COP21: Into the final straight?

Reading time: 5 minutes
9 December 2015

Damian Ryan, Head of International Policy, The Climate Group, writes about the 21st UN climate conference, COP21, in Paris. You can follow our activities at

A strong and ambitious draft text was released today by the French COP Presidency to the satisfaction of many observers. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, explained to Parties this afternoon that the aim of the 29-page draft was to provide an overview of progress made and to focus attention on the outstanding ‘political issues.’

He noted that 75% of square brackets, denoting areas of contention, had been removed and he emphasised that every effort had been made to retain balance and avoid prejudging outcomes. He also explained that it was not the final version leaving the way open for the Parties to reconvene in the evening as the ‘Paris Committee’ to provide their first thoughts on the updated text.

Reaction to the text reflected the divides that have been evident since the start of COP, but crucially, Parties again expressed their faith in the COP President and the process he proposed for taking negotiations forward.

Differentiation was a common issued raised by many Parties, both from developing country groups and developed ones. A common refrain was that the text on this cross-cutting issue remained ‘unbalanced’.

The EU and Australia, for the ‘Umbrella Group’ of non-EU industrialized countries, stressed the need for an agreement that took account of changing economic circumstances. Interventions from small island developing states were particularly vocal in calling for recognition of their special needs.

Behind the carefully worded statements, it was clear that there is a sufficient body of countries pushing for an ambitious outcome over the coming 24 hours. The competing claims that balance is needed, indicates that a middle ground is there to be found. The key question is whether Parties can show sufficient flexibility in related areas of finance, technology and capacity building to unlock the differentiation challenge.

Following the conclusion of the Committee meeting, negotiators are working late into the night to find further convergence on the unresolved issues.

Despite the mixed reaction from Parties this evening, the COP Presidency retains a firm handle on the process and its direction. In the remaining hours it will need to stay strong in seeking an ambitious climate agreement, to ensure a catalytic signal is sent to the real economy. Minister Fabius must fulfill his promise to “leave nothing behind.”

If the French Presidency maintains ambition, all others should be “willing to do so” too. Governments must now be willing to find common ground on the remaining key issues – the long-term goal, the five-year review mechanism starting from 2020 onwards – and climate finance.

To ensure an effective outcome in Paris, ministers need to do three things. They must secure ambition that is consistent with the scale of the climate challenge. They must secure consensus among the 196 governments negotiating an agreement. And they must secure an agreement that sends a catalytic signal to accelerate the creation of a thriving, clean economy. Parties cannot sacrifice the integrity of one in pursuit of the others.

By Damian Ryan, Head of International Policy, The Climate Group



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