Outcomes From COP 20, Lima


The world gained momentum on a climate agreement going into Lima. A historic agreement was reached between the US and China going into COP 20. Pledges to the Green Climate Fund were on the rise and narrowing in on the goal on $10 Billion. Everyone knew going in that Lima needed to hole the proverbial climate agreement ship steady, and it did that. Nothing glamorous or jaw dropping came out of Lima, but the parties are in a position to meet the deadline for the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is much easier said than done, it is no easy task to get just under 200 countries to agree to a climate deal to limit warming to 2°C.

COP20 Main Hall (Lima)
COP20 Main Hall (Lima)

Some good things did come out of Lima. The President of the COP, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, highlighted three important outcomes: (1) $10 billion goal for the Green Climate Fund was met, (2) the Multilateral Assessment work as countries exposed themselves to questioning about their emission reduction plans, and (3) the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was put forward as a means to increase education efforts on climate change in schools around the world.

Strides were also made on National Adaptation Plans. Several platforms for NAPs were established including the NAP Global Network and the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The biggest piece of the 2015 Paris Agreement is going to be country emissions targets. Each country will set their own target in an Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC). Major economies are expected to submit these targets soon, which will put forth their contribution to global emissions reductions. This is the corner stone for the 2015 Paris Agreement. This bottom up style agreement has the potential to involve every country on the planet. However, the question then becomes how to ratchet up ambition. That part will be worked out using the Multilateral Assessment (MA). The MA will hopefully be the mechanism to allow pressure on parties to raise ambition towards reducing carbon emissions. AILAC and European Union (EU) parties advocate for a full on review of every countries’ INDC, while China, India and the Like Minded Developing Countries do not favor any public review of the contributions. This will be an important piece of the negotiations to follow through Paris, 2015.

Finally, the 2013-2015 Review met during COP 20 in Lima. This group is in charge of evaluating the adequacy of the 2°C goal as well as of party commitments. Part of this Review is the Structured Expert Dialogue (See my blog post from December 9th, 2014). They met twice with IPCC and other experts to discuss the adequacy of the goal, that is, if they ought to increase ambition to stay below 1.5°C warming. The dialogue will conclude in February, with a report coming out a few months after. It will be interesting to follow the conclusion of this process to see what inputs will be provided for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Here is a link to the Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text. This draft text must be finalized in June, 6 months before the meeting in Paris, to give parties sufficient time to review the text and make edits.

The Best of Both Worlds for 2015

eiffel tower paris

After negotiations floundered at COP15 in Copenhagen to produce a broad-based and aggressive agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the Durban Platform was created to direct and motivate such an agreement for COP21 in Paris next year. It called for an “agreed outcome with legal force” that falls within the UNFCCC’s framework and principles. David Bodansky stated that, in order for an international agreement to succeed, it has to include three criteria (stringency, participation, and compliance), and outlined possible approaches that could stem from the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), either a top-down or bottom-up approach. From the information and framings provided by Bodansky, neither option is adequate as a viable solution by itself; rather, a mixed-track approach, which hybridizes both aforementioned approaches, would maximize the criteria and would provide a solid foundation for an international agreement to take effect after 2020.

The top-down approach, which could be seen as a continuation and expansion of what was seen in the Kyoto Protocol, places the main focus of climate governance and negotiations upon the international regime of the UNFCCC and other such institutions. These negotiations would focus upon an overarching emissions reductions target and how to delegate it among the Parties, and would present a take-it-or-leave-it type of agreement; nations would have to agree to the agreement as a whole, and would be legally bound to it and the prescribed actions within it. This, however, scares many nations within the UNFCCC, especially those key to any effective agreement (e.g. the United States, China, India, etc.) and could either jeopardize participation because it’s too stringent or stringency because countries would only sign on to an agreement that was not as aggressive as it could have and/or should have been. While it has produced success in the Kyoto Protocol, there are also hindrances inherently built into the approach that limit its effectiveness.

On the other hand, the Cancun architecture was born in response to the top-down approach taken with the Kyoto Protocol and advocated a bottom-up approach that placed national governments as the vanguards against the effects of climate change. Rather than having the international regime dictate what each country must do, this alternative approach empowers each nation to decide their best way to individually take action in mitigation and adaptation, which builds national buy-in and ownership of the country’s efforts. However, this produces an incentive for a nation to understate their capacity to mitigate/adapt or produce conservative and non-aggressive targets, thus imperiling the ultimate purpose of the UNFCCC to stem warming to two degrees Celsius.

