Climate change negotiations 101


About the UNFCCC:

The United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international tool that was developed in 1992 as a result of Rio earth summit, to address the need for joint action to combat climate change. Since then countries join each other in an international high level meeting known as the Conference of Parties (COP) to negotiate a solution for climate change issue, as a result a protocol for emission reduction was developed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. Kyoto protocol was ratified by most of the UNFCCC participating countries which made it enter to force and resulted in the first commitment period between the years 2008 and 2012. According to the protocol, countries should reduce 5% of their 1990 emissions levels in average, and countries are divided into Annex I parties and Non-Annex I parties  in which Annex I parties are obligated to reduce emissions only while Non-Annex I were considered to be developing countries with low emissions and low responsibility. As the time pass on scientific community start to ring the alarm bill on the seriousness of climate change threat and that the reduction targets initiated by the Kyoto protocol are insufficient in order to save humanity from catastrophic climate change impacts and new ambitious reduction targets are extremely needed.

Through the last decades countries were not able to reach binding agreement with ambitious emissions reduction targets, on the other hand many steps toward reaching an agreement were taken. The first major step was in December 2007, countries delegates adopted a “roadmap” called the Bali Action Plan to initiate a new negotiating process and aims at long-term cooperative action beyond the first commitment period of Kyoto that ends 2012. The next step was in 2009; producing the “Copenhagen Accord” which contained new mitigation targets but without being legally binding for all parties, followed in 2010, over 140 countries indicated support for the Accord, and more than 80 countries also provided information on their national mitigation targets or actions. Following the progress in Copenhagen the Cancun Agreements were in 2010 and stated for the first time in the history of climate change negotiation that there is a need to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C and to keep the global long-term goal under regular review, but without a clear view of the way to reach that goal.

Negotiation continued in November 2011 and Durban, South Africa was the place for that international gathering. In Durban, parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed on a second commitment period to begin in 2013.Moreover, delegates agreed that a new agreement that is legally binding and involve the efforts of all countries under the convention would be finalized by 2015, and enter into force by 2020, that resulted in launching a new Ad Hoc Working Group named the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) to achieve the target of new agreement under the convention applicable to all parties.

More information could be found in the links below:

UNFCCC COP18 (18th Conference of Parties) Doha, Qatar 2012: 

In the context of the UNFCCC negotiation process, the 2012 COP18 in Doha, Qatar came with great expectation to achieve many steps forward in the way for the new binding agreement that will be effective in 2020. However, no such achievements were reached and small steps were done in the helm of compiling the agreement before the end of 2015. In general the COP18 set the stage for next year negotiations in Warsaw, Poland in what could be considered small steps in the right direction, with many hanging issues to be resolved. The major results of the COP18 were the following:

–          Kyoto Protocol extension, the negotiations resulted the agreement on second commitment period which will start on January 1, 2013 for a duration of eight years, encompasses commitments for a total of 18% in emissions reductions compared to 1990 rising from 5% only in the first commitment period. Many developed countries have not signed up to the second commitment period including US, Japan, Canada and Russia. Countries that have signed up include the EU, Norway and Australia. Still the major challenge that faces the success of Kyoto successor is the classification of countries considering that the world changed enormously since 1992, the date that the negotiation started.

–          Conclusion of Bali Action Plan negotiation track which known as the long-term cooperative action (LCA), the conclusion of Bali Action Plan track and the Ad Hoc working group committed to work on it, signifies the failure of International community to agree on a comprehensive global agreement with more ambitious emission reduction targets to follow Kyoto. It is worth to know that the agreement should have been reached in Copenhagen in 2010 according to the Bali Action Plan.

–          Continue with the new negotiating track – the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), The ADP negotiation track started since Durban COP17 in 2011 and yet is under discussions and progress. Two major negotiation issues are under this track, the first is to reach the new agreement in 2015 that will be effective by 2020, and the second is to find a way to raise climate protection and financing ambitions in the crucial years between now and 2020. Small steps were achieved in this track but could be described as game changers, including the following:

  • Loss and damage mechanism to come in the future: for the first time in the history of negotiation, the negotiation focused on the inclusion of ‘loss and damage’ proposals within the outcome document. This term refers to the distribution of funds to vulnerable communities for the loss and damage caused by climate change. Whilst no international mechanism on loss and damage was set up in Doha, the possibility of setting one up in the future has been included in the future agreement.
  • Commitment to scale up climate finance: Developed countries have reiterated their commitment to scale up climate finance, mobilizing US$100bn per year by 2020, but practical commitments were scarce and few nations made any pledges that cover the period between 2013 and 2020. A number of European countries, including the UK, Germany, France and Denmark announced concrete finance pledges for the period up to 2015, summing approximately US$6bn. The lack of finance commitments plans in the period between 2013 and 2020 is not satisfying the developing countries hopes.

–          Introducing “gender balance” concept, under the principle of gender equality and recognizing the expertise of women, the negotiators discussed and agreed to introduce and apply the gender balance concept in future UNFCCC negotiations meetings. The decision includes the representation and participation of women in all committees, bodies, institutions and delegations, which imply on all formal delegations and observer organizations representatives gender ratio. Accordingly, all countries (as well as observer organizations) are to submit proposals by September 2, 2013, and commit to hold a workshop at the next COP to highlight this issue.

–          New alliance launched to help bring about behavioral change, the UNFCCC secretariat, together with FAO, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UNICEF, UNITAR and WMO, has launched the UN Alliance on Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness. The Alliance will support the new Doha work program on Article 6 of the Convention that deals with activities related to education, training and public awareness, as well as report regularly on these activities through an annual dialogue on Article 6.

The Doha negotiations achieved some advancement in many aspects, but until now it is clear that international communities’ lack of commitment including all nations is threating earth inhabitants agreed target in stopping warming to 2 C° levels. Accordingly, it is obvious that climate change negotiations in the next two years are so important in terms of reaching the long awaited agreement we all need that curbs climate change to levels tolerable by human beings.


By: Hussien Al-Kisswani

Climate Leader

Climate Reality project


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