We Have a Climate Deal Analyses and Source Material on the COP21

This article used to be part of our ‘Roundup’ series. This type of article has been discontinued and has now been merged into our Insight articles.

Between  November 30th and December 12th 2015 representatives of 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened in Le Bourget, Paris, to negotiate an ambitious agreement to combat global climate change. With the objective of a legally binding universal agreement to cap worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global temperature increase to 2°C in this century, the nearly two-week long negotiation round resulted in the first serious commitment on combatting climate change since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Now that the negotiations are over and the deal has been extensively analysed, International Perspective presents a comprehensive overview of what happened and what is still to come.



The story of global climate change awareness and action starts with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the so-called ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The original Framework Convention included general commitments from signatory Parties to adress climate change by reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and differentiated between developed and developing Parties through “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

Extensive timeline of negotiations: http://www.eesi.org/policy/international

A quick overview of the most recent COP meetings:

Name Year Location What was decided?
COP1 1995 Berlin Parties agreed that original UNFCCC mechanisms were inadequate. Specific further commitments were agreed upon in the Berlin Mandate.
COP3 1997 Kyoto Unanimous agreement on legally binding emissions targets for developed parties in the Kyoto Protocol.
COP13 2007 Bali Agreement on the Bali Action Plan, the start of negotiations on targets after the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
COP15 2009 Copenhagen Failure, despite high expectations, to reach a binding agreement on emissions targets after Kyoto Protocol. Parties agreed on the need to limit global temperature increase to 2°C in the Copenhagen Accord.
COP17 2011 Durban Parties agreed on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, a framework to establish a new global emissions reduction protocol, the details of which to be finalised in 2015.
COP18 2012 Doha Agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol to a second commitment phase (2013-2020).


The COP21 in Paris was the culmination of a four-year long negotiation round, meant to develop a “fundamentally new course in the two-decade-old global climate effort”.

Source and more information: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

“We therefore have a historic responsibility  as we are the first generation to really become aware of the problem, and yet the last generation that can deal with it.”

Laurent Fabius,
France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs/Chair of COP21

“This needs to be a pivotal moment, a turning point if you will, for the global climate talks under the framework convention, as governments work towards a new, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.”

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC/Chair of COP21


Countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS)

In 2013 at COP19 in Warsaw parties agreed to voluntarily submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement well ahead of COP21. Each INDC indicates a set of mitigating goals, determined by the country itself, for a defined period commencing in 2020.

Eventually, more than 160 parties submitted INDCs, accounting for more than 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This helped raise confidence to reach an agreement in Paris.

Source and more information: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions



At the start of the negotiations an agreement seemed to be a futile hope. This, however, changed when a “High Coalition Ambition” was formed by the EU, uniting 79 African, Carribean and Pacific countries. Gradually, the major fossil fuel-dependent countries like the US, Canada, Brazil and Japan followed. This coalition heralded a break-up of the traditional fault lines between developing and developed nations, and paved the way for consensus.

 How the Paris climate deal got done

Deep in the legally binding part of the final draft agreement, Article 4, the text said wealthier countries “shall” set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas pollution , rather than “should”. The words may be interchangeable outside the negotiating rooms, but in U.N.-speak, “should” isn’t legally binding, while “shall” is. That would have forced U.S. President Barack Obama to submit the final deal to the Senate, where the Republican majority had promised to kill it.

Politico.eu, Kalina Oroschakoff, et al., 14 December 2015

“U.S. leadership was essential to delivering the deal. Through strong action at home, the United States showed it was prepared to do its part. Through dogged diplomacy abroad, it helped persuade China and others to do theirs, too. We must count on continued U.S. leadership in the months and years ahead to bring the Paris agreement into force, fulfill our commitments, and keep strengthening our national climate effort.”

Bob Perciasepe – President Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Source: C2ES

“With a small hammer you can achieve great things.”

Laurent Fabius, France’s minister of Foreign Affairs, jokes after ending the final session in a very rapid manner.

Paraphrased from: Politico.eu

5 Takeaways on the Paris Climate Deal

Meanwhile behind closed doors, older alliances like the G77 and China group of 134 developing countries and the BASICs (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) fell apart because of differing priorities. But it also took some last-minute wheeling and dealing among heavyweights like the U.S., China and India to finesse a compromise.

Politico.eu, Kalina Oroschakoff, et al., 12 December 2015


Euractiv presents the COP21 decisions at a glance. Check their original infographic!

  • National pledges to curb emissions
  • Keeping temperature rises well below 2°C
  • Long-term global goal for net zero emissions
  • Take stock every five years
  • Money to help developping countries
  • Financial loss and damage assistance
  • MISSING: aviation and maritime emissions
  • MISSING: still no price for CO2

EurActiv, 17 December 2015


Paris Agreement Text

There is a deal! “Should we therefore conclude cynically that the agreement is a dud? […] [N]o, if one considers the sheer novelty of an effort to cap global emissions and mitigate climate change. We have simply forgotten the magnitude and ambition of the task.”

Source: ECFR

Ambitious goal to keep temperature increase significantly below 2°C “The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celcius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsisu above pre-industrial levels. The 1.5 degree Celsius limit is a significantly safer defense line against the worst impact of a changing climate.”

Source: UN Climate Change Newsroom

5 year cycle of more ambitious climate plans for every Party “This legal review system, bolstered by rules designed to make sure countries calculate and publicly report their emissions in the same way, is critical to keeping countries accountable to their promises. It is weaker than the EU-championed option of making emissions reduction pledges legally binding, but that was nixed by the U.S.”

Source: Politico.eu

The public and the private sector are both in on it  

Over 6600 companies, cities, regions and investors have also committed to setting their own emission reduction goals. They do this via the online NAZCA portal, which was set up at the COP20 in Lima in 2014.

The agreement commits all parties The Kyoto Protocol included binding emissions targets only for developed countries/parties, listed in Annex I to the Protocol. Not all of these so called Annex I-countries subscribed to the binding targets of the Protocol, with the United States never having ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and Canada’s withdrawal in 2011. The Paris Agreement does bind all 196 parties to their commitments.
Most Parties have already submitted climate action plans through INDCs


The pledges are not legally binding “How fast the change happens, however, depends on whether countries start implementing new rules before the Paris agreement actually takes effect in 2020. It “invites” countries to start making the green shift and raise targets again 2018, but can’t require them.”

Source: Politico.eu

“At its core, the Paris Agreement is weak. The content falls far short of the soaring rhetoric from world leaders. It is a collection of piecemeal pledges and contains no legal obligation to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees – only to “pursue efforts” to do so.”

Source: Politico.eu

The pledges are insufficient “The emissions pledge pathway that includes INDCs has a over 90% probability of exceeding 2°C, and only a ‘likely’ (>66%) chance of remaining below 3°C this century. The current policy pathways have a higher than 99.5% probability of exceeding 2°C.”

Source: Climate Action Tracker

“The deal was hailed as the beginning of the end for fossil fuel industries and a strong signal to markets for green investment and innovation. But, despite the landmark deal, the promises given by countries to curb their emissions in the run-up to the COP21 will fall far short of the two degree goal. Even two degrees will have serious consequences for people and the environment.”

Source: Euractiv.com


A Launching Pad Agreement

But Paris should also be a turning point away from the unproductive business of making broad declarative goals that are largely divorced from the economics of achieving them. Paris shouldn’t be a milestone, but rather a launching pad for a new phase of productive, practical conversations about the economic politices that can most cost effectively shift the global energy mix.

Brookings, Bruce Jones, et al., 14 December 2015

“The agreement will be deposited at the UN in New York and opened for signature for one year on 22 April 2016. The agreement will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.”

Source: European Commission

COP 22 in Marrakesh, November 7, 2016

“There are many things that we have to deliver in COP22, in Marrakesh and other COPs, but here is the architecture and the design to build a house.”

Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, source: Policy Review

 “Developing countries have been asked to take this leap without firm commitment that will enable us to provide our fair share,”, she said. “We expect to come back to Morocco with substantial discussion on increasing the financial ambition pre-2020.”

Edna Molewa, South-Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, source: Politico.eu

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By | 2017-02-04T00:20:33+00:00 December 27th, 2015|Categories: Insight, Roundup|Tags: , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Hans Maes
Hans is a Belgian graduate of European Studies and History. His focus in international politics usually prominently features the European Union as a stakeholder in global affairs.

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