The calm before the storm at COP21?

The calm before the storm at COP21?

By Elizabeth Buchan and Sabrina Marquant

It is midway through the second week of climate talks (also known as COP21) in Paris, which are expected to deliver a new international agreement on climate change that takes effect in 2020. The final landing zones of the remaining sticking points have the potential to dramatically alter how effective this agreement and its implementation are to avoid the dangerous consequences of climate change. These remaining elements will be frantically thrashed out by countries’ ministers and negotiating teams in the next couple of days.


On Wednesday afternoon, negotiations were taking place in a Comité de Paris format where parties negotiate behind closed doors and report back in a plenary, open to observers. We received a cleaner draft of the agreement text based on discussions in groups covering major themes described by COP21 President M. Fabius as “political and transversal” issues. This is the first version of the text since the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for enhanced Action (ADP) closed last Saturday and since the Comité de Paris process has been launched.

Since the Comité de Paris launched we have a certain feeling here at Le Bourget that everybody is quiet, seems happy, sending some love and support to the French Presidency. During the first plenary meeting of the Comité de Paris, some parties expressed directly their support for the COP21 President, highlighting the unusual, more peaceful atmosphere over the negotiations.

But what hides this seemingly calm vibe at Le Bourget?

As we mentioned, on Wednesday countries and observers received the text and are now analyzing – as countries, and regional and thematic coalitions – the differences between this text and the previous version. This is a complex exercise: it is not only comparing the two texts but also analyzing the inputs made during the different thematic groups during the last three days and seeing how the political will, positioning, bargaining and deals have been translated into outcomes. Parties and the groups based on the thematic group discussions are gave feedback in an open plenary on their perceptions of the new draft text Wednesday night.

There has been progress on compromising language on many challenging issues in the text. For example, there is a reference to limiting global average warming to 1.5-2C° which, if achieved, would save low island developing states from certain destruction. However, from the other side of closed doors, some of this “progress” seems too good to be true and it feels like the “calm before the storm.”

We are now at a critical juncture, the last issues on the table in the talks are the “big ticket” political items that we have not seen clear convergence and direction on. They include:

  • A meaningful mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change.
  • A pre-2020 plan for ambitious mitigation targets, and the mechanism to ratchet after 2020.
  • Mobilization of adequate finance for adaptation.
  • A clear signal for carbon markets anchored in environmental integrity.
  • The legal strength and applicability of the agreement.

As we write, we are watching the report back from the Presidency and expect some countries and coalitions to clearly express their political positions on the last remaining issues. Additionally, the next few hours are likely to be the final window of time for Non-Governmental Organizations to make the final push on their strategies for influencing the outcomes of the agreement.

We are likely to see the amplifying of the voices of some countries we haven’t heard that much since the start of this week.

Finally, in these last hours before a new agreement, we believe we will see more negotiation and tactical strategies for some countries, which have yet to play their last card. Hopefully the effect of these strategies will lead to an ambitious, equitable, inclusive climate change agreement, one with adequate support for countries vulnerable to climate change that will accelerate momentum toward a low-carbon and climate-safe world.

Elizabeth Buchan is a volunteer with CCL Australia and a delegate to COP21. Sabrina Marquant is a member of CliMates and a collaborator with Pathway to Paris.


Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.