Climate Change: Paris (COP21): Processes, implementation and compliance


In just under 3 weeks in Paris the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will determine if a global agreement can be reached to combat climate change. Ahead of the COP21 meeting, the draft agreement was revised again at meetings in Bonn (19 - 23 October 2015). This latest draft contains a number of proposed options in relation to potential emission reduction targets, commitments, contributions and proposed implementation and compliance approaches. Key aspects of the proposals are outlined in this article.

Targets and time frames

The Parties have put forward a number of options in the draft text for meeting the long-term goal(s) of controlling global temperature rise post-2020. The options range between clearer definitions of future actions and less clear commitments to a “global low-carbon/low-emission transformation”. Whilst some countries appear to be calling for peaking of net emissions by 2030 (or as soon as possible) others would prefer to commit to achieve a 40% to 70%, or 70% to 95% net emission reduction below 2010 levels by 2050, or even to achieving zero emissions either by 2050 or by 2100.  The starting date for implementation of the agreement is likely to be 1 January 2020. The end date has more variation: Parties have suggested 2030, 2040, 2050 or 2100 and the proposed mitigation contributions are to be framed around these dates.

Commitments and contributions

All proposed options include provisions which take into account common but differentiated circumstances of the developing countries. Whilst developed countries could be obliged to undertake quantified economy-wide absolute emission reduction commitments/targets, developing countries, in line with previous international initiatives on climate change, are expected to be obliged to commit to less stringent requirements (the achievement of which will be dependent on provision of adequate finance, technology and capacity-building by developed country Parties).

Importantly, negotiation will also take place on whether each Party’s contribution or commitment should include the following (amongst others): be quantified or quantifiable; be unconditional as far as possible; in the case of developing countries be able to specify additional levels of mitigation to be implemented with support; maximize adaptation co-benefits; prioritise actions that are immediately implementable, scalable and results oriented, including REDD+ (i.e. a mechanism aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and include all key categories of emissions by sources and removals by sinks; include any source, sink or activity that has been previously included; and use common Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) metrics, guidance and guidelines for the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and removals.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

In preparation for COP21 developed and developing countries should have submitted post-2020 climate action commitments known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). It is intended that these commitments will form the foundation of the climate agreement (that is if agreement is reached). Under the draft agreement it is expected that each country will report regularly (perhaps every 2 years) on progress of its nationally determined mitigation progress.

All INDCs submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by 1 October 2015 have been included in the Secretariat’s synthesis report released on the 1 November 2015. The report reflects the aggregate emissions impact of available INDCs ahead of COP21 and captures the overall impact of national climate plans covering 147 countries. At a national level, INDCs provide an indication of the government’s intentions in relation to reducing GHGs and measures it may implement to address the aims of the transition to a low-carbon economy. However, according to the European Parliament’s research service, preliminary analysis indicates that the total commitments to date are insufficient to achieve the target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Transparency and reporting

It is proposed that the Parties will provide regular and complete information on their progress and report specifically on the following:

  • a national inventory of emissions by sources and removals by sinks using common metrics or comparable methodologies;
  • projected estimated emissions and removals;
  • progress made on INDCs;
  • information on actions taken to reduce vulnerability and resilience to climate change; and
  • support flows provided and received.

It is likely that if agreement is reached there will be provisions relating to the independence and quality of the information and reporting, with perhaps more onerous requirements placed on the developed country Parties.

Global stocktake

The draft agreement contemplates that at each climate conference the Parties will take stock on a regular basis of progress including mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation. The first global stocktake may be held either in 2023 or in 2024 with further reviews every five years thereafter or at regular intervals to be decided at the COP.

Implementation and compliance

Compliance and implementation is an aspect which causes significant division amongst Parties. The draft text contains an option for a ‘compliance mechanism’ to be applied to developed countries and a ‘facilitative mechanism’ to be applied to developing countries. There is also an option for both mechanisms to be available to all Parties. It is proposed that the body which is to oversee the implementation and compliance process is to take the form of a Committee consisting either of members serving in their individual capacity, nominated by Parties and elected at the meeting of the Parties, or of an enforcement branch for developed country Parties and a facilitative branch for developing country Parties. Where a Party is not in compliance, a number of consequences are currently proposed. These include issuing a declaration of non-compliance or requesting the development of a compliance action plan. A number of parties argue that this is not sufficient and that a “court” is required (some Parties have called for an International Tribunal of Climate Justice to be set up by the UN).


There can be no underestimating how difficult it will be to reach a global agreement in Paris. There are many political and commercial undercurrents at play at so many levels. The issues at stake are hugely important and it will take tremendous political and bureaucratic skill to close negotiations successfully.


The eleventh part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was held from 19 - 23 October 2015 in Bonn, Germany.

Draft Agreement and draft decision on workstreams 1 and 2 of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (23 Oct 15@23:30) (439 kB) 

MS Word version

Draft decision on workstream 2 of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (236 kB) 

By its decision 1/CP.20, paragraph 16(b), the COP requested the secretariat to prepare, by 1 November 2015, a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by Parties by 1 October 2015.  A total of 147 Parties (75% of all Parties to the UNFCCC) responded to this invitation.

Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effects of INDCs

Click here to access our dedicated page on the COP 21 meeting in Paris