On March 26, 2013, the European Commission adopted a consultative paper inviting stakeholder input on how to design a 2015 international agreement laying down global rules for combating climate change after 2020. In doing so, the Commission intends to learn from the shortcomings that have hampered the functioning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) and the Kyoto Protocol, and to move beyond the limited national commitments secured at UN conferences in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010). Underscoring the need for a successful agreement, some anticipate that even if fully implemented, current pledges from the EU and others will deliver only about one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to stay below a 2° C temperature increase compared to pre-industrial levels.

One of the main challenges will be to bring together the currently intertwined set of binding and non-binding agreements entered into under the UNFCCC to produce a single, comprehensive post-2020 global regime. While the EU, some individual European countries, and Australia have agreed to join a legally binding agreement for the 2012–2020 period, much remains to be done to include other major greenhouse gas emitters, including the United States, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. As a prerequisite, the 2015 agreement will have to be inclusive and contain commitments actually applicable to all countries—whether developed or developing—while factoring in geographical, cultural, social, and economic differences and countries’ varying capacities to adapt. The Commission’s aim is a 2015 global agreement that is ambitious and contains commitments pursuing the foregoing temperature increase limitation target of 2° C.

Above and beyond affirmations of principles, the 2015 agreement will also have to be effective in combining mitigation efforts, incentives for sustainable technologies dissemination, market-based mechanisms, and adequate financing, all in a transparent and accountable framework. As the Commission’s consultative document states, it is essential that “[c]limate considerations both for mitigation and adaptation … be fully integrated into all public and private investments in the coming decades.” The document further insists that the 2015 agreement must be perceived as “fair and equitable in the way in which it shares the effort to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions and the cost of adapting to unavoidable climate change.” It will have to be adaptable and flexible. In this respect, it will notably have to accommodate, if not promote, measures designed locally to meet local situations while ensuring global coordination.

Finally, the 2015 agreement will have to be a legally binding treaty, as the Commission now considers this as inevitable to secure the global transition toward a low-carbon economy and the new model of development. Broad-based support from a “critical mass” of political leaders is called for by the Commission, while stressing the virtues of the EU’s “leadership by example.” The EU managed to decouple its greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth, with such emissions having decreased 18 percent since 1990 while the economy grew by 48 percent in the same period.

The consultation is available online to receive public comments until June 26, 2013.