The aim of the COP21 summit is to reach an international climate agreement valid for all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the UN climate convention's (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) objective of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
This implies that global emissions of greenhouse gases need to be cut by 60 per cent by 2050 compared to 2010.
”Major global challenge”
Erik Filipsson, Strategic Policy Advisor at Vattenfall, is carefully following the COP21 negotiations, which take place between 30 November and 11 December.
Why does it seem to be so difficult to reach a global climate agreement?
"The climate issue is one of the major global challenges that the society is facing, and there are a large number of intimately connected issues which need to be addressed at the same time. Limiting climate change demands a radical restructuring of the energy system. However, it is not only about how much different countries will have to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases, it is also to a large extent about how the developed countries shall assist the developing countries with access to financing and new technologies to achieve a sustainable development."
Unanimous decision needed
Erik Filipsson explains that the world's countries have divergent views on how the efforts to reduce the GHG emissions should be distributed, even though all parties in the negotiations accept that they must take into account the countries’ different responsibilities and capabilities.
"In addition, it must be remembered that decisions within the UN climate convention can only be taken by consensus, which means that it is not sufficient for a majority of the parties to get behind the text of an agreement for it to be adopted, but the negotiations have to continue until all parties are satisfied."
According to Erik Filipsson, the crunch issues in Paris include what is a fair distribution of the undertakings to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and the contribution to international climate financing, as well as to which extent the new climate agreement will be legally binding for the signatories.
"Everyone is aware that the pledges that have been submitted to the UNFCCC's secretariat so far are insufficient to bring the overall global emissions of greenhouse gases down to a level that is consistent with the 2 °C target. The parties will therefore have to start discussing how to increase the total level of ambition in the contributions that have been announced. However, it is unlikely that this issue will be entirely resolved in Paris, and it is therefore important to establish a dynamic process in the agreement whereby the parties gradually increase the level of ambition in their undertakings also after Paris, for example every five years."
"When it comes to the question of financing, the primary challenge is to agree on how to mobilise the 100 billion dollars per year that the developed parties have promised to provide to the developing countries for their efforts to both reduce emissions and adapt their societies to a changed climate. A credible plan for this is likely to be a prerequisite for at all being able to conclude a global climate agreement in Paris."
”Not entirely fruitless”
At the COP15 summit in Copenhagen in 2009, the world's leaders failed to reach a global climate agreement that had been planned to take over at the end of the Kyoto Protocol's commitment period of 2008-2012.
What went wrong in Copenhagen?
"There were many reasons why the outcome of the COP15 summit in Copenhagen is widely regarded as a failure. From a general point of view it can probably be said that there wasn't a great deal of trust between the parties, with a clear divide between North and South. There was also a lot of conflict surrounding the negotiation texts that the Danish presidency drafted, as well as how they had been prepared both prior to and during the summit. Furthermore, the expectations placed on the outcome of the COP15 summit were monumental, and thereby hard for the negotiations to deliver upon. But it is important to emphasize that the COP15 summit in Copenhagen was nevertheless not entirely fruitless. After all, the so-called Copenhagen Accord was adopted in the final hours of the summit, in which key countries confirmed, among other things, the overall 2 °C target and the promise to assist poorer countries to the tune of 100 billion dollars per year for climate action," says Erik Filipsson.
According to Erik, the preconditions in advance of the COP21 summit in Paris are significantly different compared with the COP15 summit in Copenhagen.
"Ever since agreement was reached on the ”Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” in South Africa in 2011, work has been largely focused on preparing the new climate agreement which shall now be agreed in Paris. One of the major differences is that the whole world is today working together in one negotiating track. Previously there was a completely different structure, with a separate negotiating track for the group of countries which, according to 1997's definition in the Kyoto Protocol, were regarded as developed countries. The COP21 summit in Paris has also been preceded by a carefully marked out process which, among other things, has entailed the countries setting out their ambitions and intentions in good advance of the agreement.
Thus far, more than 180 countries have submitted their climate plans to the UN's climate secretariat to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases. However, the plans do not go far enough to achieve the two degree target.
"Many of these countries have never even had a climate plan before, or set quantitative targets to limit their CO2 emissions, which is naturally a positive development in itself”, says Erik Filipsson. “Another important factor is that the situation is completely different in the society in general. Today, there is more of a consensus about the science behind climate change, and many initiatives have already been taken in the form of new climate policies, such as regional carbon markets, while at the same time the expansion of renewable energy has become considerably cheaper in just a short period. Moreover, many of the major economies have announced joint actions and ambitions in the field of climate change during the last year, which naturally also contributes positively to the negotiation conditions in Paris."
So, all in all there is a lot that suggest that there might be a new global climate agreement in Paris.
"However, naturally agreeing on just any agreement will not be enough, since it must also be sufficiently ambitious to meet the overall objectives in the UN's climate convention," says Erik Filipsson.