COP21: Ratcheting up ambition

Reading time: 6 minutes
1 December 2015

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

COP21 returned to a sense of normalcy and routine yesterday as officials retook their seats after the whirlwind visit of world leaders on Monday. Negotiators started a heavy schedule of meetings that are meant to conclude at noon on Saturday December 5 with a revised negotiating text ready for ministers to take up from next week.

Through Tuesday, officials continued discussions mainly in closed-door ‘spin-off groups’ focused on specific issues, including mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Early indications are that progress is following the typical patterns of COPs, namely a slow start with Parties keeping their cards relatively close to their chests. Few, if any, square brackets (the indicators of contested text) have been removed, although ‘landing zones’ (ie likely final outcomes) on some issues, such as transparency are apparently emerging.

However, with just three days of negotiations left for officials to tie up their efforts, the pressure will mount for a further narrowing of options across all areas.

One positive area of convergence appears to be the critical ‘review and ratchet’ discussion, which is meant to agree how to increase ambition over time. At a press conference before leaving Paris, President Obama stated that the US supported five year cycles of review. He added that it was not ‘unrealistic optimism’ to keep temperature rise below 2oC given that current country pledges have already decreased the warming trajectory to 2.7oC. Separately, senior officials from an important emerging economy have also apparently indicated support for a five year cycle.

Positions also apparently emerging around the description of the long-term goal. The main options on the table appear to ‘net zero emissions’, ‘decarbonization’ or ‘climate neutrality’, with a variety of dates attached to each (eg ‘by 2050’, ‘before 2100’ etc).

Whether there is further clarity by the end of week on where consensus lie remains to be seen, but it seems likely this will be an issue left for ministers to resolve given the implications of different formulations.

From a business and investor perspective, the long term goal and the review and ratchet discussion are two critical issues. This because they will determine the clarity and certainty of not only new agreement but also the long term investment horizon of the private sector.

A successful Paris Agreement needs to setup new rounds of commitments every five years.  For each new round of commitments, governments should take stock of their collective progress towards the long-term goals in the Paris Agreement. This is necessary to inform the preparation of their new commitments. Dialogue on proposed commitments must also occur to ensure that everyone is doing their fair share and new commitments should be inscribed each time under the Paris Agreement.

In terms of timing, the next round of commitments should be undertaken five years from now, around 2020.  There is no reason for governments to skip an innovation cycle. If governments wait, they will put a brake on the actions of businesses and investors, slowing progress in constructing the low carbon economy.

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