On the road to Paris

Delegations from 195 countries will meet in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015 with a view to adopt an international agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this, global greenhouse gas emissions should peak by 2020 and be halved by mid-century. This is a daunting task considering that global greenhouse gas emissions are still growing and projected to keep doing so for a foreseeable future.

The increase in global greenhouse gas emissions is due to rapid global economic growth fuelled by cheap and abundant fossil fuels, a development model the industrialised world has relied on for the past century and that the rest of the world is counting on for developing and lifting billions out of poverty. Addressing climate change hence requires a deep structural transformation of our production and consumption patterns towards more sustainable, low-carbon, and energy efficient ones.

An international agreement is needed because greenhouse gases affect the climate no matter where they are emitted and because those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are often the ones that contributed the least to the problem. The Kyoto Protocol of 1992 is the only legally binding instrument under which a group of industrialised countries committed to emission reduction targets, with mechanisms to support emission reduction projects and adaptation projects in developing countries. This instrument however only covers a small and shrinking share of global emissions, and the emission reduction targets and support mechanisms it contains are far from what would be required to stay below the 2°C target.

In the run up to the Copenhagen climate change summit of 2009, many hoped to replace the Kyoto Protocol with another legally binding instrument that would distribute the required global emission reductions between all countries on the basis of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. This did not materialise for a variety of reasons, with most parties blaming the others for not doing their fair share of the required effort. It quickly became evident that this was the end of the top-down paradigm which characterised the international community's approach to the issue of climate change to date.

The emerging new architecture is a more dynamic one where countries put forward their own pledges, with a centralised assessment thereof and periodic reviews. 155 countries responsible for 87% of global greenhouse gas emissions submitted their so called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to date. Although the pledges put forward are not enough to put the world on track to stay below the 2°C target, such a bottom-up approach seems to allows for better reflecting the diversity of national circumstances, overcoming long lasting divides in the negotiations and building much needed trust between the parties.

Many critical issues required to secure an agreement at the Paris climate change summit remain unsolved just one month ahead of the meeting. These notably include overall ambition and fairness, scaling-up of climate finance, comparability of pledges, and mechanisms to increase ambition over time. Stakes and expectations are high. Now is time to get the ball rolling by sending the world a strong and convincing signal that the future will be low-carbon.

** The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EFTA, and the latter can not be considered in any way bound by them.