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, COP 21. 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 obligated to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

It was already clear at the start of the conference that the international community took 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 natural boundaries of our planet. To this end, the international community also adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015.

In contrast to the situation under the Kyoto Protocol, almost all countries of the world have now 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.

Each country's nationally determined contributions are defined by the country itself and were not subject to 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 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 two degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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

The entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4 November 2016, following a ratification process of unprecedented swiftness, is a sign that this will be the case. Timely implementation will bring the agreement to life.

1. The Paris Climate Agreement

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992. The world has changed fundamentally since then. In 1990, industrialised countries produced around 60 percent of global emissions - today they produce only around 30 percent. In 2030, around three-quarters of annual global emissions will be generated by developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, which has regulated limits on greenhouse gas emissions so far, is no longer sufficient. It only legally binds the EU and a few other industrialised countries to emissions reductions and covers less than 15 percent of global emissions.

The Paris Agreement is the first climate instrument to include all countries in the commitment, binding them under international law to submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and take steps to implement them. The agreement does not revolve exclusively around emissions reductions, either. Approaches for adapting to climate change were also adopted in Paris. The international community will support developing countries with financing and technology and provide assistance in building up knowledge and expertise and in addressing climate-related damage. These countries will also receive help so that they can comply with reporting requirements related to climate measures and support. The Paris Agreement also contains comprehensive provisions on forest conservation and establishes new templates for international cooperation on carbon markets.

The parties also agreed joint targets that are to be achieved through the agreement. Global warming is to be held to a rise of less than two degrees Celsius in comparison to pre-industrial levels, ideally less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Through their inclusion in the Paris Agreement, these limits are laid down in an international treaty for the first time. In order to achieve this target, by the second half of the century, greenhouse gas emissions cannot exceed the amount that can be sequestered from the atmosphere by carbon sinks such as forests. This is called greenhouse gas neutrality and it can only be achieved if the world economy reduces its carbon output swiftly and successfully – becoming "carbon-free". The agreement also aims for countries to improve their ability to adapt to climate change and to align global finance flows with climate action, increasing resilience to climate impacts.

The question remains, who exactly will take on which obligations? This was one of the key questions in Paris and was the subject of intense negotiation. Ultimately, the inflexible divide between developed and developing countries, which no longer fits today's changed economic conditions, was successfully bridged. The Paris Agreement is based on a principle of nuanced differentiation. This means handling individual topics in different ways and giving greater attention to the varying circumstances of individual countries. Thus, for example, developed countries must continue to provide developing countries with financial and technological support in climate action. But other countries are also called on to help if they are in a position to do so. 

2. Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)

Almost all countries submitted their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) under the agreement over the course of 2015. The agreement requires all countries to prepare, publicly announce and implement these INDCs. The requirement applies to developed countries as well as developing countries and emerging economies. In Paris, it was already clear that the nationally determined contributions made up to that point would not be enough to stay below the upper limit on warming of two degrees Celsius. Because of this, a new deadline was set for 2020. Countries can update or add new measures to their contributions, which cover the time period until 2025 or 2030. In future, countries must update their nationally determined contributions every five years, applying the "progress principle", meaning that updated contributions must be more ambitious than their predecessors. Two years in advance of the resubmission of national contributions, there will be a global review of whether the total contributions will achieve the targets of the agreement. This global stocktake will make it transparent whether all governments, together, are on track in the areas of mitigation, adaptation and support. In 2018, the first part of this process, called the facilitative dialogue, will take place. The focus will be on progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2023, in addition to this, successes in adaptation to climate change and in supporting other countries will be reviewed for the first time. The findings of the facilitative dialogues are then to be taken into account when countries draw up their next round of nationally determined contributions.

It is not easy to establish a global level of ambition and measure the contributions of individual countries against it. Because of this, in Paris, each country agreed to provide information about its status and progress. This information will then be reviewed by an international body. Reporting and review will be carried out on the basis of standardised guidelines for developed and developing countries, which are to be drawn up by 2018. The new transparency system is intended to replace the existing two-tiered system under which developing countries only had limited obligations to submit data. In future, these special rules will continue to apply only to countries that receive assistance with capacity building – and only temporarily. The goal is to be able to compare mitigation measures and financing, thereby creating trust and a basis for applying pressure in cases of non-compliance.

