Concrete emissions pledges ‘not a priority’ for 2015 climate deal – UN official

2015 climate deal unlikely to demand specific reduction pledges, and will cut emissions ‘bottom-up’, says top UN official

Pic: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto

By Sophie Yeo

A UN climate change agreement scheduled for 2015 is unlikely to contain specific emissions reductions pledges, a senior UN figure has admitted.

Speaking to journalists ahead of a speech at Imperial College on Tuesday, Halldor Thorgeirsson, Director for Implementation Strategy at the UN’s climate change body, said that getting the finer details of how the various parties would cut their emissions was “not a priority” for the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris.

Instead, it would focus on achieving greater clarity and accountability on how to tackle climate change from 2020 onwards.

“We would aim to get on the table in Paris numbers at a high level of abstraction, not necessarily having all of the details worked out, because if you try to do that then you risk running out of time,” he said.

The 2015 COP, which is hoped will provide a legally binding framework through which emissions will be reduced globally, faces the twin challenges of delivering a solution which works quickly and has an enduring impact – a combination which means any proposal must be politically acceptable, as well as offering strategies for quick domestic reductions.

Acknowledging the difficulties of delivering a framework which will be adopted long term by all parties, Thorgeirsson said: “It can’t be outdated the day after Paris, so it needs to be capable of dealing with this challenge of managing the climate system over time.”


The action offered up at Paris is likely to emerge from a bottom-up approach, with parties putting what they are prepared to offer on the table at the negotiations.

There have been concerns from some parties that such an approach will act as a loophole for countries like the US to escape its historic responsibilities to redress the worst impacts of climate change, and the EU continues to push for a top-down, legally binding deal.

“There is no appetite for basically negotiating on the table the content of national obligations in the new agreement. The new agreement will be based on nationally determined obligations,” said Thorgeirsson.

Such an approach shows the urgency of persuading all states to sign up to the eventual deal. A more bottom-up approach is broadly in line with the ‘pledge-and-review’ system proposed by the US – although, Thoreirsson added, any commitments must not be purely voluntary, and there must be a high level of scrutiny to ensure that everybody makes a fair contribution.

Civil society

He added that, although the UNFCCC and its parties had so far failed to deliver definite action in the past, one needed to be careful in adhering to a too narrow definition of success.

Such a bottom-up approach, driven by civil society, could be effective in driving forward effective action on climate change, and would hopefully be driven by pressure from the UNFCCC at the top.

The solution to climate change cannot be expected to be delivered at one conference, he said, and the renewed focus on a bottom-up approach reflects instead a better understanding of “how decisions that affect climate are actually made in the real world.”

He said: “What is important when you think through the bottom-up dynamics is that most of the drivers of policy change are not in the narrow sense climate drivers.

“In other words, an obligation in an international forum on climate will not necessarily change the way we design cities. The desire of people to live in more livable cities will change the way cities are designed, and that will have a reflection on climate.

“The reason why the bottom up is so important is that that’s how things get done.”

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