This e-bulletin provides a high-level overview of the main issues arising in the context of the negotiations for an international climate treaty negotiations taking place in Paris from 30 November – 11 December 2015.

1. Background

The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (“COP21”) on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the “UNFCCC”) is being held in Le Bourget near Paris between 30 November – 11 December 2015.

The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which established a commitment for the 192 State Parties signed up to it to reduce their levels of greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with negotiated targets.

The main aim of COP21 is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change (the “2015 Agreement”), in a bid to keep global warming below 2°C. To reach this target, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) will need to be reached by 2100.

Whereas the outcome of the negotiations at COP21 is uncertain, it is hoped that 2015 Agreement will:

  • contain legally binding commitments by State Parties to their own nominated Intended Nationally Determined Contributions towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2020;
  • include enhanced financial mechanisms to support developing nations,
  • create a framework for a gradual and effective transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2020;
  • provide a long-term reference framework with clear goals and objectives with periodic reviews to increase ambition in talking climate change.

Negotiations are set to be completed by the 9 December 2015.

2. Main contentious issues

There are three main issues of contention which could hamper efforts to reach agreement at COP21:

  • What the goal should be set at: The UNFCCC has set a goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. However, low-lying nations such as Bangladesh feel that this does not go far enough and want this cap to be lowered to 1.5°C.
  • Who will pay: At the COP15 talks in Copenhagen in 2009, the Green Climate Fund was launched. This pledged $100 billion per year in financial support from 2020 to assist in building infrastructure and green technology to cut emissions produced by developing nations. At COP21 it must be decided where this money will come from and how it will be distributed. China has already pledged around $3 billion to its own climate fund, and President Obama’s plans to donate a similar amount to the Green Climate Fund are facing opposition from the Republicans in Congress.
  • Who will bear the burden: Emerging industrialised nations such as China and India argue that established industrialised nations like the USA and members of the EU should bear a greater burden to cut emissions, having polluted for longer. They also deem it unfair that established industrialised nations that grew rich in part due to their ability to exploit cheap fossil fuels are seeking to prevent them from taking advantage of the same opportunity. Established industrialised nations, however, are keen for this burden to be spread more evenly, especially given the status of China and India as the first and fourth largest polluters of carbon emissions in the world.

3. Other topics to be discussed

Alongside the main negotiations surrounding the 2015 Agreement, a number of related events under the auspices of the UNFCCC are planned, including:

  • A series of focus days on the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (launched at COP20) to gauge progress on action areas including: agriculture, forests, transport, renewable energy, energy access and efficiency, resilience, cities and subnational entities, private finance, business, innovation, buildings and short-term pollutants.
  • A showcase of the most prominent initiatives of both state and non-state actors post the launch of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.
  • A two-day Sustainable Innovation Forum bringing together decision-makers to interact with cross-sector business stakeholders on to how to increase business innovation in an emerging green economy.

Further information on COP21 can be found here.