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New UN climate deal text: what’s in, what’s out

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Carbon Brief by Sophie Yeo

The UN has released the latest draft of the text that will eventually be hammered into an international climate change agreement in Paris this December.

The text, written by co-chairs Dan Reifsnyder from the US and Ahmed Djoghlaf from Algeria, bears many of the hallmarks of its two previous incarnations. There is the same flurry of square brackets (231, to be precise, indicating that there at least 231 points still up for negotiation) and deluge of acronyms ? and the same core issues running throughout the document.

But, in many ways, the text is a skeleton of previous versions. At 20 pages, it is about a quarter of the length of the 76-page document released in July, and the 86 pages from February.

In other words, it is the first time that the co-chairs have made substantive reductions to the Paris text.

At UN sessions taking place throughout this year, countries have expressed concern at the slow pace of the negotiations. The text responds to a call for a “step change in the pace of negotiation”, say the co-chairs in a note accompanying the text.

Behind the scenes, diplomats have been engaging in intense discussions to speed along the process. The hope is that countries will start to converge around what should go in ? and stay out of ? the final deal.

Nonetheless, slimming down the contents of the document remains a politically sensitive task, with nations often reluctant to say let go of their favoured positions.

What’s in

It is not surprising that the document centres around the same pillars as before, including mitigation, adaptation and finance.

The text is separated into two sections. These are the “agreement”, which will be the enduring heart of the Paris deal, and the “decisions”, which will elaborate on the details. A third section of unallocated issues, which appeared in the July text, has now been dealt with.

This means that the document produced this time by the co-chairs, now neatly divided into “Articles”, is far more likely to resemble the document that will be signed off in just over two months from now, at least in terms of structure.

A long term goal for reducing carbon emissions, an obligation for parties to progress to more ambitious pledges and five-year cycles of commitments are among the issues that have survived the cuts and made it into the text’s section on mitigation.

On adaptation, the current draft text sets out obligations for countries to submit plans spelling out their priorities and needs when it comes to dealing with the impacts of climate change, and for parties to cooperate with one another on sharing best practices and relevant knowledge.

Significantly, the notion of “loss and damage” ? the issue of how developed countries help vulnerable nations deal with the now-inevitable impacts of climate change ? remains embedded in the document. Once a divisive issue, the co-chairs note that there has been “growing understanding and progress”, and a “general acceptance” that it should be included in the outcome.

Ronny Jumeau, a negotiator for the Seychelles, which has pushed hard for the inclusion of loss and damage, tells Carbon Brief:

“SIDS [small island developing states], LDCs [least developed countries] and other developing countries will definitely be happy to see a proposed article dedicated to loss and damage, although the ADP co-chairs, perhaps noting the issue is still a long way from being settled, also provide for it in paragraph 43 of the draft decision, perhaps as a fall-back position?”

Finance is another crunch issue in the UN negotiations. The current draft text instructs parties to “periodically communicate” how much public climate finance they think they will be able to provide, and to scale up the amount of finance being mobilised from 2020.

What’s out

Previous drafts of the UN text have amounted to progressively neater summaries of party positions on the negotiations. The co-chairs’ latest effort is the first time that substantive content has been dropped from the text, in an attempt to create a slimmed down, manageable document to take into the Paris negotiations in December.

Here are five issues that did not make the final cut.

Zero-emissions goal

The text removes references to a zero-emissions goal.

While option for a “zero net greenhouse gas emissions” goal remains, the differences are important. Zero-net emissions implies that emissions can continue as long as they are balanced elsewhere or in the future via negative emissions. This includes technologies such as biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which would require a large amount of land, and thus has prompted concerns over biodiversity and food security. It also means emitters can initially “overshoot” the carbon budget.

More simply, zero emissions does what is says: emissions should be reduced to zero. Many campaigners are in favour of this option, as it gives emitters less leeway when it comes to decarbonising their economies.

Ex-ante review

It has become something of a meme to repeat that pledges submitted before Paris won’t be sufficient to keep temperature rise below 2C. So it is important that the Paris deal includes some kind of tool to ratchet up ambition over time.

Previously, this has been in the form of an “ex-ante review”, which would assess features of nations’ climate pledges including clarity, fairness and adequacy in light of the 2C goal. There were suggestions that this could lead to each party having to voluntarily revise its commitments, or even a top-down adjustment based on the global carbon budget.

This has been removed from the new version of the text. Its closest imitator is the new inclusion of a “global stocktake”, which will assess the “aggregate effect” of parties’ commitments. It is non-specific about ratcheting up ambition, other than the stipulation that parties should re-submit pledges every five years, which should be a “progression” on their previous commitments.

Aviation and shipping

Previous drafts spoke of the need for “global sectoral emission reduction targets” for the aviation and shipping sectors. This has been removed from the current draft ? presumably to the pleasure of International Maritime Organization (IMO) chief Koji Sekimizu, who argued against targets for the shipping industry last week.

