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Before Paris, Bonn: What Needs to Happen at Prelude to COP21

Climate negotiations in Bonn next week are an essential prelude to the pivotal global meeting in Paris in December – known as COP21 – where countries will agree on a new international agreement to cope with a changing climate. As the last full session before Paris, the Bonn gathering can help get the world on track for a strong outcome in less than two months.

Negotiators head to Bonn with valuable momentum: 149 countries, accounting for almost 90 percent of global emissions, have submitted national climate plans (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) for the agreement. Recent meetings and announcements by heads of state and finance ministers have added heft.

The process was further spurred last week when the co-chairs of the negotiations released a concise, coherent informal note which outlines the draft agreement. The 20-page co-chairs note provides suggestions for both the core legal agreement and the set of COP decisions that would address more detailed issues.

The INDCs on the table set an important context for these discussions. Analysis of the countries’ climate plans shows that they represent important progress in reducing global temperature increases, yet don’t fully achieve the reductions needed over the long term. This points them to the importance of the details of the Paris agreement. The Paris agreement must build on current progress to create a framework that sends clear signals so that additional reductions would occur quickly in order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 F) and avoid the most extreme impacts of climate change.

Some of the key issues addressed in the draft text include:

  • Cycles of Improvement. To maintain momentum after COP21, the co-chairs note includes a process to review and ramp up mitigation action every five years. However it’s not yet clear that this process would begin in 2020. Given the rapid changes in technology, science and policy, along with the need to cut emissions further, the world must come back to the table in five years, not 10, to increase ambition and seize the benefits from taking timely action. The text also could be clearer on specific processes to regularly enhance mitigation, adaptation and finance.

  • Long-term goal. The agreement should include a specific goal to set a clear long-term trajectory for emissions. Support for adopting a long-term goal has grown since the statement by the G7, and more recently after those by Brazil and Germany and by the United States and China. While the draft agreement includes several options for a long-term goal, it should also provide an option for decarbonization over the course of the century, the language adopted recently by the G7, and find a way to reflect fairness.

  • Transparency and accountability. At negotiations in Bonn in September, a vision emerged for countries to converge over time on a common approach to transparently measure and report countries’ emissions. The co-chairs note reflects this way of addressing the issue but doesn’t provide adequate clarity about when and how this will be achieved, nor how countries will ultimately be held accountable. Ensuring adequate support for developing countries to implement these provisions, especially sustained capacity building, will be critical.

  • Finance. The co-chairs note highlights the need for all finance to help enable a transformation to low-emissions and climate-resilient economies and societies. It also includes language on scaling up finance after 2020, building on the $100 billion that developed countries committed to mobilize annually from public and private sources by that year. The note says countries should aim to balance funding for adaptation and mitigation, recognizing the current skew towards the latter, and emphasizes that grant finance should be prioritized for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. However, the agreement needs more clarity on what, how and when countries should communicate information on climate finance they get or provide, and how to review progress in mobilizing and shifting the trillions of dollars necessary to decarbonize the economy.

  • Adaptation and “loss and damage.” The co-chairs note reflects the central role for adaptation that many developing countries have been seeking, reflected in the 80 percent of all INDCs that include an adaptation component. However, the agreement could provide greater clarity about what will happen when countries regularly put forward communications about their adaptation actions. Most important, parties to the agreement should use those communications as the basis for decisions about how to address adaptation needs, including increasing support and finance.

    The co-chairs note also includes provisions for climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to, known as “loss and damage” – such as the disappearance of glaciers, coral bleaching or rising seas that threaten island nations. Recent national proposals showed willingness to find common ground on this issue, though this will require constructive solutions on the way to Paris.

If they do their jobs right, negotiators won’t be able to leave Bonn without getting their hands dirty. There are some sticky important issues that demand their attention before ministers meet in early November and heads of state arrive in Paris on the first day of COP 21. By a number of indicators, we are heading in the right direction, but we aren’t there yet. What happens in Bonn can pave the way for a universal agreement in Paris that can be the turning point on climate action that the world needs.

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