Dr. Mohamed El-Ashry, Senior Fellow at UN Foundation and Vice Chairman of AFED’s Executive Committee, prepared this overview on the status of climate change negotiations for AFED team participating in the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 21), which opens in Paris end November. The notes were used as talking points at a session on Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption at AFED’s
8th Annual Conference.

Climate change, once considered an issue for the future, has now moved firmly into the present. The next climate change deal is due to
be agreed next month in Paris. The question is no longer whether there will be an agreement but what shape and how strong it will be. Compared to the debacle in Copenhagen in 2009, the negotiations for Paris, while still contentious at times, seem to be on track toward a deal.

As you may recall, the Kyoto Protocol divided the world into rich and poor. Rich countries (Annex 1) would pursue emission cuts while developing countries (non-Annex 1) were not obligated to take action. Since then, it became clear that carbon emissions of rapidly growing economies, like China and India, were increasing at a pace that would offset emission cuts by developed countries. In fact, China replaced the US as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. As a result, no progress was made toward controlling global warming and it became clear that all countries need to contribute to the solution.

For the new agreement, almost 160 countries, representing about 87% of global GHG emissions, have submitted national climate action plans known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs, covering the period between 2020 when the agreement will enter into force, and 2030. The INDCs will make up the core of the final agreement.

The current draft of the agreement is a little over 30 pages compared to the 200 or so pages negotiators grabbled with in the run up to Copenhagen. With more than 1000 brackets in the text and a separate draft “Decision” document, more than 30 core issues remain unresolved. Let me highlight five major contentious issues:

1. Long-term Global Target: In Cancun in 2010, the international community agreed that temperature rise to the end of the Century should stay below 2 degrees Celsius. Since climate change is a long-term problem, it cannot be addressed successfully through short-term voluntary actions. The draft agreement contains a number of proposals for a long-term mitigation goal ranging from “de-carbonization” of the global economy by the end of the Century to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

2. Establishing a Carbon Price: Putting a price on carbon is an essential foundation for the transition to a low- or zero-carbon, climate resilient economy. It would create incentives to save energy and promote a shift to greener investments. Removal of inefficient subsidies would also give certainty and predictability for long-term investment in climate friendly development. Carbon pricing policies already exist in about 40 countries, including China, and 23 cities, states, and regions.

3. Monitoring, Review, and Assessment: A critical element of a climate agreement’s effective implementation is an independent and transparent framework for tracking progress in implementation of the INDCs as well as financial pledges. Developing countries, led by China, had objected to a formal, independent mechanism for monitoring and reviewing implementation of national plans as well as progress in achieving long-term goals. However, earlier this month, China announced that it would now accept 5-year reviews of overall progress toward agreed goals and to strengthened action as needed.

4. Climate Finance: Finance is the most contentious issue for finalizing an agreement in Paris. Developing countries want wording that clearly establishes the responsibility of developed countries to achieve the goal of $100 billion by 2020. Developed countries on the other hand have proposed language that is short on details with less focus on their responsibilities. In the meantime, pledges by developed countries to the Green Climate Fund amount to a little over $10 billion. It is interesting to note that one-fourth of the proposed emission reductions by some developing countries are conditional on receiving finance and technology from developed countries.

5. Loss and Damage: Equally contentious is the issue of loss and damage from climate change. Island states and other vulnerable countries, like in sub-Saharan Africa, are currently experiencing adverse impacts from extreme weather events that experts say are worsened by carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. They want a provision in the agreement that would allow them to seek compensation.

One final thought for the discussion, while many national pledges (INDCs) sound ambitious, they in totality fall short of what is needed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the Century. Earlier this month, two reports, one by the UNFCCC Secretariat, and the other by UNEP. They both show that if countries fully honor their INDC pledges, temperatures will still increase beyond 2 degrees Celsius–to 2.7 degrees according to the UNFCCC and to 3 degrees according to UNEP. Nevertheless, the Paris agreement will be a key step for collective action on climate change. That is precisely why it is essential as part of the agreement to periodically review implementation results and for nations to commit to new emission reduction plans every 5 years.