Worldwide: Primer On Paris Climate Change Talks: An Optimistic Outlook

Last Updated: December 18 2015
Article by Peter L. Gray

Between November 30 and December 11, 2015, leaders from nearly 200 countries convened in Paris, France, to seek agreement on a global approach to combatting climate change. Hopes were high, but the question on everyone's mind is whether the outcome of the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also known as "COP 21") would be any different than the outcome of COP 15, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. Many observers—including Dentons—believed that COP 21 would result in an agreement, principally because of the new approach being taken and the fact that the United States and China are engaged and have committed to specific greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.

In Copenhagen, efforts to reach an international climate change agreement failed for many reasons. Chief among those reasons, however, was disagreement among the G20 group of industrialized nations over the approach then under consideration. Most of the G20 nations agreed that global warming should be limited to 2 degrees above the preindustrial average global temperature. They disagreed, however, over the means for achieving that limit. Specifically, a block of the newly industrialized nations who emit among the highest quantities of greenhouse gases (including Brazil, South Africa, India and China, collectively referred to as "BASIC") disagreed that they should have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the same proportion as the other G20 countries. In brief, the "top down" approach was a non-starter.

In Paris, a different approach—"bottom up"—was under consideration. The foundation of the Paris climate change talks were "individual nationally determined contributions" (INDCs) in which the submitting country pledges to achieve a self-defined GHG emission reduction goal beginning in 2020. The hope is that those individual pledges will collectively form a basis for a global climate change agreement. This article summarizes the proposal, as it currently stands, and provides our reasons for being optimistic about the chances of a global agreement being reached in Paris.

Background

The foundation of all international climate talks is the UNFCCC, a treaty adopted in 1992 among the governments of 194 countries, including the United States. One of the primary goals of the UNFCCC is avoiding "dangerous human interference with the climate system" by, among other things, reducing GHG emissions. Decision-making under the UNFCCC is governed by the Conference of the Parties. The meeting in Paris in 2015 was the 21st meeting of the COP (hence the abbreviation "COP 21"). Its antecedents reach back to 1997, at COP 3, in Kyoto, Japan, where 193 countries entered an international treaty. Under the so-called Kyoto Protocol, 37 industrialized countries and the nations of the European Community (collectively identified on Annex I to the Convention) agreed to binding targets for GHG emissions. Those binding emission targets were to be achieved from 2008–2012 (the "first commitment period"). Each Annex I country was required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

Parties to the Kyoto Protocol not listed in Annex I were not subject to any binding emission reduction targets; these non-Annex I countries are mostly low-income developing countries, which could participate in the Kyoto Protocol through the "Clean Development Mechanism"—emissions reduction projects which generate "Certified Emission Reduction" units which may be traded in emissions trading schemes.

Perhaps predictably, few Annex I countries achieved their emission reduction targets. Those that did, such as Russia, were aided by overall decline in productivity.

The new paradigm: Intended nationally determined contributions

With failure of the Kyoto Protocol looming, the Conference of Parties convened in 2009 in Copenhagen seeking to reach agreement in the period beginning in 2012, the end of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. As already noted, the meeting in Copenhagen was a failure.

A new approach, however, was suggested during COP 19 in Warsaw. Each country was encouraged to submit its "intended nationally determined contribution" toward an agreement to be hashed out in Paris, the site of COP 21. As of October 23, 2015, 154 countries accounting for 85 percent of global GHG emissions, have submitted their INDCs to the UNFCCC Secretariat. According to a study published by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (London School of Economics), those INDCs collectively are insufficient to limit global warming to 2 degrees above preindustrial temperature levels. That said, they do get us nearly halfway toward that goal. Business as usual is predicted to lead to catastrophic temperature levels 5 degrees or higher above preindustrial levels, whereas with the INDCs the temperature rise is predicted to be approximately 2.7 degrees.

China's and United States' engagement

As noted at the outset, one of the primary reasons for optimism over the likelihood of an agreement being reached in Paris is the fact that the United States and China were both at the table and agreed on INDCs. The historic agreement between the United States and China was reached on November 12, 2014, when the two countries issued a joint announcement which stated in part:

Today, the Presidents of the United States and China announced their respective post-2020 actions on climate change, recognizing that these actions are part of the longer range effort to transition to low-carbon economies, mindful of the global temperature goal of 2℃. The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%. China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. Both sides intend to continue to work to increase ambition over time.

The United States formally submitted INDC on March 31, 2015, in which it reaffirmed its pledge to reduce GHG emissions by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and to make best efforts to reduce by 28 percent. China reaffirmed its commitment in its June 30, 2015 INDC submission.

The United States intends to fulfil its commitment largely through implementation of these initiatives:

Clean power plan: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed guidelines for existing power plants in June 2014 that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles: In February 2014, President Obama directed EPA and the Department of Transportation to issue the next phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 2016. These will build on the first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (model years 2014 through 2018), proposed and finalized by this Administration.

Energy efficiency standards: The Department of Energy set a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through energy conservation standards issued during this Administration. The Department of Energy has finalized multiple measures addressing buildings sector emissions including energy conservation standards for 29 categories of appliances and equipment as well as a building code determination for commercial buildings.

Economy-wide measures to reduce other greenhouse gases: EPA and other federal agencies are taking actions to cut potent greenhouse gases, whose impact on global warming is more impactful than carbon dioxide. Specifically, EPA will regulate emissions of methane from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems. At the same time, the State Department is working to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol and EPA is cutting domestic HFC emissions through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program.

These measures are meeting with fierce opposition by stakeholders, and it is unclear whether they will survive the numerous judicial challenges that have been mounted. That said, the United States has made good on plans for achieving INDCs, and that leadership went a long way toward its appearing as an honest broker in the COP 21 proceedings.

China formally submitted its INDC in June 2015, restating its previously announced goal to peak its emissions by 2030 and to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent that same year. To meet the latter goal, China must deploy 800 to 1000 gigawatts in non-fossil fuel capacity, which would nearly eclipse the United States' current total capacity. China also announced its intent to reduce the carbon intensity (i.e., the CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) of the energy consumed by 60–65 percent below 2005 levels, and to increase its forest carbon stock volume by 4.5 billion cubic meters above 2005 levels. The forest carbon goal equates to almost 250 million acres (or one gigaton of carbon). This is an ambitious goal.

The GHG emission reduction commitments of the United States and China went a long way toward increasing the odds of a global climate change agreement emerging from Paris.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
24 Oct 2017, Seminar, Washington, DC, United States

The Dentons Forum for Women Executives invites you to join us for a luncheon featuring guest speaker Liza Mundy, journalist and author. Ms. Mundy recently released her latest book, Code Girls, the riveting untold story of more than 10,000 spirited young American women who cracked German and Japanese codes to help win World War II.

27 Oct 2017, Seminar, New York, United States

Please join us for a milestone event, our 10th annual CLE Seminar for In-House Counsel.

1 Nov 2017, Seminar, Washington, DC, United States

Celebrate the 58th anniversary of Dentons' Government Contracts practice

 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.