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UN climate change conference in Paris - questions and answers

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 25 november 2015.

1. What is the aim of the new agreement in Paris?

The Paris Agreement aims to help the world move towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. This means reducing emissions quickly enough to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C and countries adapting to the impacts of the climate change that cannot be avoided. Keeping the average global surface temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is an internationally agreed yardstick for avoiding dangerous climate change.

The Paris Agreement must send the signal of the commitment of all governments to engage in the transition, thus giving predictability to the public, businesses, and investors. Some governments lack the financial, administrative, or technological capacity to reduce emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts. The agreement must provide the framework to help them attract public and private financing and other forms of support.

2. What are the key elements of a successful agreement in Paris?

The ultimate objective is to keep dangerous climate change in check. For the EU, the new agreement must send a clear signal of governments' resolve to reduce emissions sufficiently to keep global average temperature increase below the agreed 2°C limit by the end of the century. The EU's vision of a credible agreement includes:

  • A global vision for a long term goal - a signal for broader audiences, businesses and investors of governments' resolve to transition to low-carbon economies.
  • A mechanism to regularly review and raise the collective ambition - countries should come together to consider and strengthen emissions reduction targets in light of the latest science and progress made to date.
  • Robust transparency and accountability rules. Parties and other stakeholders need to be able to trust that what is promised will be delivered and that reductions achieved are accounted for consistently.

Beyond emissions reductions, the Paris Agreement must also help countries, especially those most vulnerable, adapt to climate change impacts.

3. Will the Paris Agreement be legally binding?

The EU supports an international legally binding agreement in Paris. Many countries, including the US also support this. The EU and some other countries, including the US do, however, continue to disagree over whether the emissions reduction targets in the Paris Agreement should be binding.

The legally binding nature of the targets will need to be decided as part of the overall package in Paris. The EU strongly favours targets that will be internationally legally binding and has signalled it is prepared to discuss innovative ways in which the Paris Agreement can provide a robust legal framework for tracking and promoting Parties' performance of their targets.

4. How will the Paris Agreement be different from Kyoto and Copenhagen?

United Nations negotiations on how to tackle climate change have been ongoing since 1992 when the framework convention on climate was signed. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is still in force and it sets legally binding targets for emissions reductions for participating countries - but today only 38 countries have such targets, covering around 12% of global emissions.

The Copenhagen conference in 2009 was a step on the way to Paris, but it did not deliver a legally binding, comprehensive agreement as was hoped. However, it did encourage many countries that had never done so before to take on voluntary pledges and start planning for a climate compatible economy. Thanks to a broad alliance with the EU at its centre, the Durban conference two years after Copenhagen agreed to conclude a legally binding agreement applicable to all by 2015. This will be the Paris Agreement.

5. How will efforts be shared between countries?

The Paris Agreement will for the first time require all countries to take specific measures to reduce emissions over time, according to their national circumstances.This year, countries have been announcing their greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets for after 2020 - known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

More than 170 countries, covering more than 95% of global emissions have submitted INDCs. This is already a considerable achievement and clear evidence of the shared political will across governments for Paris to take decisive action on climate change. It marks the move away from action by few to action by all.

However, while the INDCs achieve a marked slowdown in emissions growth, they are not enough by themselves to keep us safe from catastrophic climate events in the future. Current pledges, when implemented, would mean a temperature increase of around 3°C. This is one of the reasons why we need a process for reviewing and strengthening ambition (see question 2).

6. What is the role for businesses, cities and organisations and other non-state actors?

The EU stresses the importance of involving non-State actors (such as businesses, cities and organisations), and strongly supports the Lima Paris Action Agenda - an initiative of the Peruvian and French COP Presidencies aimed at catalysing multi-stakeholder action. A programme of events has been organised around the themes of the Action Agenda. These include the role of forests, transport, buildings and renewable energy in the fight against climate change. More than 100 side events will be held at the EU Pavilion at COP21, mirroring these daily themes.

7. What is needed in Paris to enhance the transparency of Parties' action?

Robust systems of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions and policy action are essential, both pre-and post-2020, to provide the transparency needed to maintain trust that Parties are delivering on their commitments. In Paris, it is important that we agree on robust MRV and accounting provisions to be enshrined in the 2015 Agreement, which will require further in-depth discussions on the transparency framework. A series of decisions is needed to finalise the MRV requirements and guidelines that are paramount for the smooth pre-2020 implementation of the Convention and of its Kyoto Protocol.

