Analysis and resources to support the UNFCCC's ultimate objective

Summary of recommendations

In some negotiations there may be an advantage in leaving to the last the most difficult negotiating challenges, and building momentum by focusing initially on the less contentious areas. There is a difficulty, however, in adopting such an approach for COP21.

Party delegations will be unable to make significant commitments unless the implications of those commitments are clear; and that requires some of the most fundamental (and most challenging) questions to be answered up front.  Will, for example, Parties be divided into ‘Annex 1, Annex 2 and non Annex 1’ or ‘Annex X and Y’, or will ‘differentiated commitments’ be demarcated in some other way? Will categories be flexible? Will commitments be enforceable? Which comes first: developed country financial and technical assistance or developing country reduction commitments?

Until such matters are pinned it will be hard to make substantial progress.  Further, given the scarcity of available negotiating time (10 days before COP21), focusing on the less contentious issues first means diverting energy away from the essential parts of the agreement.

If the bulk of COP21 SN products attempts to define ‘what success looks like’ for COP21,
failure can be simply described:

  • No agreed pathway to the long-term goal.
  • Uncoordinated voluntary commitments, with no clear link to the long-term goal.
  • No mechanism for adjusting aggregate commitments to align them to the long-term goal.
  • No agreement on carbon pricing.

Such an agreement would do little to change the status quo.

This paper sets out the positive case for COP21, identifying the critical issues, which, if resolved satisfactorily, would provide a platform for sustained progress both at COP21, and for the UNFCCC process beyond. If the focus is on mitigation measures, that is not to prioritise them over other critical issues such as adaptation and remedies for loss and damage arising from climate change; rather it is recognition that, so far as possible, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and acknowledgement that adaptation planning requires an understanding of likely temperature rises. Meaningful mitigation measures, in other words, do not come at the expense of adaptation planning: they provide the platform for it.

One significant area on which agreement will need to be reached is the development of a scheme that shares fairly the burden of reductions (consistent with the concept of commitments that are ‘nationally determined’).

Dividing the Parties into fixed camps (whether ‘developed and developing’; ‘Annex 1, Annex 2 and Non Annex 1’; or ‘Annex X and Y’) has had an unintended polarizing effect on negotiations, and this is an opportune moment to reassess the merits of such schemes. Historic responsibility, equity and capability could be better reflected if the distinction between developed and developed countries were supplemented with indicative, adjustable sliding scales of need and responsibility.

Resolving this issue up-front (for example, with reference to a notional per capita CO2 allowance) would pave the way to an easier negotiating process; and provide a clear mechanism for linking INDCs to the long-term goal.

More generally the paper proposes ‘10 key elements’ to an agreement that would serve the ultimate objective of the Parties by aligning aggregate commitments to the long-term goal:


  • Supplementing the distinction between developed and developing countries with indicative, sliding scales of needs and commitments (promoting equity and flexibility).

  • Clarifying the long-term goal (i.e. the relationship between the 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius targets; and the distinct objective of limiting ocean acidification).

  • An agreed emissions reduction pathway to ‘operationalize’ the long-term goal.

  • An agreed carbon budget, per capita shares of which would provide an indicative baseline for the assessment of INDCs (the principle of ‘contraction and convergence’).

  • Annual reviews of aggregate performance against progression indicators defined by the long-term goal (providing accountability and transparency regarding the efficacy of the agreement; and an early warning system of risks to the Convention’s ultimate objective).

  • A mechanism for reviewing and adjusting national reduction commitments.

  • Principles for financial and technical assistance incentivizing donor generosity and beneficiary efficiency (generating a minimum annual payment of $100billion into the Green Climate Fund from 2020, rising to $200billion p/a by 2030, supporting both mitigation and adaptation).

  • A mechanism for upholding commitments under the agreement.

  • Commitment to carbon pricing.

  • A ‘B Plan’, i.e. provision for the timely ratcheting up of measures as required (i.e. without the necessity of negotiating a new legal instrument).

The paper analyses each of these elements with reference to three different pathways to agreement:

Pathway 1 delineates the core of a ‘strong’ agreement for Paris: one likely to prevent climate change and ocean acidification exceeding the long-term goal. It would establish a clear emission reduction pathway, based on IPCC AR5; a global carbon emission ‘budget’; a mechanism for ensuring aggregated INDCs were aligned to the long term-goal; and a mechanism that would generate the financial support required by developing countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation (i.e. at least $100billion p/a from 2020 rising to $200 billion p/a by 2030). It would further direct the market towards investment in clean energy through carbon pricing. It would establish a sanctions regime, applicable to all Parties, for breach of commitments (including, for developed countries, risk of exposure to legal liability for loss and damage attributable to climate change).


Pathway 2 is a compromise between the ‘strong’ option of Pathway 1 and the ‘soft’ option of Pathway 3. It splits into two sub-pathways, 2A (‘hybrid/strong’), and 2B (‘hybrid/soft’). Pathway 2A is, essentially Pathway 1, postponed to 2025. It makes clear to investors that strong action to enforce deep cuts will be taken, but it gives Parties additional time to make preparations. Pathway 2B, begins as a soft agreement, but provides for a ratcheting up of measures in the event that aggregate emissions are failing to align to the long-term goal.


Pathway 3 delineates the elements of a ‘soft’ agreement to facilitate cooperation between the Parties in pursuit of the long-term goal. Parties would agree to submit INDCs; to review aggregate effect against the long-term goal; and to take appropriate measures where aggregate INDCs were failing to align to the long-term goal. Parties able to do so would agree to provide financial and technical assistance to Parties needing support for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The development of indicative, baseline scales for reductions and contributions, and the establishment of an advisory panel, would help create pressure towards ambition. There would however, be no provisions for imposing commitments on Parties, and consequently no sanctions regime in the event of breach.