Foley Hoag Climate Update: June 2015

Two of the most critical weeks in the calendar ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Climate Change Convention have commenced. The formal negotiations in Bonn, scheduled from 1st-11th June 2015, will play a decisive role in determining whether an effective, durable and flexible legal agreement is reached six months’ later in Paris. The Bonn meeting will provide the first opportunity for the negotiating text to be considered in a formal setting.

The Bonn negotiations follow several informal negotiation sessions over the past three months. In Lima in March 2015, there was a broad consensus that the Paris Agreement should consist of an underlying legal instrument complemented by a series of COP Decisions to flesh out the details. By contrast, there was no such alignment on how and where in the Agreement to inscribe the Parties’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This issue will certainly be addressed in Bonn; its resolution, however, remains uncertain given the divergence of views as to the legal effect that Parties’ mitigation commitments should have. In particular, the US has indicated that it would prefer to keep the NDCs outside the Paris Agreement so that they are not legally binding at international level.

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JUNE 2015

Foley Hoag Climate Update
 
 
 
     
 
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Two  of  the  most  critical  weeks  in  the  calendar  ahead  of  the  21st  Conference  of  the  Parties  (COP)  to  the  UN  
Climate  Change  Convention  have  commenced.  The  formal  negotiations  in  Bonn,  scheduled  from  1st-­‐11th  
June  2015,  will  play  a  decisive  role  in  determining  whether  an  effective,  durable  and  flexible  legal  
agreement  is  reached  six  months’  later  in  Paris.  The  Bonn  meeting  will  provide  the  first  opportunity  for  the  
negotiating  text  to  be  considered  in  a  formal  setting.  
 
The  Bonn  negotiations  follow  several  informal  negotiation  sessions  over  the  past  three  months.  In  Lima  in  
March  2015,  there  was  a  broad  consensus  that  the  Paris  Agreement  should  consist  of  an  underlying  legal  
instrument  complemented  by  a  series  of  COP  Decisions  to  flesh  out  the  details.  By  contrast,  there  was  no  
such  alignment  on  how  and  where  in  the  Agreement  to  inscribe  the  Parties’  Nationally  Determined  
Contributions  (NDCs).  This  issue  will  certainly  be  addressed  in  Bonn;  its  resolution,  however,  remains  
uncertain  given  the  divergence  of  views  as  to  the  legal  effect  that  Parties’  mitigation  commitments  should  
have.  In  particular,  the  US  has  indicated  that  it  would  prefer  to  keep  the  NDCs  outside  the  Paris  Agreement  
so  that  they  are  not  legally  binding  at  international  level.  
 
At  the  informal  negotiations  in  Paris  in  May  2015,  the  Parties’  switched  focus  to  discuss  other  important  
issues,  the  first  of  which  was  how  to  achieve  a  high-­‐level  of  ambition  up  to  2020.  With  the  new  Agreement  
only  to  take  effect  five  years  from  now,  there  is  a  significant  gap  in  which  momentum  to  2020  will  need  to  
be  maintained.  The  second  area  of  focus  was  on  setting  a  long-­‐term  climate  change  objective  to  make  the  
Agreement  dynamic.  According  to  current  science,  limiting  warming  to  2  degrees  Celsius  means  a  65%  
emissions  reduction  by  2050  relative  to  2010  levels,  along  with  carbon  neutrality,  including  negative  
emissions,  by  2100.  Given  the  gap  between  Parties’  intended  NDC  commitments  and  the  climate  science,  
‘dynamism’  has  become  one  of  the  most  common  buzzwords  in  the  negotiations,  with  attention  focussed  
on  designing  the  Agreement  so  that  the  level  of  mitigation  ambition  can  be  raised  over  time.  With  the  
notable  exception  of  China,  there  is  a  clear  wish  among  the  Parties  for  the  Paris  Agreement  to  be  durable  
and  to  guide  global  action  on  climate  change  beyond  its  2030  timeframe.  The  aim  is  to  agree  on  ‘cycles’  for  
Parties’  contributions  or  commitments,  but  the  length  of  the  cycles  and  the  process  remain  to  be  
determined.  Despite  the  drive  to  set  more  ambitious  mitigation  targets,  anything  beyond  the  2  degrees  
Celsius  objective  will,  as  matters  stand,  be  aspirational  rather  than  legally  binding.  
 
The  other  key  issue  discussed  in  the  May  Paris  talks  was  how  Parties’  intended  NDCs  can  and  should  be  
assessed.  This  is  a  thorny  issue:  in  order  for  the  Agreement  to  be  effective,  Parties’  contributions  need  to  be  
adequate  for  the  purpose  of  limiting  warming  to  2  degrees  Celsius.  However,  the  idea  of  Parties’  
contributions  being  individually  assessed  is  politically  unpalatable  to  many.  Some  kind  of  aggregated  
assessment  by  the  Convention’s  Secretariat  appears  to  be  the  most  likely  outcome.  
 
