A new tool for climate negotiations: national contributions to the fight against climate change
COP 21 will take place in Paris in late 2015. The aim of this next session of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is to produce a new international climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. But this year, methods are changing, with a new instrument to facilitate negotiations: national contributions.
Paris 2015: new rules to work more efficiently
Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, made it clear as early as 2013 that “the 2015 Paris Climate Conference should not be a meeting that tries, but one that decides.”  The Paris Conference (COP21) has to be a success, and its participants will seek to reach a universal climate agreement as they agreed to do, unanimously, during the 2011 Durban Conference. The text needs to go beyond the commitments of the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005 and has been extended until 2020, but the effectiveness of which is no longer sufficient for the climate challenge. Indeed, it concerned only the countries that emitted the most greenhouse gases in 1992.
In 2009, the Copenhagen Conference aimed already to reach an agreement to take over from the Kyoto Protocol, this time binding on all countries. In reality, it did not succeed in producing such an agreement, even if several countries made voluntary commitments to cut emissions. The agreement reached was political, with no legal force, and was unambitious, so it was perceived as a real failure by the international community. To prevent this happening again, governments pledged at the climate conferences in Warsaw and Lima (COP19 and COP20) to communicate in advance on the efforts they are considering. These commitments will take the form of documents known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs).
INDCs: tools to facilitate negotiations...
INDCs are published on the website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC). Each country can clearly present its goals to others ahead of COP21, in order to avoid surprises and uncertainty as to the commitments made by partner countries. In addition to enabling parties to focus on negotiating the text of the agreement, the aim is to publish these future commitments and have them scrutinized by experts, institutions (United Nations and governments) and civil society.
The INDCs will facilitate the preparation of negotiations and help establish shared objectives more easily. Moreover, the Lima decision (COP20) noted that contributions should go beyond prior commitments and represent a progression compared to current ambitions.
...and make the chances of fulfilling quantified commitments more tangible and credible
Above and beyond the targets set by each country concerning mitigation, the measures and policies they envisage to contribute to limiting global warming may be included in national contributions. While the real economy was not referred to during the negotiations, the INDCs are a more concrete instrument that includes the various sectors. Countries may also include an optional chapter on adaptation, to present measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to the expected impacts of climate change.
Contributions must contain precise information, such as quantified indicators and targets compared to a reference year, implementation schedule, chosen hypotheses, etc. They are expected by 1 October 2015, so as to be taken into account in the synthesis report published by the UNFCCC secretariat which is planned for early November, one month before the Paris Conference.
Publication of INDCs: off to a good start
As of 15 May 2015, 37 countries, representing almost one third of global emissions and more than 80% of emissions from industrialized countries, have officially submitted their “national contributions”. Some countries not subject to a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol have already submitted their contributions, including Mexico, Gabon and the USA.
The 28 Member States of the European Union presented a joint contribution on 6 March 2015. It resumes the targets and guidelines adopted at the European Council meeting of October 2014. The EU aims to cut emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, thus falling within the long-term aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 95% by 2050 compared to 1990.
A tool adapted to national contexts
In the past, certain countries have undertaken to lead the way in the fight against climate change by making ambitious commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But fighting climate change now requires collective action and we all need to adopt a growth model with limited environmental impacts.
It is in this context that all countries are now called upon to submit national contributions at the same time. They will, however, be considered in the light of national situations and capacities. Similarly, the Lima decision explicitly acknowledged the special situation of the least developed countries and small island developing States in producing their INDCs. According to Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, the mechanism of the INDCs allows developing and least developed countries “set out their own priorities for climate action”. 
They can also ask for support in structuring their INDCs. Like many governments and international organizations, France is providing a technical assistance programme by offering the resources of its two main international cooperation operators. The Agence française de développement (French Development Agency, AFD) funds the programme to the sum of €3.5 million, while Expertise France is responsible for its implementation.
N.B.: The claims and opinions contained in this article, which aims to provide information on contemporary France, have no official value.
 1.“Climate change: from scientific data to political action” forum.
 2.“A Paris Climate Agreement – Africa’s Opportunity for a Sustainable Century”, editorial dated 9 April 2015.