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Laurent Fabius, puts his hand over his heart after his speech as he stands near Francois Hollande, and Ban Ki-moon at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France
19 January 2016 17:11

Paris agreement on climate change: What happens next?

Sophie Yeo


Sophie Yeo

19.01.2016 | 5:11pm
COP21 ParisParis agreement on climate change: What happens next?

In December last year, diplomats from 195 nations successfully negotiated a UN climate change deal.

But amid the celebration, there were many who were keen to point out that Paris was only the start of the work.

While the Paris agreement pinned down the key elements of a new global regime for action on climate change, many of the details remain to be fleshed out at subsequent meetings.

At the closing of the two-week conference, known as COP21, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon congratulated and cracked the whip in the same breath.

“We have an agreement. It is a good agreement. You should all be proud. Now we must stay united — and bring the same spirit to the crucial test of implementation. That work starts tomorrow,” he said.

Part of this is increasing ambition over time, so that the goals of the agreement are ultimately met. The other tasks are more practical and immediate.

With Paris now behind us, Carbon Brief looks at the logistics of delivering on the promises made within the agreement.

New terms

At the birth of the new climate agreement, a new generation of UN terminology was also spawned.

For instance, the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (more commonly referred to by its acronym, ADP) died in Paris, where its job of developing a new legally binding climate deal was completed.

From its ashes rose the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement” (APA). This group is responsible for preparing the Paris deal for entry into force, which means filling in the numerous gaps left by Paris.

The APA has to finish its work by the first session of the “Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement” (CMA) — a long way of referring to the group responsible for supervising the new deal.

When this first session will be is uncertain — see the section below on the timeline for the entry into force of the new deal.

The road ahead

The Paris deal includes a heavy workload for the APA.

One of its most important tasks will be to decide the shape of future Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — the cyclical pledges that countries make outlining their intended emissions reductions.

The intended NDCs (often referred to by their acronym, INDCs) that countries submitted to the UN ahead of the talks in Paris were a mixed bag, due to a lack of clear rules setting out what they should contain. It is now up to the APA to help make the next round more uniform by developing guidance on the information to be submitted, so that they are clear, transparent and comparable.

The APA also has responsibility for expanding on existing accounting rules, which will help to ensure in the future that each country’s pledge is subject to consistent guidelines. This will help to ensure that each countries does exactly what it promised to do in its NDC.

The agreement contains all of the principles for transparency, but none of the practical details. Fleshing out such guidelines and procedures has also been pushed to the APA. It must take into account certain requirements, such as providing flexibility to developing countries, avoiding double counting and ensuring environmental integrity.

Another key task for the APA is to identify sources of information that will be included in the “global stocktake” — essentially, a review of countries’ progress — set up in the deal. This will include, for example, information on the overall effect on NDCs and the provision of financial support so far.

Extra tasks

The APA is not the only group to have received a substantial to-do list in the Paris deal. There are a number of subsidiary groups working towards an effective UN climate regime, many of which have come away with a number of tasks to fulfil in order to get the new agreement up-and-running.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the knowledge-providing service for the UN’s climate body, has to hammer out guidance for the carbon markets system established under the new agreement, and also develop a work programme for developing non-market based approaches to emissions reductions.

It has also been tasked with developing ways to account for donations of climate finance, elaborating the technology framework set up under the agreement, and providing advice on how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can inform the global stocktake.

The Adaptation Committee, another group established by the UN, also has a number of jobs, frequently in collaboration with other UN-backed groups. This includes developing methods to recognise the adaptation efforts of developing countries, facilitate the mobilisation of financial support for adaptation, and review the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation efforts.


Almost all of these tasks have to be carried out in time for the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement — the CMA — so that the APA can make recommendations to be considered and adopted.

When is this meeting going to happen? That remains something of a mystery and, indeed, something of an inconsistency within the text.

In early drafts of the Paris text published before COP21 began, there was the possibility that the agreement would only come into force in 2020, which means that the first meeting would have taken place then.

But in Paris in December, this all changed. Countries instead agreed that the deal would come into force when a certain set of conditions had been satisfied — that is, 30 days after at least 55 countries accounting for an estimated 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified or accepted the agreement.

Countries can start this process in roughly three months time, from the UN’s high-level signing ceremony on 22 April 2016.

But there is no deadline to say when this job should be completed, which means that countries can delay as long as they want. So, in theory, the first meeting could be in November this year — dumping a heavy workload on the desks of the bodies mentioned above — or it could still be in 2020. It all depends on how keen the big emitters are to put the Paris deal into action.

The problem here is that the agreement sets deadlines for some bodies that theoretically could be after the all-important first session of the CMA has taken place, where their decisions and recommendations are supposed to be adopted.

Michael Jacobs, a senior advisor to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, tells Carbon Brief:

There is a potential inconsistency between different clauses. The expectation was (and remains) that not enough countries will ratify this year (or even next) to bring the Agreement into force, so removing the inconsistency in practice.

Nonetheless, this leaves diplomats with a lot of work and an uncertain deadline. Further clarity might emerge when countries meet for the first time following the Paris negotiations in May this year in Bonn, Germany.

Other tasks

The tasks outlined above provide only a snapshot of the work remaining to be done. Here’s a brief rundown of other jobs that will land on diplomat’s desks in the coming years:

  • Secretariat to update the INDC synthesis report by 2 May 2016
  • IPCC to provide a special report on the impacts of 1.5C and how to observe this limit in 2018
  • Secretariat to make available an interim public registry for NDCs by first half of 2016, pending a more permanent structure
  • Countries invited to communicate mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020
  • Review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage in 2016
  • CMA to set a new collective quantified goal for climate finance by 2025
  • Initiation of a process, at COP22 (November 2016), to identify financial information to be provided by countries
  • Launch a work plan for capacity-building to be implemented between 2016 and 2020
  • Countries to submit their views on the membership of the Paris committee on capacity-building by 9 March 2016
  • Progress of the Paris committee on capacity-building to be reviewed in November 2019 at COP25
  • Strengthening of the existing technical examination process on mitigation between 2016 and 2020
  • Launching of a technical examination process on adaptation for the period between 2016 and 2020
Main image: French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, puts his hand over his heart after his speech as he stands near French President Francois Hollande and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 at Le Bourget, near Paris, December 12, 2015. © STEPHANE MAHE/Reuters/Corbis.
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