An independent committee was set up in Paris that will monitor and support compliance with the agreement, similar to credit rating agencies in finance. Even though the committee will likely not be authorised to impose hard sanctions, the committee's actions will have a strong impact on the reputation of countries at international level. Reputation is a valuable asset – ultimately, governments want to be seen as trustworthy partners within the international community. The committee's specific powers and mechanisms are to be negotiated soon.

3. Finance and technology

Important decisions on the topic of financing were also taken at the Paris Climate Change Conference. Global warming can only be limited to a rise of less than two degrees Celsius or even less than 1.5 degrees Celsius if global financial flows are redirected. Both public and private investments must support the implementation of the agreed climate targets. This is one of the key objectives of the Paris Agreement: making financial flows consistent with the transformation towards a climate-friendly world that is resilient to the negative impacts of climate change. Public climate financing is vital in this context. The Paris Agreement continues to hold developed countries accountable for supporting developing countries in the implementation of their climate measures. But other countries are also encouraged to contribute on a voluntary basis. Many emerging economies are making funds available in the framework of South-South cooperation in order to support climate measures in poorer developing countries. In addition to public climate financing, regulatory measures and economic incentives are an important tool for mobilising more funds for climate action. The Paris Agreement refers to this as a global effort, in which all countries should play a part, with developed countries taking a leading role once again. These additional funds should support both mitigation and adaptation measures.

The decisions made in Paris update and extend an agreement made by the developed countries in 2009. The countries had declared themselves willing to mobilise 100 billion USD annually for climate finance until 2020. This commitment is now extended to 2025. After 2025, a new, higher target for mobilisation of financial resources will be set. With regard to financing, a reporting obligation is in place for the developed countries, and other countries are also encouraged to report on funds mobilised or made available for climate finance.

In Paris, the governments also strengthened provisions related to technology development and transfer for both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. In future, the needs of developing countries must be more precisely examined. Cooperation should start in the early phases of the technology cycle and should be transparent.

Developing countries with weak administrative structures will receive special support so that they can handle the stricter requirements, for example in the area of reporting, and can successfully plan and carry out mitigation and adaptation measures.

4. Adaptation and coping with climate-related loss and damage

The contracting parties want to intensify individual and joint efforts to insulate development from the impacts of climate change. In particular, the most vulnerable developing countries and island states require support in this. Worldwide adaptation efforts are being prepared and their effectiveness is being reviewed. The international community will scale up cooperation in various areas such as weather monitoring.

Addressing loss and damage caused by climate change is set out in a dedicated article of the Paris Agreement, fulfilling a request from especially vulnerable countries. Countries are to expand and build up their cooperation in organising comprehensive risk management. For instance, under the agreement, proposed solutions for handling populations displaced due to climate change are to be developed. Beyond this, an information platform for climate risk insurance is to be established. The insurance must also financially protect people with low incomes against climate-related crop failures. However, the new provision does not offer developing countries an option to claim compensation or hold anyone liable for the impacts of climate change. Other existing international law remains unaffected.

5. Lima-Paris Action Agenda

Successful climate action requires a comprehensive transformation, in which everyone plays a part. Other stakeholders besides countries and governments should support the process, and the Lima-Paris Action Agenda was created to facilitate this. The agenda acts as an umbrella for a broad range of measures taken and targets set by individual companies engaged in climate action. It also encompasses many initiatives and players that are already experiencing success in climate action. This efflorescence of new, ambitious ideas complements nationally determined contributions and makes them more tangible.

During the conference in Paris, action days dedicated to specific themes were held for these initiatives; for example, one was held for the area of buildings, transport and agriculture. Renewable energies, energy efficiency and forest conservation were also on the schedule. Regions, cities, businesses and other non-governmental stakeholders showcased their contributions to climate action. Germany was actively involved in these action days. The German government supports, among other initiatives, the international agricultural initiative 4pour1000, the transport initiative MobilizeYourCity and a project on energy efficiency in buildings called the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. The United Nations website provides an overview of the many initiatives.

The networks that have sprung up as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda must be strengthened in future. For this reason, events dedicated to similar themes and including high-level participation will take place at future Climate Conferences. At these events, successful strategies will be presented and the further development of initiatives will be discussed.

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.