Climate change, international negotiations and preparations for COP21

The state of the climate

Climate change is defined as long-term changes in the planet’s weather conditions and average temperature. Between 1900 and 2012, we have experienced a significant rise of 0.89°C in the earth’s average temperature. It is “extremely likely” that this rise in temperature is due to human activity such as industrial production, energy consumption, and transportation, which results in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2. These gases cause the greenhouse effect, a phenomenon in which heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere.


Why is temperature rising?

Carbon emissions continue to rise – it has became more rapid between 2000 and 2010 than in the past 3 decades. Other greenhouse gases (such as methane and fluorinated gases) resulting from human activity have also contributed to this rise. In addition to direct emissions from fuels, a quarter of global emissions are indirect and result from the consumption of electricity or heat.

The distribution of these emissions varies widely, depending of the country’s level of development and its economic model.

What should be done to lessen carbon emissions?

The objective of containing global warming to below 2°C requires a significant reduction of emissions from all sectors through a swift modification of practices.

Production and energy consumption are central to the effort by almost totally eliminating emissions from the generation of electricity and with the adoption of practices with greater energy efficiency.

The sustainable reduction of emissions can be made possible through:

- A strong support for the development of renewable energies
- Reforestation, which will increase the capacity of soil to naturally absorb carbon
- Changes in land use and agricultural practices
- An effort towards energy efficiency for buildings
- More sustainable urbanization, especially in developing countries
- More frequent use of public transportation over private vehicles
- Further development of carbon capture and storage technologies

In what context are international climate negotiations taking place?

Since 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognizes that the climate is a shared resource that may be affected by carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses.

Its objective is laid out in Article 2 of the UNFCCC:

“… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

According to the Convention, governments must :

- Collect and disseminate information on greenhouse gasses, national policies, best practices, etc.
- Implement national strategies to address the problem of emissions and to adapt to its negative impacts, including financial and technological support for developing countries most vulnerable to climate change
- Cooperate in the preparation to adapt to climate change impacts

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme organ of the Convention and comprises of all the Parties to the Convention (194 countries + the European Commission). It is responsible for the following:

- Strengthening international cooperation
- Monitoring the implementation of the Convention
- Examining engagements with the Parties
- Sharing new scientific discoveries and experiences gained in the implementation of policies
- Evaluating the effectiveness and progress of the measures taken by the Parties.

In order to meet these objectives, the Convention should be complemented by a strict emissions reduction agreement. This agreement should be based on the principle of equity and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities.

The agreement must be based on two pillars:

- A clear direction towards a low-carbon world, a perspective which shall be integrated by all actors
- A clear and transparent framework, allowing for the adoption of incentives and the support and transfer of technologies towards developing countries

The agreement aims to be:

- Ambitious – it should contain global warming to below 2°C
- Global – all Parties should be involved, relative to their capabilities (principle of common but differentiated responsibilities)
- Transparent – these mechanisms should be clearly implemented in mutual trust
- Complete – it should not only deal with limiting carbon emissions, but also with the adaptation of developing countries, the financing of these measures, and cooperation in the transfer of technologies
- Flexible – it should evolve to adapt and gradually be strengthened, depending on the context of the times

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, provided for mandatory targets on emissions of greenhouse gases for the “economically strong countries.” The agreement offers states a certain flexibility on the manner of attaining these objectives, and several emissions trading mechanisms have been put in place. The protocol entered into force in 2005, but only 37 industrial countries have expressed their commitment to it.

What action is France taking ?

In 2010, France emitted an average of 5.6 tons of carbon. In 2005, France adopted a national plan with an objective of cutting a quarter of its emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The law on “Energy transition for green growth” provides the following by 2030 :
- 40% reduction of greenhouse gases
- 30% reduction of fossil fuels
- 32% increase in the use of renewable energy

What are the ambitions of Europe ?

The European Union is an ambitious actor in the fight against climate change. In 2008, it adopted the 2020 Climate Energy Package with 3 objectives:

- 20% reduction of emissions by 2020 (using 1990 levels)
- Produce 20% of its energy through renewable resources
- 20% increase in its energy efficiency (non-binding target)

To reduce its emissions, it has introduced a system of exchange of emission quotas.

To develop its renewable energy, each member state must have a national objective (23% in the case of France).

A 2030 package was recently adopted and will form the bases for the European contribution for COP21 - fixes the ambitious objective of a 40% reduction of emissions by 2030.

What is France’s role as the host of COP21 ?

“We will not be behind the wheel. We will build the road.”

The role of France is to make preparations ahead of the conference. As the President of the Conference of the Parties, France will be an impartial facilitator in carrying out constructive negotiations among governments.

France must encourage the involvement of all stakeholders, particularly civil society, by presenting a “positive agenda” with solutions.

What are the objectives of Paris 2015 ?

The Paris agreement should define a path for action and a legal framework allowing the limiting of the rise in temperatures to less than 2°C. It must be applicable to all. It must lower emissions, but at the same time, consider adaptation issues and the means of implementation.

Briefly, the agreement will contain:

- Differentiated national responsibilities
- Common rules to guarantee transparency
- Instruments for cooperation, allowing for financial and technological transfers

What are the next steps?

After Lima, each country must submit a nationally defined contribution to the efforts to mitigate climate change. Each contribution must consider development priorities and the fight against poverty, while taking into account economic and financial capabilities.

All additional initiatives in the negotiation process must:

- Have a direct or indirect impact on the reduction of emissions, adaptation, or financing
- Involve all actors, including civil society – international organizations, the private sector, territorial collectivities, associations...
- Allow the development of practical solutions, some already implemented at different levels

The multiplicity of these initiatives will lead to a positive outcome which:

- Mobilizes other key actors and investments
- Shows that this environmental challenge also offers opportunities in terms of energy, agriculture, employment, investment, social justice, and influencing the interest and involvement of the public

The strong mobilization during the New York Summit led to a positive dynamic in the construction of solutions and confirmed that non-state actors have already been active in this effort. This innovative process will complete and strengthen the engagements that will be taken in Paris.

For more information, visit the official website of COP21:

For more information on French climate policy:

Dernière modification : 17/02/2015

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