The Road to Paris: A Look Ahead to the UNFCCC COP 21 Talks


image (1) By Gerard Neely

Last week, Pete Ogden and Melanie Hart of the Center from American Progress briefed CELI fellows on the current state of international climate and energy landscape ahead of this year’s UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) talks.  Pete and Melanie covered three basic themes emerging in the lead up to the COP conference: American climate action, the US-Chinese climate agreement, and developing nations attempting to match China’s climate ambitions.

According to Pete and Melanie, President Obama’s executive actions on climate change and energy has provided the upcoming COP21 talks with significant positive momentum.  In particular, the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) has signaled to the international community America’s commitment to taking bold steps in tackling climate change.   By setting an ambitious emission reductions through the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration has been able to quell other nation’s doubts about America’s commitment to being a leader on energy and climate related issues. The CPP has also encouraged other nations to release their own ambitious emission reduction plans and climate change mitigation policies.  Additionally, Pete and Melanie identified the Clean Power Plan as the biggest thing to watch in the final run up to the COP21.  If there any major changes to the final rule released this summer, it could have large implications for the fate of the COP21 conference this winter.

While the President’s executive actions on climate, and the Clean Power Plan have given a boost to the upcoming talks, the recent US-China agreement has also added to the momentum.  During our discussion, Pete and Melanie highlighted the importance of the US-Chinese bilateral climate agreement in shaping the upcoming COP21 conference.  In particular, in past climate conferences there has often been tension between the US and China about how to achieve global climate targets.  Additionally, this historic tension between the US, China, and other developing economies has helped to temper the ambitions of many countries negotiating at previous COP conferences’.  However, with the US promising to reduce its emissions by thirty percent by 2030, and the Chinese vowing to peak their emissions by 2030, there is consensus from the world’s two largest economies about combating climate change.

In addition to building positive momentum ahead of the Paris talks, the US-China climate accords has challenged other developing and middle-income nations to revaluate their climate ambitions.  While for years many developing and middle-income nations have aired fears that international energy and climate treaties could slow their growth, China’s bold actions on climate has undermined that stream of thought for many nations.  Instead of concerns about slowing growth due to climate change mitigation policies, many countries are trying to emulate China’s new approach to climate.  According to Pete and Melanie, many countries are now trying to play catch up with the steps China has recently taken to tackle climate change.  The combination of the US-China climate agreement and recent US executive action has the international community abuzz ahead of this years crucial COP21 conference.