8. How will the global transition to low-carbon economies be funded and how will the EU contribute to this?

The funds required for the transformation to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy run into billions if not trillions of euros globally. Many countries will need continued support for the global effort to succeed. The EU provides the largest amount of public money to developing countries. In 2014, the EU and its Member States collectively provided EUR 14.5 billion in public finance to help developing countries tackle climate change impacts and engage in emission reduction efforts.

At least 20% of the EU budget will be spent on climate action by 2020. This means that at least EUR 14 billion, an average of EUR 2 billion per year of public grants will support activities in developing countries between 2014 and 2020. Compared to the average level in 2012-2013, funding for international climate action will more than double.

In addition, developed countries have made pledges of over USD 10 billion to the Green Climate Fund, with nearly half coming from EU Member States and a small amount also coming from developing countries. This is part of the commitment by developed countries to jointly mobilise USD 100 billion in climate finance a year by 2020 to help developing countries. A recent report by the OECD and Climate Policy Initiative showed that USD 62 billion was mobilised in 2014, putting developed countries well on track to the USD 100 billion goal. The EU remains committed to playing its part.

The bulk of the funds for the transition to climate compatible economies will need to come from private sources, and the agreement must help create conditions - such as better governance structures in recipient countries, or better transparency on how funds are being used - to help these funds flow.

9. What about the role of adaptation to climate change and loss and damage?

Adaptation will be a central element in the 2015 agreement. The EU is committed to continuing to support developing countries' efforts to adapt to climate change. The 2015 agreement should underline the commitment of all countries to plan, prepare and work towards low-carbon and sustainable climate-resilient development, and should play a role in enhancing the adaptation action countries are already undertaking under the United Nations climate convention. It should build on and add value to the work being done through existing institutions and processes such as the Adaptation Committee and the national adaptation planning processes (NAPs). Avoiding loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change is one of the main aims of action under the convention. Reducing emissions and therefore the impacts of climate change is the most cost-effective approach as it will limit future damage and the extent to which we need to take measures to adapt.

10. What can be done to step up action pre-2020?

The EU recognises the urgent need to continue and intensify action to cut greenhouse gas emissions before 2020. There are substantial opportunities to reduce emissions through, for example, increased action on energy efficiency, renewable energy, fluorinated greenhouse gases, short-lived climate pollutants (eg methane, black carbon, ground-level ozone), land use including tropical deforestation, fossil fuel subsidy reform and aviation and maritime emissions. A variety of options can contribute to closing the gap, including directly associated key players such as local government, business and civil society.

The EU also strongly encourages Parties that have not yet done so, to make emission pledges for the period up to 2020. It is calling on all Parties to implement their commitments fully and without delay and to consider how they could step up efforts so that the emissions gap can be closed as soon as possible.

11. What is on the agenda regarding reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ('REDD+')?

The protection of forests and promotion of climate-smart land use and forestry is an important part of the Paris Agreement, as these areas could represent up to a third of the globally achievable emissions reduction potential by 2030. The Commission therefore welcomes the draft UN decisions which are due to be finalised in Paris and successfully conclude almost a decade of fruitful REDD+ discussions. EU Member States and the Commission stand ready to support implementation through the Green Climate Fund, multilateral and bilateral initiatives, together with a broad range of stakeholders and partner countries, and according to their national circumstances.

12. What will the Paris Agreement mean for the EU's climate policy?

The EU has already begun the transition to a low-carbon economy and has proved that climate protection and economic growth go hand in hand. Between 1990 and 2014, EU emissions fell by 23%, while the economy grew by 46%. Latest projections show that the EU is heading for a 24% reduction by 2020 only with current measures in place. Furthermore the EU has committed to reducing emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) as part of its contribution to the Paris Agreement. This is consistent with a cost-effective pathway leading the EU to reduce emissions by 80-95% by 2050, which is what science tells us is required from developed countries. The EU has already taken the first steps to implement its Paris pledge with a proposal to reform the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), which will be the key tool for delivering the emissions reduction target. In 2016, the European Commission will put forward the new Effort Sharing Decision, as well as a proposal on how to integrate Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry into the 2030 climate framework. In addition, there will be legislative proposals to achieve the renewables and energy efficiency targets.

13. Who will negotiate for the EU in Paris?

Luxembourg, as current Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, share responsibility for leading negotiations on behalf of the EU in Paris. The EU will be represented jointly by the Environment Minister of Luxembourg, Carole Dieschbourg, and European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete. Representatives from several Member States are designated as lead negotiators for the EU on specific issues and therefore also speak on the EU's behalf in the negotiations on these issues.

More information:

Press release

COP21 webpage

New Eurobarometer survey on public attitudes to climate change


Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email

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