  CLIMATE  CHANGE  UPDATE  |  MAY  2015  
 
 
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Most  recently  at  a  high-­‐level  ministerial  meeting  in  Germany  (the  ‘Petersberg  Summit’),  proposals  to  involve  
non-­‐state  actors  in  climate  action  were  given  particular  attention.  Given  that  Parties’  mitigation  
commitments  are  unlikely  to  be  sufficient  to  keep  the  global  community  on  track  to  meet  the  2  degrees  
target,  efforts  are  increasingly  focused  on  widening  participation  in  the  mitigation  effort  to  engage  
businesses,  non-­‐profit  organisations  and  regional,  municipal  and  city-­‐level  governments.  Although  non-­‐state  
actors’  efforts  will  receive  official  recognition  at  COP21,  nothing  will  be  prescribed  and  the  substance  of  the  
negotiations  and  the  Agreement  will  be  unaffected.  Nevertheless,  this  widening  of  participation  in  the  
global  climate  change  endeavour  represents  perhaps  one  of  the  most  positive  and  significant  dimensions  of  
the  present  negotiations.  After  the  recent  Business  and  Climate  Summit  in  Paris  
(http://www.businessclimatesummit.com/wp-­‐content/uploads/2015/05/Business-­‐Climate-­‐Summit-­‐Press-­‐
release.pdf)  the  engagement  will  continue  between  now  and  the  Paris  Conference  through  a  series  of  other  
international  events,  most  notably  the  anticipated  World  Summit  on  Climate  and  Territories  at  the  start  of  
July  (http://en.rhonealpes.fr/1197-­‐world-­‐climate-­‐summit-­‐2015-­‐en.htm).  
 
The  atmosphere  at  the  negotiating  sessions  has  been  described  as  ‘constructive’,  but,  given  that  the  
negotiating  text  is  currently  90  pages  long  and  filled  with  numerous  different  options  on  each  subject,  it  
would  be  difficult  to  underestimate  the  challenge  ahead.  In  Bonn,  the  COP21  co-­‐chairs  will  seek  to  
rationalise  the  text  by  removing  some  of  the  options  that  are  now  redundant  before  the  real  negotiations  
on  the  substance  of  the  text  during  the  second  week.  However,  progress  on  substance  is  expected  to  be  
limited;  although  the  Paris  Conference  is  now  less  than  six  months’  away,  the  realities  of  hard-­‐sought  and  
politically  sensitive  negotiations  is  that  many  Parties  will  be  reluctant  to  fully  show  their  hand,  even  at  this  
stage.  The  task  after  Bonn  is  therefore  predicted  to  be  for  the  French  Presidency  to  find  an  innovative  way  
of  preparing  the  final  negotiating  text  for  Paris  through  identifying  the  areas  of  convergence  on  which  
agreement  can  most  probably  be  reached,  as  well  as  the  remaining  stumbling  blocks.  
 
One  of  the  largest  stumbling  blocks  will  likely  go  to  the  very  heart  of  the  current  regime  and  relates  to  the  
way  that  the  Parties  are  differentiated  and  divided  between  ‘developed’  and  ‘developing’  countries.  Some  
understandably  feel  that  geopolitical  realities  have  altered  significantly  in  the  twenty-­‐two  years  since  the  
Convention  was  signed,  while  others  regard  the  dividing  line  as  non-­‐negotiable.  Given  that  the  side  of  the  
dividing  line  on  which  a  country  falls  determines  whether  it  is  a  net  donor  or  recipient  of  climate  finance,  
this  is  likely  to  remain  one  of  the  most  contentious  issues  of  all.    Indeed,  perhaps  an  even  more  contentious  
issue  is  climate  finance  –  how  much  developed  country  Parties  should  provide  to  developing  country  Parties  
for  mitigation,  adaptation  and  other  activities,  and  whether  those  financial  commitments  should  sit  inside  or  
outside  of  the  legal  architecture.    This  is  perhaps  the  issue  that,  more  than  any  other,  could  still  make  a  final  
agreement  difficult  to  reach.    
 
To  conclude,  although  the  Bonn  negotiations  will  not  be  decisive,  what  emerges  from  the  negotiating  table  
in  mid-­‐June  will  provide  not  only  a  clear  indication  of  progress  on  the  tricky  issues  highlighted  above,  but  
also  on  the  form,  legal  and  otherwise,  that  the  Paris  Agreement  looks  set  to  take.  A  negotiating  text  
narrowed  in  focus  and  reduced  in  length  from  its  current  90  pages  will  be  one  of  the  outcomes  that  those  
involved  are  almost  certainly  hoping  to  attain.

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