COP21: Shifting into a new gear

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5 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

The first week at COP21 drew to a close today with the end of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (or ‘ADP’). Established at COP17 in South Africa in 2011, the job of the ADP was to deliver a draft negotiating text in Paris. The conclusion of the group’s work at the weekend fulfilled this mandate.

As previously reported, the path to wrapping up the ADP was by no means smooth this week. At the closing meeting however, all Parties expressed support for the draft text, while noting that much work remained to be done next week.

Statements by different country groups underlined again where the main fault lines lie (i.e. differentiation, finance, the long-term goal) but all parties pledged to work collaboratively over the remainder of COP. Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate ambassador stated that parties had “really achieved a positive outcome at the right moment”.

The swift and uneventful conclusion to the ADP was surprising given that Parties had finished talks early on Friday evening without making much progress. There had been suggestions that negotiators were likely to work late into Friday night to narrow down options in order to deliver a slimmed-down text today.

In the end, what was presented and adopted just after 1pm was a 48-page document (including notes), more or less identical to a ‘bridging text’ released on Friday morning. The outcome suggested a consensus to cut losses at the official-level of negotiations, not least to give negotiators time to recover before week two commences.

The end of the ADP also signalled the pivot from the official-level part of COP21 to the ministerial segment. This formally gets underway on Monday, but behind the scenes meetings will already be underway.

Importantly too, the COP President, Lauren Fabius, the French foreign minister and his team are now in charge of the negotiating process. This provides the French with the ability to define the work methods and appoint ministers to act as facilitators on crunch issues.

This evening, Parties reconvened and the ADP text was formally passed to the COP President. Minister Fabius set out his plans for week two, which were approved by Parties. An open-ended negotiating body – the ‘Paris Committee’ – will convene once a day from Monday and will be chaired by Fabius.

Four informal groups will also meet on cross-cutting issues, covering support and means of implementation (eg finance, technology and capacity building), differentiation, ambition (eg long-term goal and periodic review) and pre-2020 action. Fabius explained that his objective is to complete negotiations by Thursday in order to enable a separate legal and translation group to prepare a final text in time for adoption on Friday 11 Dec.

The transition to minister-level negotiation will help create openings that have remained shut this week. Although senior negotiators will continue to be an integral part of week two talks, the presence of ministers will mean the tough political decisions can be tackled.

Meeting as the ‘Paris Committee’, and with the informal groups dealing with cross-cutting issues, ministers will be able to consider the whole text giving them sight of the overall landing zone and making deal-making easier.

The week ahead will be busy, though. The draft text contains a range of issues that remain contentious - notably the long-term goal and climate finance. It is essential that ministers look at the big picture, avoid the tactical battles and go for the strategic win. This is the only way to resolve outstanding differences and secure an ambitious climate deal.

Ministers need to keep in mind that securing a strong deal will enable business to begin shifting trillions of dollars. This is the real level of finance needed to deliver equitable access to sustainable development and accelerate the transition to a thriving, clean climate economy.

The role of the French Presidency will also be critical this week. The French government deserves the trust and support of ministers and observers in driving the process into the final stretch. It is essential that the COP President stays strong, leaves nothing behind and secures the most ambitious agreement possible.

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


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