We’re now entering the final, significant stages of negotiations leading up to the major climate summit in Paris in December known as COP21, where countries will reach a new international climate agreement. There are now two week-long negotiating sessions remaining before Paris; the first takes place next week in Bonn, Germany. What issues will negotiators face and what needs to happen at the Bonn meeting?

Fortunately, recent developments – both in the negotiating process and politically – can help to generate forward movement. The co-chairs of the negotiating process for the Paris agreement produced a document laying out a possible structure for the negotiating text, which they have called a tool to facilitate negotiations. This new document, circulated in July, cuts through much of the clutter and creates a more coherent structure and options for the text than had been on the table.

Negotiators can use this to distinguish between which elements would go in a core legal agreement at Paris, and which would instead be incorporated in a more detailed decision document to be adopted by the COP separately. To do so, the tool includes three sections: proposed core legal text, proposed text for a separate COP decision, and a section where more discussion is needed to decide placement. The negotiators will need to wade through complicated text and numerous options, and the new tool will help define what decisions and options must be faced.

Meanwhile, a recent informal meeting in Paris of about 40 environment ministers has helped shape the political landscape. A French government summary of that meeting noted that ministers made progress on agreeing that countries should review their progress together every five years, though there was apparently not yet clarity on whether countries would also seek to ramp up their climate efforts at those milestones.

Next week’s Bonn session offers a better negotiating environment than the last such meeting in mid-June. But time is extraordinarily tight between now and the Paris meeting. Negotiators will have to stay focused and make steady progress in further clarifying which elements of the text should go into the core agreement and which into the COP decision document, and identifying issues where there is convergence among country positions.

The recent suggestions for the agreement put forward by the ACT 2015 consortium offers a clear picture on how the text and the issues could be organized. Key issues that countries need to focus on include:

  • putting in place “cycles of improvement” for ramping up action on a regular schedule, e.g. every five years,
  • establishing long-term goals for both mitigation and adaptation,
  • building effective systems for transparency and accountability
  • setting in motion the long-term shift in finance and investment needed to accelerate global climate transformation for both mitigation and adaptation.

Beyond the specific issues, in Bonn it will also be essential to build trust among the negotiators so that progress can accelerate in this session and the following one in October. This is essential so that countries can successfully make final decisions in Paris. Negotiators will especially need to agree on a process for taking the negotiations and the negotiating text forward.

If negotiators can create that kind of positive atmosphere during the week ahead, it can help build momentum for progress at other upcoming international climate-related events. These include the UN General Assembly and the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York in late September where countries will adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – including issues relating to climate change –and where world leaders will gather to discuss the Paris agreement. And in early October, finance ministers and others will gather at the World Bank/IMF meetings in Lima, Peru, where many will discuss key climate finance issues.

The opportunity to make progress is sitting directly in front of leaders and policymakers. What they need to – and can – do now is to put us on a clear pathway to an ambitious, effective outcome in Paris.