As explained above, both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, but neither fully maximizes the three criteria that are key to a successful international agreement. Together, however, a viable middle ground could be reached that synthesizes the strengths of both approaches and that fulfills the stringency, participation, and compliance criteria. The bottom-up portion of a mixed-track approach allows countries to make commitments in areas that are both most effective and within its capacity to achieve, producing what Bodansky called a “variable geometry.” It provides enough freedom in action that each nation may find and take the course of action that works best for them, without imposing a one-size-fits-all solution that is unrealistic and incongruent with the political, economic, and developmental realities of a particular nation. Also, it satisfies the voluntary “pledge and renew” actions most nations are now interested in, as flexibility is the new mantra, so to say, of climate negotiations post-Kyoto; participation would be maximized with these types of actions rather than legally-binding commitments because most nations are not willing to take that step, as seen in the Kyoto Protocol. Within this flexible structure, the top-down portion provides enough incentive and enforcement/oversight to motivate aggressive and directed action, essential if the UNFCCC is going to keep warming below the two degree target. Through oversight and recommendations, the international regime can make sure that nations aren’t shirking their “common but differentiated responsibilities” while still motivating each nation to find the best solution that fits within that responsibility and capacity.

An aggressive and broad-based agreement is absolutely essential in order to meet the two degree target set by the UNFCCC at its conception in 1992. The best way to achieve this is not through a single mechanism or approach, or through a small group of nations; a wide array of options and avenues for action is necessary in order to gain the participation of a wide base of countries. Finding the colloquial sweet spot where an agreement is stringent enough to be effective at taking action and meeting the two degree target but not too stringent that there is insufficient participation. Therein lies the challenge for the UNFCCC and its individual member-states, but, with the best of both worlds, success is within our grasp.


David Bodansky, “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2012): 1-11.

“Preamble,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, accessed October 7th, 2014.  http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1353.php.

A Mixed-Tack Paris Agreement Is the Way to Go

Cartoon by Matt Bors
Cartoon by Matt Bors


The COP 20 is hoped to make progress for the 2015 COP, the deadline COP the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) set for finishing negotiations for a new, more aggressive agreement between UNFCCC nations to combat climate change. As this deadline comes closer and closer, academics, delegates, NGOs and country leaders are scrambling to find the best type of new solution. Daniel Bodansky, of Arizona State University, explains that the three variables in international climate agreements, stringency, participation, and compliance, are all present in each negotiation, in various degrees depending on the nature of the agreement (Bodansky 2). For example, a top-down approach like that of the Kyoto Protocol in which international laws enforce internationally agreed-upon actions, leads to a greater degree of stringency and an uncertain outcome in terms of the participation and compliance variables. The level of presence for these two variables depends on whether the mutually-assured-compliance feature of top-down approaches is enough to convince states to take part and participate in the treaty (Bodansky 2). Conversely, the bottom-up approach like that of the Cancun Agreements where nations come up with their own commitments for international agreements, tend to have higher participation and commitment but low stringency (Bodansky 2). With advantages and disadvantages to both the bottom-up and top-down approaches, a mixed-track approach is the most promising structure for a 2015 agreement providing the increased ambition needed to act against climate change.

Not all scholars would agree that a mixed-track approach is the answer. David Shorr, an analyst of multilateral affairs, argues that the best way to go for the COP21 agreement is a top-down structure. He writes in his “Think Again: Climate Treaties”, “there is no substitute for high-level diplomacy in getting everyone to do their utmost and in keeping track of their efforts” (Shorr). Shorr acknowledges that there has been increased, and important, participation at the “bottom”, but when push comes to shove, a diplomatic treaty is a necessity in climate negotiations, quoting their stringency strengths through “keeping track of [countries’] efforts”. On the other side of the debate, Michael C. McCracken, the Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C. argues that an international diplomatic agreement will not cut, as it has not for the past two decades. In his article “The Time to Act is Now”, McCracken argues that international agreements fail to inspire ambitious enough goals as signatories do not want to face punishments for goals they cannot keep (McCracken 15). Both McCracken and Shorr are correct in their own ways, but neither of their solutions will do enough on their own.

The multi-track approach Bodansky suggests, includes a combination of the strong points of both top-down and bottom-approaches, allowing in theory for the “best of both worlds”. He suggests offering various tracks of an agreement, allowing for nations to choose which tracks best suits their abilities, going off of the bottom-up approach. For example, one country might find it easiest to reduce greenhouse emissions as it is in desperate need of new infrastructure while another country may find it easier to develop and distribute new technologies aimed at a greener world (Bodanksy 9-10). The top-down aspect of this approach consists of a “core agreement” where economic-wide commitments are set out and a system for comparing different tracks’ efforts is established. Thus, an overall high level of stringency is achieved through a top-down core agreement alongside high levels of participation and compliance through bottom-up multi-track options. This structure offers the most promise looking forward to a 2015 agreement as it offers success in all three variables of success-measurement. Furthermore, those countries like the United States, who are not parties of the top-down Kyoto Protocol and those countries not parties to the Cancun Agreements are more likely to find a happy medium in a mixed-track agreement.

Works Cited

Bodansky, D., 2012. The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

MacCracken, M., 2014, “The time to act is now,” pp 13-19, G7 Summit 2014

Schorr, D., 2014, “Think Again: Climate Treaties” Foreign Policy: The Magazine. 17 March 2014. Web. 6 October 2014.