Paris Climate Change Conference

History was made in Paris on 12 December 2015 when the Paris Agreement was adopted at the international Climate Change Conference, COP21. Following many years of intense negotiations, all countries made a commitment to creating a more climate-friendly global economy. This is a historic milestone, as up to then only a few industrialised countries were committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

It was already clear at the start of the conference that the international community was taking the threat posed by climate change very seriously. Over 150 heads of state and government travelled to Paris for the opening of the conference and signalled the unconditional willingness of the international community to jointly find a solution to the threat posed by climate change. The German government was represented by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller.

The delegations negotiated intensively for two weeks and laid the foundation for a new era of international climate action. The Paris Agreement sends a clear signal for a fundamental shift and calls for economic practices that respect the ecological boundaries of our planet. Fittingly, the international community also adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015.

Unlike under the Kyoto Protocol, almost all countries of the world have set national climate targets. By ratifying the agreement, countries are now committed under international law to undertaking measures to achieve these targets. Another important component of the Paris Agreement is that poorer countries will be supported in the implementation of their climate action measures both financially and through technology transfer.

The respective nationally determined contributions are defined by the countries themselves and were not subject to the negotiations. However, the agreement lays down a commitment for all governments to submit new targets every five years, which must be considerably more ambitious than the previous targets. A committee to monitor implementation and rules on transparency will ensure compliance with national targets.

In future, all countries will regularly meet to review and take stock of progress which can be achieved. The ball is then in the governments’ court as each country must submit new, increasingly ambitious targets every five years. The current commitments will not be enough to slow down global warming. The goal is to limit the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Paris is just the beginning: It gives all market players a long-term and reliable guide for achieving this necessary transformation. The coming period must now focus on implementing the decisions taken in Paris - both at international and national level.

1. The Paris Climate Agreement

The world has changed considerably since the Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992. In 1990, industrialised countries were responsible for two thirds of global emissions, today they are still responsible for about half and in 2020, two thirds of global emissions will be attributed to developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, which has regulated the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions so far, is no longer sufficient. The protocol only sets out legally binding mitigation commitments for the EU and a few other industrialised countries, which today represent less than 15 percent of global emissions.

The key outcome of Paris is an agreement that will enter into force in 2020 and sets out legally binding mitigation commitments for all countries. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) has been preparing the agreement since 2012. The Paris agreement incorporates mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to climate change, financial support for developing countries, technology, capacity building and transparency in relation to climate action and support measures. Many countries particularly affected by climate change are also calling for climate related loss and damage to be included in the new agreement.

One particular challenge of the negotiations will be to find the right balance between these issues. The negotiating text for Paris includes different options for all of these areas. The goal in Paris was to agree on a set of those options that will create the balance desired by all countries.

Germany and the EU laid down their goals for the agreement in the European Council conclusions of 18 September 2015.

The Paris agreement, first and foremost, sends a clear signal to the world that a transformation is being launched towards more climate-friendly and climate-resilient development. The two-degree limit were translated into realistic goals to be implemented by individual stakeholders, for instance in companies. The wording preferred by Germany "decarbonisation over the course of this century", which was laid down in the final document of the G7 summit in Elmau, and the EU's preferred formulation "sustainable climate neutrality" are increasingly being met with approval in negotiations.

The INDCs are not yet sufficiently ambitious to comply with the two-degree limit. Therefore, the agreement needs to be structured dynamically so that the international community comes together at regular intervals (every five years) and reviews where they stand in relation to the two-degree target. Every country will then determine their contributions for the next period based on this information. Furthermore, there should be provisions stipulating that for future periods every country needs to maintain at least the same level of ambition as in the current period.

Agreeing on additional mitigation measures up to 2020 and reviewing the level of ambition of the targets for 2030 before the Paris agreement enters into force will also increase the possibility of compliance with the two-degree goal. To determine the global level of ambition and comprehend how far countries have come in implementing their contributions, Paris needed to produce a uniform and robust framework for transparency (reporting and verification) and a set of rules on how to determine emissions and avoid double counting.

Such a framework that is flexible enough to take into account the different capabilities of countries increases confidence that countries are not alone in their efforts, and it helps to raise the level of ambition. Targeted support should be given to developing countries for capacity building.

Germany is advocating an internationally binding agreement which includes the targets of each country to ensure the highest possible degree of binding force.

2. Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)

All countries must submit their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) before COP21 in Paris. The process was decided on in 2013 at COP19 in Warsaw. A year later, at COP20 in Lima, it was also agreed what information countries should include in their INDCs to make them transparent and comparable. As of 16 November 2015, INDCs were submitted by 162 countries to the UNFCCC Secretariat (including from the EU and its 28 member countries).

These countries represent over 90 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The extent and scope of these joint global climate action efforts is unique in the history of global climate policy. It shows the willingness of the international community to do more for climate action. Emissions would be considerably higher over the coming decades without the INDCs, thus we will see a significant reduction with their implementation. However, there is still some way to go in order to comply with the two-degree target.

3. Finance and technology

Priorities for many of our negotiating partners are support for adaptation to the consequences of climate change, incorporating loss and damage into the Paris agreement, technological and financial support for mitigation and adaptation and capacity building. Germany is clearly standing by its responsibility to provide climate finance for poor and particularly vulnerable countries, and this will remain the case for the future and beyond 2020.

Climate finance needs to be anchored in the new agreement in such a way as to dynamically raise the level of ambition for mitigation and adaptation and create the framework conditions for a global transformation. To achieve this, all countries need to work together. To successfully redirect global investment flows from "brown" to "green" investments, appropriate national and international policies need to be created and all countries must actively contribute to this process. Paris must therefore deliver ambitious agreements on climate finance.

4. Lima-Paris Action Agenda

The agreement will be accompanied by concrete announcements of ambitious measures for the period up to 2020, which is when the new agreement will come into effect. If we don't take immediate measures, we will be unable to embark on an emissions path compatible with the two-degree limit after 2020. Measures taken at national level that already have proved successful will be showcased and strengthened. To facilitate this, the French COP Presidency has launched the Lima-Paris Action Agenda with a plethora of new climate initiatives.

Specific days of the Climate Change Conference will be dedicated to mitigation initiatives, for instance in the area of buildings, transport and agriculture. Renewable energies, energy efficiency and forest conservation will also be on the agenda. Furthermore, cities, companies and other non-governmental players will present their contributions to climate action. December 5 will be the Action Day at COP21. During Action Day, high-level political representatives will showcase particularly transformative initiatives and send a decisive signal with the joint statement: We cannot afford to wait any longer - we need climate action now!

Negotiations on a post-2012 climate agreement

The international community agreed to launch negotiations on the post-2012 international climate regime based on the Bali Action Plan adopted at the COP13 in Bali in 2007. Several rounds of negotiations took place in 2008 and 2009. Germany's and the EU's goal for these negotiations was to adopt a legally binding agreement for all countries for the time after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Discussions took place in two working groups: the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG KP) negotiated future reduction commitments of industrialised countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) negotiated emission reduction contributions of all countries, including the US and the major emerging economies.

No breakthrough at the Copenhagen climate change conference

Pursuant to the schedule adopted in Bali, the negotiations on the post-2012 climate regime were to be concluded at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in December 2009. However, following very difficult negotiations, COP 15 only achieved a political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, which lists some key elements of future climate policy. The Accord is not binding and was only taken note of by the meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Gemany's and the EU's aim to adopt a new comprehensive and legally binding post-2012 climate agreement was not achieved. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction. To date, more than 141 countries (including the EU member states) have expressed their formal support for the Copenhagen Accord. Several industrialised and developing countries have submitted specific emission reduction targets for 2020. The Copenhagen Accord was brought to the fore once again at the next Climate Change Conference in Cancun (see below).

It was also decided in Copenhagen that the negotiations in the two parallel working groups should be continued until the next Climate Change Conference in Cancun.

United Nations proves ability to act: Climate Change Conference in Cancun in 2010

The Climate Change Conference (COP 16) in Cancun, Mexico, took place from 29 November to 10 December 2010. Despite difficult negotiations, a package of decisions was adopted at the end of the two-week conference, namely the Cancun Agreements. These lay down the contents of the Copenhagen Accord in the form of United Nations decisions, and in some cases also go beyond them. It was the first time that a UN decision recognised the two-degree target. The Cancun Agreements recorded the reduction pledges made by industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries. In addition, the agreements defined a work programme for reporting and verifying mitigation measures in industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries, thus increasing transparency. The Cancun meeting also saw the establishment of a new fund, the Green Climate Fund. The parties also agreed on structures for assisting developing countries and emerging economies with adaptation to the impacts of climate change, forest conservation and the deployment of climate-friendly technologies. Under Mexico's excellent presidency, the international community demonstrated its ability to act on international climate policy in Cancun. However, the Cancun conference was unable to answer the key political questions on the legal form of the future climate agreement and the role of a second commitment period.

