France spells out ambitions for 2015 climate conference in Paris


The French ambassador for climate negotiations at the UN has issued a rallying call for both the public and private to work towards climate abatement ahead of the 2015 global climate conference in Paris, with success largely depending on the EU's support.

Despite previous setbacks at UN level, climate change has been chosen as a political vector of optimism by the French government, which will organise the 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"We have the right to dream of a diplomatic success after all," said a French Socialist MP worried about Socialist President François Hollande's declining popularity, which has reached an all-time low, at 26%.

This will be the first time a COP has taken place in France, even though they have been held annually for 21 years. For the minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Fabius, the subject is serious enough to hold a ministerial meeting each month until December 2015 on the subject, with the minister of the environment, Philippe Martin, and the deputy minister for development, Pascal Canfin.

The stakes are high. With the Kyoto Protocol having expired, the UNFCCC signatories have committed to organise its successor in 2015 at the latest.

The National Assembly will also be involved in preparations. "A briefing on climate change and adaptation will be launched," said the president of the Sustainable Development Committee in the National Assembly, Jean-Paul Chanteguet, who insists that MPs "should not be left on the side about the climate issue”. The committee was being addressed by Jacques Lapouge, French ambassador at the climate negotiations.

France has three climate policy goals for 2015, Lapouge said:

  • Define an agreement applicable to all
  • Adopting a legally binding text
  • Aim at an ambitious goal to keep global temperature increase below 2°C.

"It must be a conference to find solutions, which brings together all public and private initiatives that work for the climate. We need to impose a change of discourse: fighting against climate change is not only sharing a burden, it is also an investment for the future," said the diplomat in charge of the negotiations.

Calls for a clear European position

Still, voluntarism is not enough. Why would France succeed to reach an agreement where Denmark and many others have failed?

"We must seize the opportunity," Lapouge said. "We are fortunate to have seen the US government evolve on the subject, and John Kerry, who is in charge of these issues, is clearly in favour of an agreement. China is also considering the matter, if nothing else to preserve social peace in the country."

The US and China, who between themselves are responsible for half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, have already agreed in June to reduce emissions of the HFC refrigerant, considered as "super greenhouse gas". Their project, which envisions a reduction of 90 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, was ratified by the G20 at the end of August.

The ambassador also believes that Europe retains "a leading role" in the negotiations, but urges the European Commission to decide faster on the figures. "It is necessary that we have a clear position on the 2020 target, which is very close, in mid-2014 at the latest," says Jacques Lapouge.

The European Commission is currently divided between supporters of the energy sector, which argue for maintaining the current target of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, and those arguing for a harder stance, of -30 % by 2020.

A European Council meeting of EU heads of states and government will be held in March 2014, and is considered as a key milestone in the run up to the conference. According to the French general commission for strategy and foresight, which issued a report on the subject on 30 October, a "basic compromise" should be adopted at this meeting.

In the meantime, the Warsaw UN conference, which opens on 11 November in Poland, is the first step on the long road to an agreement and should clarify the chances of reaching an agreement in Paris. To do this, large industrialised countries should provide firm answers on key issues such as finance, which are a precondition for the participation of Southern countries.

In June 2013, the Fast Start investment programme had already collected €39 billion, including €3 billion from private sources, according to the journal Policy Brief. But in the absence of clear commitment, it appears that investment have slowed down.

Then, each country should begin to formulate a target to reduce emissions. "Between now and 2015, we have to register the commitments, verify them, and a calculate the total," says Jacques Lapouge, noting that such as process "takes time".

An attractive conference

The chances of success of the Paris conference are also explained by statistics. According to Till Neeff, a financial and climate expert, the Paris conference should statistically attract as many participants as the Copenhagen conference in 2009.

The specialist has analysed the attendance rates, which have tended to rise since the creation of the conference, but in a cyclical pattern. According to the UNFCCC, 33,526 participants took part in the Copenhagen COP, three times more than the 11,000 who attended the 2007 COP in Bali.

But the motivation of the participants also reflects the mobilisation of public opinion. According to Eurostat, climate change remains one of the main concerns of the European public opinion, with 89% of the persons surveyed calling it a "serious problem."

In the United States, however, the subject does not appear as a top priority. According to the Pew Research Center, only 28% of Americans believe that climate change should be a priority for President Barack Obama, with 40% believing that climate change is a major threat. And the Chinese public considers climate as a threat by 39%, parameters which are likely to weigh in the balance in 2015.

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal for 2020 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency against a 2005 baseline projection has also been set but it is not legally enforceable. The low carbon roadmap in March 2011 stated that if it were met, emissions cuts would automatically rise to 25%, five percentage points above the target.

In October 2009, EU leaders endorsed a long-term target of reducing collective developed country emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's scientific arm - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

  • 11 to 22 Nov. 2013 : COP 19 in Warsaw
  • 3-14 Dec. 2014: COP 20 in Peru
  • 2-13 Dec. 2015: COP 21 in Paris


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