Paving the road to a new global climate agreement

A view of the first round of United Nations climate change talks held on Feb. 8 in Geneva, Switzerland. Will the final negotiating text agreed upon by 194 countries during the event guarantee that an agreement will be reached in Paris? Photo by: Jean-Marc Ferré / United Nations

In a rare consensus, 194 countries successfully prepared and completed the final negotiating text — and the possible blueprint — for a new global climate agreement that is expected to be adopted in Paris by the end of the year.

Considered a “key milestone toward a new [and] universal” global climate agreement, the text agreed in Geneva, Switzerland, is a heavily expanded version of a draft that came out of December’s climate change conference in Lima, Peru. According to Christiana Figueres, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary, it now “contains the views and concerns of all countries” and “enjoys the full ownership of all countries.”

The 86-page negotiating document has provisions for mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building, which some experts contend have been watered down. While the final text is expected to be adopted by the end of the year, the agreement will come into effect only after five years.

This gap will hopefully give countries, especially those with high carbon emissions, enough time to adjust to the changes and implement policies to help meet final agreements. It will also give all stakeholders enough time to consider what needs to be done — and how — to ensure commitments will be met and margins for error will be reduced.

“It is very important for all countries to get the negotiation text right as every country has [a] role to play in dealing with climate change,” Mozaharul Alam, U.N. Environment Program’s regional climate change coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, told Devex.

Some of the concrete ways stakeholders, particularly national governments, can play their part is to “bend” emission pathways by reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, addressing the unavoidable impact of climate change such as loss and damage, supporting means of implementation, and creating an enabling environment.

Long, difficult road

One of the key highlights of the Geneva talks, apart from the completion of the negotiating text, is the sense of urgency, unity and purpose that all 194 countries involved in the negotiations showed.

In her statement, Figueres said she’s “extremely encouraged by the constructive spirit and the speed at which [climate] negotiators have worked.” Alam meanwhile emphasized that the recently concluded meetings give a “very solid sense of progress and willingness of the parties to work together” to get the job done.

Indeed, this commitment and sense of solidarity are notable given the arduous — and sometimes disruptive — nature of previous negotiations. For instance, 130 member states walked out of negotiations during COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, while 133 states boycotted COP19 in Warsaw, Poland. In both cases, the reluctance of some developed economies to commit to legally binding agreements was the main point of contention.

Among the polemical provisions in these agreements were an emissions treaty and a clause to compensate environmental damage to developing countries. Richer nations objecting to these provisions fear agreeing to them would affect domestic growth and development.

The existence of a negotiating text, however, does not guarantee a new global climate agreement will be signed off in Paris, Figueres noted. It “merely opens the door for this possibility,” she stressed in her statement.

Even so, Alam said having a document to guide final negotiations in Paris is better than having nothing at all. But he did note that there remain “contentious issues” that need to be resolved.

“Parties … remain divided on how to treat adaptation and mitigation in a new climate agreement, issue of cycles, discussions on potential new grouping of parties, [among others],” he concluded. “These will all play [a] critical role in shaping [the] final agreement.”

Will the Geneva text pave a concrete road to a strong global climate agreement? What key provisions need to be kept or strengthened in the Paris agreement? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.