The international breakthrough in Durban in 2011

The 2011, negotiations in Durban (South Africa) saw the adoption of the Durban Package, which can be seen as a milestone in international climate policy.

In Durban, the international community agreed that all countries – industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries – will be obliged in future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under either a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force. A new working group on the Durban Platform (ADP) was established to coordinate the necessary negotiations on a legal agreement to be adopted by 2015, which is intended to enter into force by 2020.

The establishment of the ADP put an end to the division of the world into industrialised countries, which are obliged to reduce emissions, and developing countries and emerging economies whose commitment was limited to voluntary activities. Until the future agreement enters into force in 2020, a working programme will be established by the ADP to raise the global level of ambition for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, the parties decided in Durban on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol from 1 January 2013 onwards. Unresolved issues such as the length of the second commitment period were to be addressed at the following conference in Doha.

The parties also implemented the decisions taken in Cancun on the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund provides financial support and advice to assist developing countries in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the negative impacts of climate change, which often strongly affect these countries. The international community agreed to mobilise 100 billion US dollars each year from 2020 for international climate action. The Federal Republic of Germany applied to host the headquarters of the Fund in Bonn, however, South Korea won the bid in October 2012 and the headquarters is now located in Incheon City.

Climate Change Conference in Doha 2012: short-term solution and long-term outlook

After much contention, the UN climate negotiations in 2012 in Doha (Qatar) succeeded in finding a short-term solution to the most pressing problems and in paving the way towards a long-term international climate policy.

The Parties to the Kyoto Protocol extended the Protocol by agreeing on a second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. It was also confirmed that the rules laid down in the Kyoto Protocol would still apply during the transitionary period until the climate agreement, which enters into force in 2020. According to Germany and the EU, the rules of the Kyoto Protocol should serve as the foundation for the new climate agreement. Whilst the countries participating in the second commitment period are responsible for less than 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision showed that there is a group of countries prepared to drive climate action forward on an international scale. In addition to this, the climate change conference added significant milestones to be reached to the time plan for the negotiations on the new agreement.

Germany drives forward the climate negotiation process – the fourth Petersberg Climate Dialogue

Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and his Polish counterpart Marcin Korolec invited some 35 ministers from all regions of the world to participate in the fourth Petersberg Climate Dialogue from 5 to 7 May 2013.

The goal of the dialogue was to facilitate informal discussions on key issues in international climate policy. It served to support the UN climate negotiations to lend greater momentum to international climate action. Under the motto "Shaping the Future", the ministers participated in an exchange in preparation for the next UN Climate Change Conference. One of the key topics focussed on was shaping the new climate agreement due to be valid for all countries from 2020. The main area of conflict was the issue of how to lay down reduction commitments in the agreement and how much each country would contribute.

The Petersberg Climate Dialogue was, as were previous rounds of negotiations in Bonn, dominated by the discussion on how the demands for nationally determined commitments (bottom-up) can be brought in line with science-based requirements (top-down) oriented towards keeping within the two-degree limit.

Consensus was also reached on the fact that even before the new climate agreement is adopted, more climate action needs to be taken to ensure compliance with the two-degree limit. Many countries such as Great Britain, China and South Korea highlighted the positive side effects of more climate action, for example clean air, promoting innovation, more jobs etc. Some countries shared their positive experiences arising from the development of long-term, macroeconomic climate action strategies.

The topic of increasing private sector involvement in reducing emissions led to a lively discussion. Many ministers commented that clear, long-term political signals are important for the private sector to be able contribute more to climate action. However, such political signals cannot be implemented without pressure from the public - thus several ministers stressed the importance of communication with the wider public.

International climate negotiations in 2013

The next UN Climate Change Conference took place in Warsaw (Poland) at the end of 2013 and was an important step on the path towards adopting the new agreement in 2015. The meeting in the Polish capital was used to determine the frame and scope of the new agreement.

The goal of the German Government and the EU for the international climate process remained unchanged: the conclusion of a comprehensive legally binding climate agreement limiting the average global rise in temperature to two degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels.