Short historical background to the negotiations
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and it entered into force in 1994. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "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".
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005 due to a complex ratification process. There are currently 192 Parties to the Protocol and 195 Parties to the Convention. The Protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility: it puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Protocol's first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period - known as the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol - began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020.
In 2011, with the will to act together and keep global warming below 2ºC, the parties created the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action with the aim of bringing together all developed and developing countries to work on a "protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force", applicable to all parties to the UNFCCC. This new instrument has been adopted at the 2015 COP21 in Paris and is referred to as the Paris Agreement, entering into force on 4 November 2016.
The 2013 Warsaw Conference was a crucial step towards reaching a universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Each country will have to communicate its "contributions" - the efforts it intends to undertake to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (INDCs) - before the Paris Conference, so they can be assessed before it starts.
The 2014 Lima Conference laid down the shape of the INDCs and the schedule for 2015.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris COP21 (Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC) which took place between 30 November and 12 December 2015 has resulted in reaching a historic agreement on keeping a global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue global efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The unprecedented mobilisation of civil society stakeholders including trade unions, businesses, NGOs, communities, cities and regions was an important factor in contributing to the success of the conference and was clearly reflected in the final outcome of COP21.
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of these long-term goals. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement requires each Party to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve, compared to a ‘business as usual’ scenario. NDCs are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat, a process known as the ‘ratchet mechanism’. The next round of NDCs (new or updated) is to be submitted by 2020 (now postponed to 2021), although dozens of countries have still not updated their pledges.
Glasgow 2021 is therefore the first time parties are expected to commit to enhanced ambition since COP21 and the Paris Agreement.
At COP26 delegates will be aiming to finalise the ‘Paris Rulebook’, the rules needed to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, and conclude outstanding issues from COP25 in Madrid.
- The Paris Agreement rulebook was due to be finalised three years ago at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, but a number of contentious items remain unresolved. These include the rules of a new global carbon market, under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. How to avoid double counting emissions reductions, the role of old credits from the Kyoto climate regime under the new system and whether to allocate a share of proceeds from the market to the Adaptation Fund are among the stickiest issues.
- The other element of the 'Paris rulebook' which requires agreement is on the transparency rules for reporting emissions reductions and whether countries’ future climate plans should all cover the same time period of 5 or 10 years. The shorter timeframe means revision of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) NDCs more frequently, potentially driving greater ambition than if they were only revised every decade.
- At COP26 global governments should agree new emissions targets. Until now, countries have been negotiating the technical details of the Paris Agreement, but in 2021 nations are supposed to mark its official commencement by increasing their pledges.
- Funding for Loss and damage: While Loss and damage is a core part of the Paris Agreement there is no mechanism yet within the UNFCCC to fund responses when vulnerable countries experience loss and damage. New finance for “loss and damage” was due to be agreed at COP25 in Madrid, but no progress was made.
- Developed countries agreed in 2009 to mobilise $100 billion a year in climate finance to the developing world by 2020. At the last count, they were $20bn short. This is critical to trust in the process for recipient nations. Negotiations are due to start on what the next collective finance goal beyond 2025 should look like.
- An increasingly important aspect of the climate debate is around ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS). That is how nature (forests, agriculture and ecosystems) can become a climate solution for absorbing carbon and for protecting against climate impacts. COP26 will start to discuss how to integrate NBS into the Paris implementation strategy.