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Progress towards a legally binding global climate agreement

UN negotiations have been under way since 2007 to agree on further climate action to be taken up to and beyond 2012. The negotiations have so far resulted in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the 2010 Cancún Agreements, the 2011 Durban utcomes, the 2012 Doha Climate Gateway, and a set of decisions agreed at the 2013 conference in Warsaw.

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These results represent progress, both in terms of promoting immediate action on the ground and as elements for the future global climate agreement for which the EU has long argued.

However, the action agreed to date is not sufficient to reduce global emissions to a level that can meet the goal of holding global warming below 2°C compared with the pre-industrial temperature.

New global agreement to apply from 2020

At the initiative of the EU and the most vulnerable developing countries, the Durban conference clarified the timetable for the introduction of a global legal framework covering all countries by agreeing that this will be adopted in 2015 and enter into force in 2020. The framework will take the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all Parties. Through this process, under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, the EU is pressing for a new protocol that is ambitious and legally binding.

Durban also decided that there will be a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The details were finalised at the Doha conference.

International arrangements until 2020

These decisions mean that, until the new global framework is implemented in 2020, the regime for international climate action will comprise the following elements (in addition to the existing rules of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change):

  • The commitments made (on emissions and financing), new institutions created and new rules agreed at the Copenhagen, Cancún, Durban, Doha, and Warsaw conferences. To date, more than 100 developed and developing countries have made voluntary emission reduction pledges for 2020. Though these pledges cover over 80% of global emissions, it has been acknowledged that they are not ambitious enough to put global emissions on a path that will hold global warming below 2°C.
  • The second Kyoto period. Thirty-eight developed countries, including the EU and its Member States, have taken on binding emission commitments. The second period covers around 14% of global emissions.

 In addition, under the Durban Platform ways are being explored to raise the level of ambition of global emission reductions for 2020. This work is relevant to all countries. The EU has set out several ways in which international ambition could be raised. The targets of countries taking part in the second Kyoto period will be revisited in 2014.

The following sections summarise the outcomes of recent UN climate conferences.

Copenhagen Accord 2009

The Copenhagen Accord is a non-binding document which was negotiated by the leaders of a group of some 30 major developed and developing countries in the final hours of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference. The Accord was not adopted as a UN decision but has been endorsed by over 140 UNFCCC Parties.

All key elements of the Copenhagen Accord were subsequently formalised as a UN decision in the 2010 Cancún Agreements, which also further strengthened the international climate regime in terms of institutional governance and action.

Cancún Agreements 2010

The key points of the Cancún Agreements are as follows:

Objective: hold warming below 2°C

The agreements acknowledged for the first time in a formal UN decision that global warming must be kept below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures. A review will be carried out in 2013-2015 to assess whether the goal should be lowered to 1.5°C, or some other level. A process was also established for defining a date for global emissions to peak and a global goal for substantially reducing emissions by 2050.

The Cancún Agreements anchored in a UN document the national emission reduction commitments for 2020 made so far. Cancún also recognised that these pledges are collectively not sufficient and that overall efforts need to be scaled up in order to stay below 2°C.

Increasing transparency

The transparency of national actions will be increased through stronger rules on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions and of climate finance. MRV is important for building trust by showing that Parties are delivering on their commitments.

Developed and developing countries alike will report on their national emission reduction efforts every two years. These reports will be reviewed at international level (through processes of 'international assessment and review' (IAR) for developed countries and 'international consultation and analysis' (ICA) for developing countries). This will help to assure the quality of the information provided, allow open exchanges between Parties and build mutual confidence that all countries are seriously engaging in action to mitigate their emissions.

Mobilising climate finance

 Cancún formalised developed countries' Copenhagen commitment to provide nearly US$30 billion in 'fast start' finance over the years 2010-2012 to help developing countries take immediate action to strengthen their resilience to climate change and reduce their emissions, including those from deforestation.

Donor countries were required to report annually to the UNFCCC on amounts spent and projects supported. They delivered more than the total originally pledged, with the EU and its Member States providing €7.34 billion over the 2010-2012 period.

For the longer term, developed countries have committed to mobilise climate funding for developing countries totalling $100 billion a year by 2020 from a variety of sources, in return for meaningful and transparent action by developing countries to tackle their emissions.

A Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing countries. The GCF is expected to be one of the major distribution channels for the $100 billion a year in long-term climate finance. A Standing Committee has been created to improve the coordination and mobilisation of climate funding.

Strengthening institutions

Further new structures and institutions were established to enhance the transfer of knowledge, technology and funds to developing countries in various fields:

  • The Cancún Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Committee: these help to strengthen the capacity of developing countries, in particular the most vulnerable, to prepare for and adapt to the consequences of climate change.
  • The Technology Mechanism: this includes a Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and a Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). The mechanism aims to enhance the development and transfer of low-carbon technologies.
  • Tropical deforestation: Cancún created a general framework for policy approaches and positive incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and invest in conservation, sustainable forest management and forest carbon stocks (an issue known as 'REDD+').

Durban Outcomes 2011

Besides the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action - the conference's central achievement - other decisions taken made the Cancún Agreements operational and built on them, for example by:

  • establishing a new market-based mechanism to enhance cost-effective action to reduce emissions, and
  • launching a process to consider climate issues related to agriculture.

Doha Climate Gateway 2012

Doha finalised details of the second Kyoto period and agreed a work plan for negotiations on the new global agreement and on raising ambition under the Durban Platform. See main outcomes.

The Doha conference also:

  • operationalised the Technology Mechanism established in Cancún by agreeing the governance arrangements for the Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Centre and Network;
  • launched a work programme to elaborate modalities and procedures for the new market mechanism established in Durban.

Warsaw decisions 2013

The Warsaw conference agreed a timeplan for countries to table their contributions to reducing or limiting greenhouse gas emissions under the new global climate agreement in 2015. It also agreed ways to accelerate efforts to deepen emission cuts over the rest of this decade, and to set up a mechanism to address losses and damage caused by climate change in vulnerable developing countries.

In addition, the conference agreed decisions which enhance the implementation of a range of measures already agreed, including climate finance, REDD+, and transparency of reporting on emissions.

See main outcomes.