Analysis and resources to support the UNFCCC's ultimate objective

Three pathways to agreement in Paris

With less than 4 months to go to COP21 it would be naïve to imagine that ‘all options are open’ regarding the nature of the agreement. Nevertheless it is valuable to consider the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches (if only to emphasise where compensatory measures may be required).


Agreement, Pathway 1 (‘strong’)

Pathway description

Pathway 1 proposes 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 guarantee 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).

Defining feature

Effective mechanisms, including a sanctions regime, for aligning emission reduction and financial commitments to the long-term goal.



  • Likely to prevent irreversible, dangerous climate change and ocean acidification.

  • By providing for deep cuts to be made fast, would ease the overall challenge of meeting the long-term goal.

  • Would send an immediate and powerful signal to the market, directing capital investment towards clean energy projects.


  • Revising INDCs in time for 2020 (i.e. to ensure the aggregate aligns to the long goal) would present political difficulties for Parties committed to preserving national sovereignty regarding emission reductions.



Agreement, Pathway 2 (‘hybrid’)

Pathway description

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 transition to a strong agreement in the event that aggregate emissions are failing to align to the long-term goal.

Defining feature

Provides for a transition from ‘soft’ to ‘strong’ agreement.


  • A compromise between a hard and soft agreement.

  • Contains an ‘A’ plan and a ‘B’ plan.

  • The prospect of the ‘B’ plan incentivizes parties to make the ‘A’ plan work (‘hybrid/soft’).

  • Would send a strong signal to the market, directing capital investment towards clean energy projects (‘hybrid/ strong’).


  • Deep cuts may be delayed at least to 2025, adding to the overall challenge of meeting the LTG.


Agreement, Pathway 3 (‘soft’)

Pathway description

Pathway 3 provides the heart 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. 



  • Easy for Parties to accept a deal preserving absolute national sovereignty over emission reductions.

  • Some pressure towards ambition may come from:

                   i.  transparency regarding annual progression towards long-term goal;

                   ii. indicative scales for INDCS and financial contributions; and

                   iii.recommendations from an advisory panel.


  • Does not guarantee the deep cuts required to prevent dangerous, irreversible climate change.

  • Fails to send a strong and clear signal to capital investments.

  • Lacks hard incentives towards financial and technical assistance.

Defining feature

Allows the Parties to determine their own emission reduction and financial commitments.



Pathway (PW) outcomes


  • An agreed (but adjustable) emissions reduction pathway consistent with the long-term goal.

  • A distinct pathway for limiting ocean acidification.

  • A collective CO2 emissions budget.

  • An indicative principle for allocating shares of the budget between Parties.

  • Annual reviews of collective progress towards the long-term goal, facilitating timely correction for projected overshoot.

  • Accountability and transparency through annual reports, in clear and accessible language, of progress towards the LTG.

  • An indicative, baseline scale for financial contributions based on per capita GDP and population.

  • [PW 1] Guaranteed / [PW 3] Pledged financial assistance from developed to developing countries to support climate change mitigation and adaptation (at least $100billion p/a from 2020, rising to $200billion by 2030).

  • A mechanism incentivizing donor generosity and beneficiary efficiency.

  • An independent body or arbitration panel to [PW 1] facilitate / [PW 3] recommend adjustments to aggregate commitments to ensure alignment to the long-term goal.

  • [PW 2] Provision introduce additional mechanisms, including sanctions, if voluntary cooperation fails to align aggregate commitments to the LTG.

  • Commitment to carbon pricing, and the establishment of a technical body to make recommendations regarding implementation.

  • [PW 1] A sanctions regime, applicable to all Parties / Parties in Annexes X and Y, to uphold commitments.


  • [PW 3] An advisory committee, applicable to all Parties, to monitor and report on compliance with commitments.Type your paragraph here.

For the provisions of the Geneva Negotiating Text and the co-chairs' additional tool supporting implementation of these pathways, click the red button below.