COP21 at Midpoint

Christopher Campbell-Duruflé
December 7, 2015
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addresses the opening of the High-level Segment of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), on December 7, 2015. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Saturday’s publication by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) of a new version of the draft Paris Agreement presents a good occasion to reflect on the progress accomplished since the beginning of COP21 last Monday. Having observed different work sessions, I draw attention to some of the most contentious issues that will likely be key for the coming days of negotiation. While the rumour has it that the COP21 site in Le Bourget is rented until Sunday night and that this provides delegates some additional time past the Friday night official deadline, it is clear that every hour counts to reach an effective and fair climate agreement.

One of the biggest issues for ADP working groups remains that of differentiation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets between developed and developing countries. While speeches by heads of states on November 30 conveyed a strong message of unity in the face of the global climate challenge, many official declarations showed resistance to the idea according to which each country should do what it can to curtail GHG emissions. China and the coalitions of the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) or of the Arab Group, for instance, argued that it would be unfair for them to enter a process whereby they are periodically called to increase their GHG reduction targets, since they are not historically responsible for climate change and since the yearly 100 billion target for the Green Climate Fund has not yet been reached. In response, the United States and the European Union tried to reassure them that they recognized the principle of differentiated responsibilities for climate change. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient to convince all parties to support the process of universal, incremental, and differentiated efforts proposed at article 2bis.

Another directly related issue is that of the overall purpose of the agreement, to be spelled out in article 2. Whereas the UNFCCC treaty signed in 1992 saw parties commit to the general objective of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, based on the scientific work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established the necessity of limiting temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius to achieve this objective. Recent scientific developments suggest that this threshold may in fact be situated at 1.5 decrees. This issue was hotly debated this week, including after a vibrant plea by Saint Lucia, and bracketed text in article 2 of the new draft Paris Agreement shows that this will be a crucial point for the coming week.

The mention of human rights in the draft Paris Agreement is also an important issue, which Canada announced in its December 3 press conference in Le Bourget that it would continue championing. While the mention of human rights in the preamble of the draft is not bracketed, these symbols of disagreement appear at operative articles 2 and 4, respectively stating the general objective of the treaty and requiring states to take the necessary adaptation measures. Based on the recent Key Messages on Human Rights and Climate Change in the lead up to the COP21 published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, one could have thought this issue less controversial; it remains on the negotiation agenda for this week.

Lastly, an interesting debate surrounded the role of non-party stakeholders, such as corporations, NGOs, and sub-national entities, in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The text to this effect appears at article 122 and following of the draft resolution that will hopefully adopt the Paris Agreement. Different interveners, including the Arab Group and Venezuela, opposed these provisions on the basis that they could implicitly recognize that non-state actors possess a form of jurisdiction or right to take actions that could run against national policies. This was met with resistance by the co-chairs of the session, Daniel Reifsnyder and Ahmed Djoghlaf, on the grounds that action by non-state actor was called for in the Lima COP20 Call for Climate Action and at the heart of the vision for COP21 set forward by the French Presidency.

These four issues required a lot of the precious attention from state delegations last week and generated at times some visible exasperation. But “il est trop tard pour être pessimiste,” reminds us the French artist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Let us hope that they do not side-track the work of parties during the short sprint that separates us from the end of COP21.

Christopher Campbell-Duruflé is a recipient of CIGI’s Graduate Scholarships in International Law.

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