France plans climate harmony ahead of 2015 UN summit

Leading climate official Laurence Tubiana tells RTCC Paris 2015 conference is a step on the ladder, not the endgame

(Pic: UN Photos)

(Pic: UN Photos)

By Sophie Yeo

Laurence Tubiana wants the finale to the UN climate talks – taking place next winter in the Parisian suburbs, miles from the centre’s concert halls and cabarets – to resemble an orchestra. 

In May, the experienced government official was appointed to conduct France’s diplomacy efforts alongside foreign minister Laurent Fabius, guiding the UN’s 21st climate conference to a conclusion that won’t wreck the planet.

She chooses a musical analogy to explain the rather amorphous concept of success when it comes to the UN’s climate agreement.

“You have the cities and the regions and the business more involved than before,” she says, speaking to RTCC from the French capital.

“It’s like an orchestra. You have to write music that everyone can understand from outside, not being in the orchestra, so they know what kind of melody it is producing.”

For many, Paris will only be a success if it results in the CO2 reductions required to stop the world warming beyond 2C. This is what governments have set as their target, and the point at which scientists say the impacts of climate change could become catastrophic.

Some, such as the vulnerable small island states, continue to demand a 1.5C limit. They will almost certainly be disappointed: many observers now admit that even a 2C outcome is unlikely.

For those hammering out the UN deal, this means finding alternative markers of success, in order to avoid another flop like Copenhagen in 2009, the last time the world was promised a climate treaty.

“Certainly we have to work on what success means. It’s still very early,” says Tubiana.

Fresh challenge

This is not just a puzzle for climate communications teams trying to sell a less-than-2C deal.

The challenge is one for diplomats, who must try to tease out the opportunities in a new and unfamiliar rulebook which sets the boundaries for a new agreement in 2015, which would come into effect from 2020.

For the first time, every country will be required to contribute to a UN climate deal. These contributions will be driven domestically, instead of through a top-down process.

The agreement’s legal nature is still unclear. The EU wants a binding treaty, while the US government is pushing for a voluntary deal that will not require authorisation from Congress.

What is clear is that it will not only demand action from governments, but recognise the role of businesses, cities and the financial sector.

“In my vision, it is about this broader picture. The elements reinforce each other,” she says.

“It’s not only the the commitments, or a stable legal framework, but signals coming from other parts of the economic community, in particular the financial actors, the companies, cities and the regions.”

A failure to sign off a 2C deal does not cast the target into oblivion. Instead, the hope is that commitments to reduce emissions can be gradually ratcheted up over coming decades, giving nations a chance to acclimatise to their carbon-free economies.

“We know 2C is the target, but we know it’s a ladder. We cannot just have these numbers immediately so we have to climb the ladder.”

But this climb towards the top will only be credible, says Tubiana, if all the various actors set down their serious statement of intents during the 2015 summit.

These are not vague, but quantifiable, she says, and can be measured through concrete plans for the transformation of energy efficiency, renewables, investment, transport and the rest.

Leading carbon polluters are expected to reveal their contributions by March 2015 – others are likely to wait until the levels of ambition become clear.


A domestically-driven process has long been seen as the only way to get all the big emitters, such as the US, China, India and Brazil, on board with the deal.

This allows each country to make pledges that they think appropriate, which can then be inched up before being included in the final deal.

It also allows each country to emphasise personal priorities, says Tubiana, highlighting India’s focus on technology and China’s concern with the impacts of climate change.

“We don’t have so much time, but we have to find concepts that can fit with the different visions,” she says.

Greater transparency will be the real key to unlocking difficult compromises, she adds. French embassies are under specific instructions to report back if they feel they are being kept in the dark.

“There is always the concern that someone is negotiating something in a corner and you don’t know,” she says.

“The more transparent you are on your vision, on what you are doing, the people you are talking to, that creates the kind of trust that is much needed.”

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