Less than three months but still a long way to go – Analysis of the latest climate change negotiations

September 14, 2015

Posted by: Frances Lawson

All Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came together in Bonn at the start of September for the penultimate negotiating session on a new binding legal agreement ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris this December.

The five days in Bonn did not deliver any major breakthroughs in preparing the new agreement. Although progress is discernible in some areas, the pace of progress remains slow and the ‘still to be resolved’ list uncomfortably long. Particular areas of continued disagreement are highlighted below:

The Preamble

The role of the Preamble is to set out both the context in which an international legal agreement is made, including links to other legal and policy instruments, and to outline the underlying principles on which the text is based and is to be interpreted. It follows that when Parties, at this advanced stage, are unable to reach a common position with regard to the shape of the Preamble, or on the principles for inclusion therein, the extent of the opinion divide is clearly exposed. Resolving the divide will be one of many agenda items for the final negotiating session in October.

The ‘2 degrees’ target

So often is the need to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius referred to at the highest level that one might assume its inclusion in the Paris Agreement is a given. Not so. The highly influential ‘Umbrella Group’ of which the US, Australia and Japan form part, voiced the view that the 2 degrees target does not need to feature in the legal text, echoing the view of another of the most powerful parties around the table – China. Absent reference to the ‘2 degrees’ target, the adequacy of Parties’ mitigation actions relative to the scientific consensus cannot be accurately assessed. A quantitative objective is essential for a robust legal agreement which ensures that Parties’ efforts are sufficient to fulfil the overarching aim of the Convention; preventing dangerous anthropogenic climate change.

Binding vs non-binding

Although Parties did not reject the co-Chairs efforts at separating elements to be included in the legally binding Paris Agreement from those to be covered in a non-binding COP Decision, they did not agree on how the indicative separation had been made. Particular objections were raised as to the placement of issues of gender, human rights, the pursuit of low-emissions and climate-resilient economies and the link between action and support. The challenge ahead remains two-fold: first, to determine how particular issues should be addressed, and second, to agree on whether these issues should be placed in binding or non-binding text.

Monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV)

Agreement on a new, uniform MRV system remains a challenge, with developing countries opposed to a common, streamlined system applicable to all. Some Parties seem, however, indicated that they may be willing to consider such a system if they are given a grace period of 5-10 years in order to implement it, together with adequate financial support. These remain two sizeable ‘ifs’ on the path to a united view on transparency. Unless all Parties are recording and tracking their progress on mitigating climate change in the same way, it will be impossible to assess whether Parties are a) actually meeting their own commitments, and b) whether, together, Parties are on track to meet the 2 degrees target and objective of the Convention. Transparency and MRV is therefore an essential ingredient of a credible and effective Agreement.


Boosted by Parties’ broad support for their efforts, the Co-Chairs will continue to work on the text in the weeks ahead in the hope of facilitating further, and faster, progress at the final negotiating session from 19-23 October. The international community is determined to avoid the Paris Conference from becoming ‘another Copenhagen’, a reference to the 15th Conference of the Parties in 2009 which was widely held to have been a failure. All the stops are therefore being pulled out to ensure that Paris is proclaimed a ‘success’ and that a legally binding text is thereupon agreed. This is almost certain to be achieved. Whether that text will, in reality, have the substance and legal effect needed to achieve the Convention’s objective of avoiding dangerous climate change is, on current indications, unlikely.

The text from the latest negotiating session can be found here

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