The rising emissions from these two sectors are not included in national level efforts to tackle climate change. Meanwhile, progress at the UN agencies responsible for overseeing them has been slow, as Carbon Brief has explained here and here.

$200 billion

The new text acknowledges the need to scale up levels of climate finance, but it has lost some of the specificity of previous versions.

The July edition contained various options, including linking levels of finance required to mitigation and adaptation goals, requiring developed countries to commit a certain percentage of gross national product (GNP), or simply scaling up to $200bn a year by 2030.

These are gone from the new text. Now, even the goal of scaling up funds from the current $100bn per year by 2020 is in square brackets. This lack of specificity could be a boon, according to Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice-president and special envoy for climate change, who told the Guardian that countries had picked the current $100bn “out of the air at Copenhagen” as a symbolic gesture to save the negotiations.

Carbon markets

Carbon markets have been stripped from the most recent version of the text. The previous version had included various options, including an “economic mechanism” comprising an emissions trading system and an enhanced Clean Development Mechanism, of which parties could make use in meeting their mitigation targets.

The International Emissions Trading Association expressed disappointment at the absence of markets. Its president Dirk Forrister said in a statement:

“We urge negotiators to move these elements into the agreement or decision texts. The Paris agreement should establish a solid foundation for the markets of the future, ensuring their integrity and effectiveness. If policymakers are serious about getting business engaged in actions on a large scale, they must ensure that carbon market mechanisms grow strong under the future framework.?"


These are just a selection of the issues that differentiate the new text from the older, bulkier versions.

It is by no means comprehensive: other observers approached by Carbon Brief pointed to the disappearance of the word “equity” from the text, for instance, while The Guardian pointed to the loss of a ?climate change displacement coordination facility? to help relocate those most affected by climate change. With the loss of a paragraph on subsidies, the text has also lost its last direct reference to fossil fuels.

The text is also far from static, and maintains a non-official status within the negotiations. With talks resuming on 19 October in Bonn, it is likely that significant changes will take place even before parties meet in Paris this December. Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells Carbon Brief:

“Part of the exercise in Bonn in two weeks may be adding a little flesh back onto the bones.”

According to Camilla Born, senior researcher in climate diplomacy at environmental think-tank E3G, the new text is a “good jumping off point”, but that important elements will need to be added in Paris. She tells Carbon Brief:

“The Paris agreement won?t solve climate change in one fell swoop, but it will set up a common global logic to build from in years to come. COP21 can unlock a new era of international collaboration on climate, which will see countries regularly returning to the table to ensure decarbonisation is inevitable. It will also face the new reality of accelerating climate impacts by providing guidance and support based on real temperature trajectories determined by current mitigation action.”

The next round of negotiations will provide a window into how happy countries are with the new text. EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has already expressed some reservations on Twitter, saying that it is “unbalanced, lacked ambition & specificity, and many open political issues”. But he added that the EU and others would “work hard to improve it”.

It is this ? the extent to which parties are happy to take the text as the basis of future negotiations ? that will help to decide whether it is smooth sailing towards Paris.

Help us do science! we’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of Skeptical Science readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve SkS and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige's Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and other perks! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: completing the survey, readers will be entered into a drawing for a $50.00 Amazon gift card, as well as for other prizes (i.e. t-shirts). 

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Would it be correct to say that, if the Paris conference is successful, the production of fossil fuel will begin to decline and continue to do so for some decades?

    And if the above decline does not occur, will this imply failure?

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  2. Please note that the link to the Skeptical Science survey is not working

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  3. I hope the result is meaningful change of the motivations driving the development of things, and acknowledgement of what has been unacceptable about development so far.

    I think the following pair of paragraphs from the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" would make a good preface to the Paris Document.

    "25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.
    26. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations. Most of today's decision makers will be dead before the planet feels; the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, or widespread desertification and species loss. Most of the young voters of today will still be alive. In the Commission's hearings it was the young, those who have the most to lose, who were the harshest critics of the planet's present management."

    Political and Economic change can be a gradual process, but what has happened since the global awareness of what needed to change was so plainly stated almost 30 years ago has been inexcusable.

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  4. Digby, yes, I would think that "success" would result in a decline in emissions and that should mean a reduction in fossil fuel production. Of course, even that might not be enough to keep warming below 2C.

    On that last point, I'm glad to see that the option of narrowing the goal to 1.5C still exists (not that 1.5C would not be dangerous).

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  5. Those quotes from the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" are very germaine but they cover only partof the predicament that society will inevitably have to face. The vast infrastructure of industrialized civilization  can only provide  a declining potential to instigate measures to cope with climate change as it irrevocably ages and the natural reources required for its operation and maintenance get beyond reach of technological systems.

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  6. .. thanks for the excellent overview..

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