What’s the 411 before COP21?

Four years ago the 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed they would agree to a new, universal climate change agreement during the Conference of the Parties in 2015. This was pretty typical of UNFCCC decisions—for countries to agree to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at some vague date in the near distant future. Alas, now COP21 is just a few mere days away!

The past few years were full of intense, embattled negotiations between countries as national governments, civil society, nonstate actors, and civil society all put in their two-cents as to what a post-2020 climate regime should look like.

Over 170 national climate plans have been submitted to the UNFCCC, a great success ahead of the Paris meet as it showcases a strong level of participation from countries across the globe.

However, the devil is truly in the details. Many critical questions remain to be answered.

Are countries fulfilling their historical share of emissions reductions? Should all countries contribute to climate financing or just developed countries? Will countries agree to decarbonise by 2100?

The list goes on and battle lines have been drawn. This is apparent in the 54-page draft agreement put forth by the world’s countries in the beginning of November. One of the most evident divides that remains painfully clear throughout the text is between developed and developing countries. (This is a hefty document to glance through so I recommend reading this concise reporting on the document here)

After reeling through all of this material I’m still left wondering, what is it that countries really want from this new international climate agreement?

Below are several quotes from some key players that attempt to answer this question. I’ve added in my own Jess translation from UN to everyday speak to provide further clarification to some of the quotes.

US climate Envoy:

“We need strong provisions on financial and other kinds of assistance to poor countries that need it, and we need to move this agreement from the old-style, backward-looking bifurcation between two distinct categories into a world which is forward-looking, where there is differentiation across the range of countries. Countries can’t be expected to do more than they’re able to, but we shouldn’t just have this antiquated way of bifurcating climate change.”

Jess translation: The US agrees that developing countries need finance, however, the US no longer wants there to be a strict divide between “developed” and “developing” countries. The original framework built in the 1990s on this divide is no longer relevant and we need to get up to times with the Paris agreement. All parties need to play their part based on their national circumstances, and developed countries should not have to provide all the finance.

India’s Environment Minister said:

“We are geared up for the battle ahead in Paris and I want to make it clear that India would not be bullied into accepting the position of developed countries. What we are asking for is absolutely fair and the developed world must recognise that they have to atone for the historical carbon emissions that they have been putting out in the atmosphere for over 150 years in their search for prosperity.”

Jess translation: India will not accept an agreement viewed to be unfair for emerging economies. India strongly believes in the differentiation between developed and developing countries outlined in the 1990s by the framework convention. India will most likely not agree to a long-term goal.


No official statement has been released, however, the G-77/China’s previous statements suggest a strong push for equitable climate financing, meaning more finance from developed countries.

China’s climate envoy has released a statement along those lines.

“The key issue will be in funding and technology… technological innovation, cooperation and transfer. Looking at the progress of the negotiations right now, there are still a lot of differences, but overall, I believe there is hope.”

Jess translation: China will be carefully looking at how developed countries intend to meet a promise to provide US$100 billion in climate finance every year starting in 2020. China will also monitor aspects of the agreement related to technology transfer, specifically related to provisions revolving around intellectual property laws. China remains optimistic going into negotiations.

Least Developed Countries:

“The LDCs expect nothing less than the strongest commitments to ambitious climate action from all Parties, contained within an internationally agreed legally binding treaty. This must be the outcome of COP21. It is absolutely critical that we adopt a legally binding agreement in Paris. We will work hard to make sure that this happens.”

Jess translation: Since the LDC negotiating block contains many countries that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, they want climate action and they want it now. While the US has said that it does not want a legally binding agreement, the least developed countries and the EU support a legally binding treaty in order to ensure that countries meet their goals outlined in their national climate action plans.

The EU’s Climate Commissioner:

“The credibility of the deal will depend on these key elements: a long-term goal, regular reviews to increase ambition over time and strong transparency and accountability rules.”

Jess translation: The EU would like to see countries agree to decarbonize by the end of the century (or sooner), a review of national climate plans every five years, and the ability for countries to properly track progress on their own emissions reductions goals and also to be able to peek in on how other countries are doing.

These quotes highlight the vast array of country expectations going into the Conference. The negotiations are certainly going to be about compromise, and I’m looking forward to witnessing how all of the various issues unfold.

Many experts have recognized that the Paris Agreement in itself will not be enough to keep global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. (The two degree threshold is known by scientists as the potentially “turning point” beyond which the impacts of climate change may become irreversible).

However, the Paris agreement can launch the world on a trajectory towards reaching this temperature goal by providing a robust framework that encourages more ambitious action and emissions cuts in the future.

Please stay tuned as we head to Paris this weekend!

Bon voyage,



“COP21: What do countries want from a Paris climate deal?” CLIMATECHANGENEWS, 27 November 2015.

One thought on “What’s the 411 before COP21?

  • December 4, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    This may be the right blog for wants to learn about this topic. You understand a great deal of its nearly not easy to argue along with you (not that I personally would want…HaHa). You actually put the latest spin using a topic thats been revealed for years. Wonderful stuff, just great!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *