COP 21 national contributions behind schedule, France warns

Only 29 COP 21 contributions (dark green) have been received out of a total of 190. [UNFCCC]

The countries involved in the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris this year are running late with the submission of their national plans, which are due by the end of March. France has forced the subject onto the EU summit agenda this week to encourage its European partners to prod the late-comers into action. EURACTIV France reports

In a last-minute addition to this week’s agenda, the European Council will commit to “ensuring coordinated diplomatic action on energy and climate ahead of COP 21”.

The climate issue was inserted into the agenda at the request of France, which is hosting the UN climate conference in December.

The UNFCCC has specified that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions should be submitted “well in advance of COP 21, by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so”.

But according to the UNFCCC website, only two contributions have so far been submitted: from Switzerland on 15 February, and the EU on 6 March.

Delayed contributions

These contributions cover only 29 of the 190 countries that hope to reach a climate agreement in December. The United States has also committed to submitting its national plan by the end of the month. Russia had stated a similar aim, but has recently fallen quiet on the subject.

“I hope all the countries will publish their contributions as quickly as possible,” Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, told a conference on Arctic warming at the Oceanographic Institute in Paris on 17 March. He pointed out that the contributions were experiencing “a certain delay”.

According to a survey carried out by New Climate Group, more than a third of the countries involved in the climate negotiations have not even started work on their national plans.

Below is a timeline showing the accumulated number of INDC submissions expected in each month.

United States’ position expected soon

The United States has agreed to submit its contribution by the end of March, in order push the process along. Washington is expected to announce an emissions reduction commitment of 25 to 28%, but, like the EU, is likely to leave some issues unaddressed.

>> Read: Europe’s piece in the puzzle of global climate cooperation

In its COP 21 text, the EU did not specify whether, or how, emissions from agriculture and forestry would be taken into account. Instead it decided to shelve the issue for a date in the future, and the United States could do the same. The subject of emissions reduction is gaining importance across the Atlantic, where President Barack Obama told Vice News that he could “guarantee that the Republican Party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist upon it”.

EU to the rescue of Paris Protocol

The European Commission, for its part, is working alongside the French government to try and steer the negotiations to success.

In its Communication on the Paris Protocol, presented in February, the Commission expounds a much more ambitious action plan than the one it presented to the UNFCCC, including a plan for climate diplomacy.

Among the policies presented in the text is the aim to “raise climate change as a strategic priority in political dialogues, including at G7 and G20 meetings and the UN General Assembly”.

A French source praised the document, saying it demonstrated a determination to “move away from the typical Newspeak” in place under the previous Barroso Commission.

The groundbreaking idea of the Paris Protocol, according to French diplomats, will be to review each country’s emissions on a regular basis, and provide the opportunity to “raise the ambition of its commitments as the Protocol advances, to meet the two degree target”.

“What is being introduced in this text is the idea that we are not aiming for a fixed agreement in Paris, but rather a commitment to a five-yearly review system for the objectives and the ways in which they might be achieved,” the French source added. This flexibility has worried Germany.

In asking for the help of its allies in the European Council, France is also hoping to silence any potential criticisms from within the bloc.

“Some European countries have close contacts with countries we are interested in. We hope to mobilise all the diplomatic forces we can,” said a source close to the negotiations. 

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014. Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015.

The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December.

Subscribe to our newsletters