The next four months could make or break a global warming agreement. We picked the key moments on the road to Paris
By Alex Pashley
Just four months remain until envoys from 195 countries descend on Paris to discuss what a treaty to tackle global warming should look like.
Officially there are just 10 days of UN brokered negotiations until the Paris summit kicks off. But that’s ignoring a huge level of diplomatic work bubbling beneath the surface.
Countries vying to strike a global warming agreement see this December’s summit as the culmination of an exhausting process rekindled from rock-bottom in Copenhagen in 2009.
No one wants to see a repeat of that meeting – which ended with bitter recriminations between some of the world’s major economies.
And that makes the next 120 days critical. Here are 11 pivotal events to make what the UN’s climate body calls the ’21st Conference of the Parties’ go the distance.
1. AUGUST 29-31: Alaska, Arctic ‘GLACIER’ meeting
The US president will accelerate his drive for a global climate pact at the two-day event in Alaska, building on the launch of his flagship carbon cutting policy, the clean power plan.
Foreign ministers from China, India, France, Russia, Japan, Germany and the EU will attend. According to a State Department note the meeting will focus on regional and international solutions to global warming, as well as efforts to boost global awareness of Arctic melt.
What does GLACIER stand for? Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience. Names like that is why State Department officials earn the big bucks.
2. AUGUST 31 – SEPTEMBER 4: Bonn, UN negotiations
The week-long session in Germany is the next iteration of the UN process, and its penultimate before Paris. On one level June’s gathering was a dud, advancing little on the negotiating text (here are 9 things we learned).
But – it did lay the groundwork for a new and tighter set of proposals. Last month the co-chairs produced a ‘streamlined’ version, giving a ‘clearer picture’ of a possible agreement. Much work and red ink remains.
The meeting is “critical”, says Harjeet Singh at ActionAid, where “the real negotiation on different options is going to happen.” Five days on delegates should be clearer what can be brokered before, and what can to be left for their political masters to hammer out under duress.
3. SEPTEMBER 6-7: Paris, Ministerial
Days after Bonn’s next session, ministers head to Paris for an informal meeting of ministers from about 50 countries with different bartering chips on the table.
A venture every two months by the French COP presidency, this meet will tease out the thorny issue of climate finance.
The event’s laid-back setting is a hit with attendees having candid discussions, a source in the French delegation tells RTCC.
Another is planned for November, which will serve as a “pre-COP” to the main event.
4. SEPTEMBER 11: Luxembourg, EU finance chiefs meet
The Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin), a forum of the EU-28 finance ministers, will discuss climate finance on request by the Luxembourg presidency of the European Council.
The tiny tax haven will propose what it terms a “toolbox” in the informal meeting, outlining how national development aid, green bonds and climate investment funds are used to bolster climate finance flows.
Without proven pathway to delivering a promised $100 billion of climate finance by 2020, rich countries will be in trouble come December.
5. SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 6: New York, UN General Assembly
A year on from an event boosted by the stardust of Leonardo Di Caprio and a huge climate rally, this time Pope Francis will address the massed governments before doing the same before the US Congress.
The UN will sign off on the Sustainable Development Goals from the 25th, while China’s president Xi Jinping is scheduled for a state visit to meet Barack Obama in Washington.
The leaders of the world’s top carbon emitters clinked glasses after announcing a joint agreement last year. This year should provide fewer fireworks, but work on common positions.
The Major Economies Forum will meet again on 29-30 September. The US-led initiative of 17 economies met in July. Here’s a run down of which big figures attended the event.
6. OCTOBER 1: Bonn, UN deadline to post national plans
Time’s up. So far 49 countries have delivered so-called “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) as part of a bottom-up strategy (see our Paris tracker).
Officials will then prepare a ‘synthesis report’ – a giant spreadsheet – examining their collective power in staying within a 2C temperature goal.
But myriad baselines and business-as-usual projections could blur the picture. Here’s why the INDCs are a mess and the UN should take charge.
7. OCTOBER 6-7: London, Oil and Money summit
Energy giants’ involvement in a global deal is essential. Several European majors came out backing a carbon price in May, writing to the UN’s climate chief and pledging their support for efforts to secure a global climate deal.
Chiefs of the world’s top hydrocarbon producers like Sinopec, Saudi Aramco, BP, Shell, Pemex and ENI are expected to use this event to reveal how they will contribute to a lower carbon future in their so-called Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.
8. OCTOBER 12-13, Rabat, EU-Morocco ‘INDC summit’
The EU will host a summit with Morroco to judge how effectively countries’ plans [known as INDCs] meet their mandates of reining in climate change.
An EU campaigning for this to happen within UN channels was thrown out by China at COP20 in Lima. Miguel Arias Canete, EU commissioner for energy and climate action, told RTCC in June the summit would not be “a punitive exercise which points its fingers at other countries”.
Still, Morocco’s environment minister Hakima El Haite says the meeting needs to offer clarity on what governments are putting forward. El Haite wants invited governments to explain how and why they decided on their goals, she told RTCC last month.
9. OCTOBER 19-23: Bonn, last ADP session
The last gathering of the clunky-titled Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action before Paris. The agenda here pivots on the pace of progress at September’s session.
Once this is concluded, only a small ‘pre-COP’ meeting stands between negotiators and the Paris summit.
10. NOVEMBER 15-16: Antalya, G20 leaders summit
The forum of the world’s most advanced countries comes to Turkey. Its smaller cousin, the G7, boomed with a pledge to decarbonise the global economy over the course of the century in July, driven by hosts Germany.
Still, the G20 is a different beast. It’s historically had an “allergic reaction to discussions around the UNFCCC,” says Liz Gallagher at think tank E3G.
But this time around it can make progress on reforming the financial system to factor in climate risk, fossil fuel subsidy phase-out and green infrastructure.
Climate finance will too take centre stage, moving forward on establishing which rich countries will put up the $100 billion a year expected by 2020 as demanded by poor nations.
11. NOVEMBER 27-29: Valletta, Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting
53 countries with links to the British Empire come together in Malta. ‘Adding global value’ may be the theme, but days before Paris, RTCC understands climate change will be high on the agenda.
China and the US will be absent, but Malta will draw the leaders of climate laggards Australia and Canada, along with three of the developing world’s biggest players: India, Nigeria and South Africa.
A large chunk are small islands states, like the Maldives, St Kitts and Nevis, and Tuvalu. Their leaders know that warming above 2C could mean their countries have no long term future, and are likely to lobby hard for an ambitious Paris deal.