Getting Specific on the 2015 Climate Change Agreement: Suggestions for the Legal Text with an Explanatory Memorandum offers a set of ideas for what the international agreement could look like in legal terms and therefore serves as a reference tool for decision-makers on the road to Paris.

Executive Summary

COP 21: A Pivotal Meeting

Since 2011, countries have been meeting regularly to negotiate a new international Climate Agreement, with the goal of adopting that Agreement at the end of 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Convention) in Paris. Climate change is now imminent. Changes in weather patterns including extreme weather events are impacting every nation on Earth, and impacts are being felt most severely by the poor and vulnerable. Many solutions are available and being implemented, but they are not yet being deployed at the scale or speed required to accomplish an orderly transition to a low-carbon, and climate-resilient economy. The 2015 Agreement in Paris represents a critical opportunity to send unambiguous signals that the world will shift its economic and social activity toward more climate-friendly and sustainable pathways.

The ACT 2015 Consortium

The Agreement for Climate Transformation (ACT) Consortium is an initiative that brings together a group of climate experts from around the world.1 Over the past two years, the consortium has convened a series of meetings with stakeholders representing multiple interests and geographic areas, in order to discuss and develop ideas that would inform the COP process. The consortium has also undertaken research and analysis to support these discussions. The result of this work is a suggested legal text for the 2015 Paris Agreement, which, it is hoped, will provide valuable input for consideration by stakeholders in the run-up to the meeting.

The suggested legal text takes account of the current negotiating text developed by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), but it goes further in attempting to reconcile many different viewpoints and strike a balance that will contribute to the development of a final Agreement that is fair, equitable and effective in realizing the goals of the Convention. The purpose of the suggested legal text is to provide ideas for the consideration by Parties.

Key Themes of the Suggested Legal Text

Long-Term Goals

The suggested legal text recognizes the intimate connections between mitigation, adaptation and support. It promotes a more holistic approach that reinforces the links among the three issues, and moves away from an approach centered only on mitigation. The approach is represented graphically below in figure 1.


In order to provide clear signals to government, the private sector, and the public that the low-carbon economy is not simply desirable, but unavoidable, the suggested legal text calls for the following:

  • A long-term mitigation goal to phase out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero as early as possible in the second half of this century.
  • A long-term adaptation goal to reduce the vulnerability and build the resilience of communities facing climate impacts. The goal should be achieved through collective actions of all countries.

Implementation of each of these goals would be based on “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” One interpretation of this could be different phase-out timeframes for developed and developing countries.

Five-Year Cycles of Continuous Improvement

The suggested text establishes three five-year cycles related to mitigation, adaptation and support. The cycles are intended to provide predictability by regularly assessing and strengthening countries’ actions to reduce emissions, adapt to climate change, and support low carbon growth in a manner that is fair, equitable and just:

  • Every five years, all countries shall commit to strengthening their nationally determined mitigation commitments, until the long-term mitigation goal is achieved. New or enhanced mitigation commitments shall be informed by an independent expert panel, which will promote ways to overcome barriers for enhanced actions and leverage mitigation potential. Enhanced existing or new economic instruments, market-based, and non-market-based mechanisms, will allow countries to cooperate in the implementation of their mitigation commitments.
  • Every five years, all countries shall submit statements concerning their adaptation efforts, and the Adaptation Committee will undertake a review of progress toward the long-term adaptation goal, identifying best practices at country or regional level, promoting mutual learning, and facilitating implementation and support. National Adaptation Plans will continue to play an important role, and these plans should take account of different temperature scenarios (temperature increases of 2°C, 3°C, or 4°C).
  • The support package comprises finance, increased capacity building, and technology development and transfer to support countries’ actions to achieve the long-term mitigation and adaptation goals. Every five years, there will be reviews for each element of the support package.
  • For each of these five-year cycles, countries will submit strategies concerning finance in order to catalyze a dynamic process for shifting and scaling-up finance. For all countries, these strategies will cover measures taken to improve national policy and institutional frameworks; for recipient countries, the strategies will project future financial needs and national investment plans; and countries providing and mobilizing finance will indicate plans and channels for scaling up the level of finance. The Standing Committee on Finance will review and make recommendations concerning the financing scale-up and shift underway and the financing needed.

Loss and Damage

The suggested legal text prepared by the consortium recognizes that, even with greatly enhanced global efforts on mitigation and adaptation, the adverse impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and/ or slow-onset events such as sea-level rise, are likely to cause loss and damage in some regions. The text therefore suggests that the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts under the Convention should serve as the platform, under the 2015 Paris Agreement, for enhanced cooperation on loss and damage. Its work shall be accelerated and also be regularly reviewed, starting with the outcome of the review of the mechanism in 2016.


The suggested legal text recognizes that countries are at different stages of development and proposes various ways to take account of different national circumstances and capabilities. Always consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and in light of their national circumstances, proposals include the following:

  • The focus of nationally determined commitments and efforts is balanced by the creation of a process to determine an equity framework that can more systematically inform climate negotiations in future cycles.
  • In light of different national circumstances, least developed countries and small island developing States shall have particular flexibility regarding the scope, stringency, form, type, and frequency of their mitigation commitments.
  • Developing country Parties, in particular the least developed countries and small island developing States, shall be eligible for support for the fulfillment of the Agreement’s requirements. Half of public finance shall be focused on adaptation.
  • In the measurement, reporting and verification framework, developing countries are permitted to implement provisions based on their different capabilities.
  • Competent international and non-governmental organizations, as well as subnational authorities, are encouraged to provide input to the five-year cycles, to encourage procedural equity.

Additional Cooperative Actions and Non-Party Actors

Countries that wish to go further faster are enabled to join together in joint agreements around specific issue areas. Cooperative actions can involve the participation of non-state actors as appropriate. Relevant international organizations and expert bodies outside the Convention are encouraged to take action in line with achieving the long-term mitigation and adaptation goals.

Transparency and Accountability

In order to ensure credibility and enhanced transparency, the suggested legal text calls for transparency and accountability to be enhanced as follows:

  • Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) provisions cut across all the elements of the Agreement and address mitigation, adaptation, and support.
  • All Parties aspire, over time, to converge in their efforts to collect and report the most robust and transparent data possible after 2020 and report in a common format after that point, in light of their respective national circumstances and capabilities.
  • Developing countries are enabled to participate fully in such an enhanced MRV framework, through the provision of additional financial support, capacity building, and technology development and transfer, as needed, in accordance with varying national circumstances.
  • The creation of a facilitative implementation mechanism, which promotes effective implementation with countries in need of additional action and helps to meet their commitments, thereby enhancing accountability under the Agreement.

The full text of the suggested legal text developed by the ACT 2015 consortium can be found after the introduction, below. It is accompanied by an explanatory memorandum that provides additional information on the aims and operation of the proposals presented in the legal text. It is also provided separately in an annex for reference.

Contributing Authors

  • Gilberto Arias
  • Amal-Lee Amin
  • Yamide Dagnet
  • Cynthia Elliott
  • Jose Alberto Garibaldi
  • Liz Gallagher
  • Therese Guiao
  • Heather McGray
  • Eliza Northrop
  • Railla Puno
  • Ernesto Roessing
  • Joe Thwaites
  • Dennis Tirpak
  • David Waskow