The UNFCCC negotiations are entering a crucial phase. Negotiators decided nearly two years ago to establish an international climate action agreement “with legal force” by 2015. How this agreement will be structured, though, remains to be seen.

Establishing a process for submitting “national offers,” countries’ commitments and plans to reduce their respective greenhouse gas emissions, is one area that will require immediate attention. This process—once established—will act as a critical foundation for ensuring that the 2015 climate agreement is ambitious, equitable, and results in real change. Negotiators currently have many options before them on how to design this process, some of which will likely be discussed at COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland next month.

In an effort to guide successful negotiations between now and 2015, WRI’s new working paper, A Pathway to a Climate Change Agreement in 2015: Options for Setting and Reviewing GHG Emission Reduction Offers, lays out the various options for designing the national offers process. It will be critical for negotiators to focus on three key areas: the content of the offers, the timing and process for submitting them, and how they will be reviewed. Each of these areas comes with their own set of questions—all of which must be carefully considered and resolved in order to establish a strong, effective process and agreement.

A Hybrid Approach

In the past, there have been two general models on the table for countries’ reduction commitments: One, where there is very strong international guidance and rules along with negotiated commitments of what action countries will take. And two, where countries “pledge” what they can do and periodically report on their progress. According to WRI analysis, the solution for a 2015 agreement lies somewhere in the middle. This hybrid approach would take the best of both worlds. The process for submitting national offers would provide international rules and guidance that address ambition, equity, transparency, and review. However, the commitments would be based upon national offers, linking the international agreement much more closely to domestic debates and national circumstances, thus ensuring the implementation of the agreement.

There are many questions and options for how such an approach could be designed. WRI identified three key areas of focus, as well as important questions to ask for each one.

Content of the Offers

One of the central questions of this round of negotiations is how the international community can create an agreement that is fair and keeps global average temperature below 2 degrees C, thus preventing the worsening impacts of climate change. Should there be a negotiated range of ambition that countries must adhere to, or should each country be able to put forward what it thinks it can do and then hope the collective emissions reductions achieve the 2-degree target? Or is there a middle option?

What kind of information should be included in the offers so that they can actually be understood by other countries and the public at large? In the lead up to COP 16 in Copenhagen, there was no international guidance on submitting national emissions-reduction goals. Each country put forward its offer with varying information. Should there be a more systematic way of submitting offers this time around? If so, what types of information should be provided? (Read our paper for more details on the different levels of detail and scope of information that could be included.).

Timing and Process for Submitting Offers

The offer submission process will need to consider who is submitting the offer and when it should be submitted by. These two questions convey the tension between participation from all countries and securing ambitious offers.

On the one hand, negotiators decided that the 2015 agreement will be “applicable to all.” However, countries vary in their financial and technological capacities, as well as their historical and current emissions levels. It is not clear that every country should have to participate in the offer and commitment process in the same way.

Equally important to the process for submitting new offers is timing. When, exactly, should offers be made? Negotiators should consider the timing of existing reporting and review processes that have already been established by the COP—such as the international assessment and review and the international consultation and analysis. In addition, the capacity of some developing countries to put forward their offers may affect the timing in which they do so. Yet, if countries—whether developed or developing—wait too long to make their first offers, there will not be enough time for an adequate discussion and consultation, nor an opportunity to revise them before the international climate agreement is decided upon.

Reviewing the Offers

National offers must go through a review process, but how should they be reviewed by other countries and stakeholders? The review process will need to be transparent, facilitative, efficient, and cost-effective to encourage greater ambition and build trust among countries—but what exactly should it look like?
Negotiators must also consider how the review process can take advantage of or build on international processes and procedures already in place—such as the periodic review. But they also must think about what kind of review process should be created post-2015.

Countries and negotiators have the opportunity to create an international agreement in 2015 that can gradually usher in a low-carbon, climate-resilient world. But you can’t create a strong agreement with a weak foundation. An effective process for submitting national offers is a critical component for achieving fairness, equity, and ambition in international climate action. It’s important that negotiators make significant headway on these discussions in Warsaw next month and continue to build on this progress over the next two years.