation initiatives, for instance in the area of buildings, transport and agriculture. Renewable energies, energy efficiency and forest conservation will also be on the agenda. Furthermore, cities, companies and other non-governmental players will present their contributions to climate action. December 5 will be the Action Day at COP21. During Action Day, high-level political representatives will showcase particularly transformative initiatives and send a decisive signal with the joint statement: We cannot afford to wait any longer - we need climate action now!